A red 2020 Toyota RAV4 is driving behind a silver one on a multi-lane city street.

Improving America’s Favorite SUV – the 2020 Toyota RAV4


The 2020 Toyota RAV4 does not need much of an introduction. For years it has been the most popular SUV in America, with over 400,000 RAV4s being sold in 2019 alone. In fact, the Toyota RAV4 is not only the best-selling SUV on the market, but it has also stolen the Toyota Camry’s long-held title as the most popular non-truck on the market. The reasons for the amazing success of the RAV4 are simple. First, the compact SUV is a nearly perfect balance of size and performance for the average driver––it can haul the whole family, handle bad weather with ease, and still get decent fuel economy. Second, the RAV4 is a Toyota, and it upholds that brand’s legendary reputation for reliability. Together, this makes for a nearly unbeatable combination that has predictably dominated the market.

Now, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 represents the quarter-century mark for this vehicle. First introduced for the 1995 model year, the RAV4 entered its 5th generation with the 2019 model year. And while the 5th generation of the RAV4 was characterized by typical Toyota conservatism and made few obvious changes from the preceding generation, there have been several less obvious but significant changes. First, the RAV4 has been moved to Toyota’s relatively new TNGA platform. Second, the RAV4 received a substantially upgraded drivetrain. And finally, the 2020 RAV4 has a full set of modern infotainment and safety features.

Upgraded Engine, Modern Transmission, and Compelling Hybrid Option

Since the demise of the excellent V6 option all the way back in 2012, the Toyota RAV4 has been somewhat underpowered. While the 2.5L four-cylinder that was the only engine offered for the 4th generation of the RAV4 was certainly not a bad choice, 176 horsepower did not exactly make for a lively vehicle. However, the 5th generation does come with some more power. While Toyota, unfortunately, did not offer the 301 horsepower V6 from the 2020 Camry for the new RAV4, it did boost the 2.5L engine up to 203 horsepower. And the total performance increase is actually a bit better than the engine numbers alone would suggest because in the move to the TNGA platform Toyota managed to shave almost 100 pounds off of the RAV4. This is a particularly impressive change when you realize that the gross weight of the vehicle simultaneously increased by roughly the same amount.

In another change to the drivetrain, Toyota finally dropped the older six-speed automatic transmission and replaced it with a modern eight-speed automatic. This new transmission also offers a range of multiple drive modes to optimize performance. The base FWD version of the 2020 Toyota RAV4 offers the usual Sport, Eco, and Normal modes, but the AWD version also adds additional modes for Mud & Sand, Rock & Dirt, and Snow in order to improve traction on different terrain types. However, possibly the most noticeable advantage of the new system is its greatly improved fuel economy. While the 4th generation RAV4 had a combined gas mileage of between 24 and 26 MPG, the 5th generation RAV4 comes in at 29 MPG combined for AWD models or 30 MPG combined for FWD models.

And if fuel economy is particularly important to you, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 is also available as a hybrid rated at 40 MPG combined. In this configuration, the standard 2.5L engine remains but is supplemented by a Nickel-Metal Hydride battery and a 118 horsepower electric motor. Unlike with many hybrids, where performance is worse than the base vehicle, the hybrid version of the 2020 RAV4 has a combined 219 horsepower and is actually noticeably faster than the non-hybrid version. Other differences are that the hybrid RAV4 only comes in AWD, the eight-speed transmission is replaced by a continuously variable transmission, and the normal transmission modes on an AWD RAV4 are replaced by Trail and EV modes.

A dark grey 2020 Toyota RAV4 is driving on a winding dirt road.

The 2020 RAV4 Gets a Perfect Grade for Safety

Although the Toyota RAV4 has been an IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) Top Safety Pick for several years now, with the 5th generation, it has finally received a “Good” rating for the difficult passenger-side small overlap crash test. When combined with the new adaptive LED projector-beam headlights (all trims now have full-LED exterior lighting), this means that the 2020 RAV4 now receives top marks in every single category and subcategory of IIHS safety testing. This is an impressive feat that few other vehicles can claim and which has elevated the RAV4 to a Top Safety Pick+, the highest rating awarded by the IIHS.

The new Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of advanced driver’s aides that contributed to this high rating contains all the most important modern safety systems and is included standard on all trims of the 2020 RAV4. These systems include forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist, road sign recognition, and automatic high beams. With all of these systems active, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 is very close to being a self-driving car and will make your driving experience far safer and less stressful.

While the standard safety suite on all trims of the 2020 Toyota RAV4 is already quite capable, a few additional pieces of equipment are available on higher trims. Blindspot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are standard on all higher trims of the 2020 RAV4 and can be had on the base trim as an added option. Given how useful this feature is and how it is available as a reasonably-priced stand-alone option, it is somewhat surprising that Toyota did not simply include it as standard equipment. Finally, the top trims of the 2020 Toyota RAV4 come with front and rear parking assist with automated braking to ensure that you will never again accidentally hit a curb or garage wall.

A father and son are unloading a grey 2020 Toyota RAV4 on foggy beach.

A Modern and Comfortable Interior

The standard infotainment system on the 2020 Toyota RAV4 also checks all the boxes expected of a modern car. Built into a 7” touchscreen, it has voice recognition, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, SiriusXM radio, and a 4G LTE wireless hotspot. Devices can be connected either through Bluetooth or USB, with additional USB ports installed for charging. The Adventure trim slightly upgrades the infotainment with an 8” touchscreen and HD radio––two changes that can also be had with the roughly $1000 Audio Plus option on the XLE trim. However, the best infotainment is, of course, found on the top Limited trim (or as an option on the Adventure trim) and adds dynamic navigation and upgrades to an 11-speaker JBL sound system. The top trims also offer an optional wireless charger for your phone.

While the base LE trim is fairly spartan (although it does include four auto up/down windows and one-touch turn signals), the other trims offer your usual selection of interior comforts. The XLE trim comes with an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a smart key system with push-button start. Additional available features on the 2020 Toyota RAV4 include heated and perforated seats in all positions, a power sunroof, a heated steering wheel, a power rear liftgate, and rain-sensing windshield washers. While the 2020 RAV4 may not quite make it into the realm of a true luxury SUV, when properly equipped it does come close. Combining this upgraded interior with improved safety and a better powertrain, it is almost certain that the 2020 Toyota RAV4 will continue to maintain its top position in the automobile market.