The RAV4 has undergone multiple transformations since its introduction in the 1990s, but it’s blazing a whole new trail for 2019 with the Adventure. This one wants to play rough — in the dirt, mud, sand and rocks.

No one is saying it’s ready to battle roughnecks from Jeep or Subaru, but it does have torque vectoring all-wheel-drive, terrain-selection options and even hill-descent control. Plus, it can tow 3,500 pounds, enough for small boats, water scooters and the like.

Toyota says the completely redesigned, fifth-generation RAV4 marks a revolution, rather than an evolution, and it’s hard to argue at first look. The RAV4 now has a more muscular build with chiseled edges and geometric designs, including a protruding trapezoid grille borrowed from its kin, the Tacoma pickup. It also gains an extra half-inch of ground clearance, up to 8.5 inches.

And it gets a dose of attitude with two-tone exterior color (a worthy $500 option), bold orange stitching inside, black fender cladding, dual exhausts with chrome tips, and 19-inch 5-spoke wheels with black accents.

In the backcountry, the RAV4 Adventure claws through sand and mud with the help of its brake-based torque vectoring, which makes sure wheels with the best traction are getting the most power. The driver can even monitor the power distribution on a cool dynamic display. Rotary-knob settings make throttle and suspension adjustments for mud/sand, rock/dirt and snow.

On the road is where most will be driving and, well, that’s where RAV4 comes up a little short. To its credit, Toyota bumped up horsepower by 27, but the 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder engine still only racks up 203 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque. It’ll get to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds — below average for the segment — and it’ll whine like an old mule all the way there.

A turbo would do wonders here. The engine is OK under normal conditions but sounds and feels like it is straining when the throttle is pushed hard during on-ramp acceleration and passing. An 8-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the old 6-speed, probably boosted pick-up but not enough. Shifts are clunky at low speeds but smooth out during acceleration.

Steering offers little feedback and the new suspension, shared with Camry, offers minimal road feel. Body lean is about average for the segment; sport mode, as opposed to Eco or Normal, does little to improve it.

Fuel economy is a plus, however, with real mileage right in line with EPA estimates: 25 mpg city, 33 highway, for a 28 combined.

Front seats are nicely bolstered and trimmed in a faux leather that’s pretty believable. They’re heated and cooled and available in two color schemes. On the dash, the tester also had an orange wireless phone charger plus orange shelves for stuff — all rubberized so things don’t slide off on the trails.

A 7-inch color gauge cluster has a reconfigurable information screen and speedometer wrapped around it. Perched atop the dashboard is an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, which features Toyota’s Entune 3.0 system. It has been improved for this year and offers Apple CarPlay integration but not so Android Auto; maybe next year.

An Adventure Weather options package ($1,185) adds leather-wrapped wheel, heated/ventilated seats and rain-sensing wipers. Other extras include sunroof ($850) and upgraded navigation and JBL sound system ($1,620).

When it comes to stashing stuff for your “adventure,” RAV4 has the cargo space for groceries and most weekenders but lags behind popular foes. It has 37.6 cubic feet in the rear and 69.8 cubes with the rear seats folded down. To its credit, there’s a traditional plug and 12-volt outlet back there to plug in a fan, portable stove or coffeemaker.

All RAVs get Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0, which includes adaptive cruise, lane-keep steering assist, and auto braking with pedestrian warning. A tech package ($1,265) adds blind-spot monitor and parking sensors with automatic braking, and rear-view mirror/camera set-up.

The RAV4 Adventure, despite some shortcomings, brings a new and rugged personality to the lineup. Not rugged enough, you say? Toyota goes one better this fall: The 2020 RAV4 TRD Off Road promises a retuned suspension with twin-tube shocks, lightweight aluminum wheels and special Falken trail tires.

Barry Spyker was the automotive columnist for The Miami Herald and editor of its Wheels & Waves section. Readers may send him email at spy2351@yahoo.com.

Tribune Wire

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