Now in its 22nd year, the Toyota RAV4 was the first compact sport utility vehicle introduced in the United States. It debuted in 1996 with its acronym meaning “Recreational Activity Vehicle: 4-wheel drive.”

The all-wheel-drive designation remains optional. And it’s part of the reason the RAV4 has remained so popular throughout its tenure. Its versatility, variety of trims levels and optional equipment are different than many carmakers whose trims levels are only slightly tweaked.

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 retains the traditions of the best-selling SUV.
The 2018 Toyota RAV4 retains the traditions of the best-selling SUV.

With a few exceptions, sales of the RAV4 has increased every year, with 2017 its best-selling edition with 407,594 units sold, including more than 50,000 hybrid models. The 2018 edition is the sixth year of the current generation, so the sales increase may halt as Toyota fanciers wait for a new generation.

As a compact crossover, the RAV4 is offered in six trims, including the reviewed, top-line Platinum. A 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, 176-horsepower engine is standard on all trims as is front-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive is optional as in previous years. The SE trim is the sportiest; the Adventure trim is the most outdoorsy, although both have a raised ground clearance.

At the top of the price structure (MSRP, $34,750), the Platinum trim is chock-full or safety, technology and convenience features. A hands-free power liftgate, front and rear parking sensors, fancier exterior trim, heated steering, a 360-degree parking camera, and the Entune Premium JBL audio system (11 speakers) with an integrated navigation and app suite package.

Eighteen-inch wheels, chrome exterior trim, blind-spot and rear-crossing traffic warning systems, keyless entry, driver-seat memory and an auto-dimming mirror are also standard. The Platinum standard features are available as options on other trims.

Since the RAV4 has remained the same generation for six years, the exterior interior styling isn’t as modern and detailed as its primary competitors, the Chevy Equinox, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V.

The RAV4, by comparison, has a straight-forward, two-tone interior. There’s little learning curve with controls and dials intuitive and well-positioned. Front and back seats are sturdy, spacious and easy to adjust with side power controls.

Sport utility vehicles by definition should provide easy-to-access and plentiful cargo space. It’s one of the RAV4’s better qualities. The power liftgate works simply and quickly, and the rear cargo area surface is at an ideal level. Groceries, golf bags and supplies are conveniently stored and easily removed without back wrenching.

The RAV4 presents among the smoothest SUVs highway drives I’ve experienced. I made two round-trip treks to Pebble Beach from Sacramento in one week and covered about 850 miles. The cruise control system is intuitive and includes a speed reduction system if the vehicle in front of you gets too close.

The flow of traffic on Interstate 5 often exceeds the speed limit by at least 10 miles per hour. I had the cruise control set on 76-78 miles per hour. The RAV4 advanced smoothly and with little exterior noise hindrance. Manufacturer gas mileage averages are 23 in city driving, 29 in highway driving. I averaged 27.8 miles per gallon.

Acceleration isn’t great, but freeway speed acceleration and lane passing is accomplished without issue and also without authority.

The RAV4’s competitors may have more pizzaz, more technology options and more innovative exterior and exterior designs. But there’s plenty to be said for tradition, simplicity and practicality.

The RAV4 is like the Starbucks for cars. Better SUVs and better coffee abound. But consistently has its well-deserved reputation. And it’s a good a reason why the RAV4 has maintained its place among the best-selling compact SUVs.

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