Not too long ago, a crossover like the 2021 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road would have made Jeep owners and even fellow 4Runner fanatics laugh. Crossovers, by their very nature, are a compromise, but there’s been a major shift in how manufacturers approach compact SUVs. Thanks to boom in the outdoor and adventure industry, demand is on the rise for affordable four-wheelers that can balance city life with light off-road and camping trips. The Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road is one of the newcomers to the neighborhood, eager to stand out from the RAV4s of yore.
To visually distinguish itself from the everyday RAV4, the TRD Off-Road gets black TRD badging and Toyota emblems on the outside, while inside, black leatherette seats and rubber floor mats all-seasons receive red TRD graphics and logos. You’ll also see red accents around the gauge cluster, cup holders and wireless phone chargers.
For upgrades that warrant the “TRD” and “Off-Road” badging, Toyota saw fit to outfit the RAV4 TRD Off-Road with TRD-specific 18-inch wheels with Falken Wildpeak A/T Trail 01A plus tires. beefy paired with all-terrain tires. tuned coil springs with revised damper tuning and new bump stops. And when it comes time to turn down that rocky dirt road, it’s these mechanical upgrades that give you the underlying confidence to do it. Then, when the ground starts to bounce back, you won’t wince at every bump and thump.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Toyota left the engine compartment intact. The RAV4 TRD Off-Road retains the standard eight-speed transmission and 2.5-liter inline-four, good for 203 horsepower. Even though the off-road community likes to rely on horsepower and torque stats, the RAV4 TRD Off-Road owner probably won’t try to tackle roads where more than 203 hp is needed. Around town, the engine is uninteresting, but it gets the job done. It’s neither more nor less than what you need in a regular daily life.
You’ll find the Ford Bronco Sport as the toughest competition for the Toyota. At $36,000, the baby Bronco is more affordable than the $42,000 Toyota. The Ford has a more powerful engine and also benefits from well-executed retro-modern styling. In contrast, the Ford returns worse MPG and has far less cargo space for all the weekend activities you might have planned.
If you’re looking for an exceptional off-roader ready to take on Moab straight from the factory, look elsewhere. The Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road can’t take on its tougher brethren, the Tacomas and 4Runner TRD Pros, and that was never intended either. And you know what? Its good.
Sometimes a weekend getaway upstate is all you want and the RAV4 TRD Off-Road is enough. Not all dirt tours will live up to the Baja 1000. Not all camping trips will require a guide and spotter to take you up and through the Rocky Mountains. The RAV4 TRD Off-Road was built for “light” off-roading and holds Toyota’s booming segment very well.