Toyota RAV4 Now Celebrates 20 Years Since it Invented the Compact Crossover

The first Toyota RAV4 was available in the US in January 1996, but the car was in fact launched in May 1994, exactly 20 years ago, now being a good time to take a moment and see what this car did for the auto industry.
First Generation RAV4 versus fourth generation 1 photo
Photo: edited by autoevolution
Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK, all exist now because of Toyota and its crazy idea from 1986 when the engineers and designers started discussing the layouts of a new model.

Toyota wanted to make a vehicle that offered an SUV ride, car handling, the practicality of a hatch along with the automaker’s hard to beat reliability and affordability. Idea which had been exploited before by AMC, minus the reliability and a few other factors. So you can say that Toyota just made the crossover popular and not invent it if you wish.

Their idea first materialized in 1989, when the Toyota RAV-Four concept was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show. The name “RAV” stands for Recreational Active Vehicle while the “Four” represents its four-wheel-drive system, all carefully chosen to reflect the new vehicle’s purpose.

People were amazed at the show: the concept was looking like a modern reinterpretation of a three-door Toyota FJ 40, but much more compact, fancier and lower riding than the bulky old Jeep copy. It also had removable roof panels and you could also stick a motocross bike inside if you wanted.

The warm reception pushed Toyota to approve a production version in 1992 and two years later, the first generation RAV4 took off the assembly line. It was conservatively created using existent time-proved Toyota parts, sitting on the Corolla platform, being powered by the engine and part of the Camry’s 2-liter 127 bhp powertrain while the suspension was borrowed from the Celica GT-four.

Then Toyota decided to experiment more and built one with five doors in 1995, after which the RAV4 EV followed in 1997, which was also the first one of its kind. The second generation got introduced in 2000, having a slightly bigger body and a new 1.8-liter engine.

In 2002, the first RAV4 diesel was introduced and after four more years the third generation came along, with Toyota deciding to completely drop the three-door version, sadly. The third iteration came with a new platform, it was bigger, had a new all-wheel-drive system using an electronically controlled coupling, as well as Downhill and Hill-Start Assist Control.

The fourth generation Toyota RAV4, which was introduced in 2013, further moved from the original compact vehicle, mostly by growing in size. For a short comparison, the first three-door RAV4 was 3,740 mm (147.2 inch) long while the latest version now measures 4,570 mm (179.9 inch).

Its current height shrunk by 101 mm (3.9 inch) and it’s also 150 mm (5.9 inch) wider, further taking it to a normal car look and transforming it from a car that was firstly driven by teens going to the beach into a car for familists.

Although the fourth generation RAV4 wants to attract young buyers through a sharp design and more electronic gizmos than ever, we still consider that this one here would have been a more thoughtful choice.

Yeah, we are aware that five-door crossovers are now the quickest growing segment, but a limited-edition good ol’ three-door version would have been selling like hot cakes. Still, Happy Birthday RAV4 !

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