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Toyota's car-based RAV4 from 1996 was the starting signal for a vehicle segment that has redesigned the industry.

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, California – Almost 25 years after the launch of the first Toyota RAV4, it's hard to believe someone had to invent the segment. But it is true. The compact car-based crossover was once a novelty.

The groundbreaking Toyota nameplate hit Japan and Europe in 1994, surpassing early sales expectations. In 1996, it entered the US, resulting in a crowded and highly competitive segment. Last year, the RAV4 reached US $ 407,000, outperforming the Camry and all other non-pickup vehicles in the US, and benefited from a continued shift of consumers from limousines to crossovers.

And yet, according to Yoshikazu Saeki, Chief Engineer of the 2019 RAV4, holding back something of a platform shared with the Corolla, which gave it a rather car-free ride, but also limited its versatility as a commercial vehicle.

This restriction is no longer, says Saeki. After migrating from RAV4 to the Toyota New Global Architecture, a more versatile platform that underpins Toyota's next-generation product. This list includes the Corolla sedan and the hatchback, yes, but it has also been adapted to accommodate the Prius, Camry and Avalon along with a number of different options.

Saeki said he wanted to bring the latest RAV4 back to the essence of a commercial vehicle: a multi-purpose option that can handle adverse road conditions while still giving passengers a safe feeling.

Up or down sidewalk

Apart from jeep-like design accents and a more robust look, the new RAV4 has a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs on front and rear tires, which according to Toyota should support the trail capabilities. Available features include the Mud & Sand mode for beach trips and the Rock & Dirt mode for trails.

It also features a new powertrain offering: Dynamic four-wheel drive with torque vectoring and rear driveline that can steer up to 50% of engine torque to the rear wheels and slide to the left or right rear wheel to improve handling paving, says Toyota.

Toyota showed the off-road RAV4 on a bumpy course high above an exclusive resort during a media event this month.

Saeki said TNGA gave engineers more leeway to achieve the characteristics of different customers. "If you have that extra margin," he said, "you can test and challenge all sorts of things."

The 2019 RAV4 drives the versatile Toyota New Global Architecture.

The industry transformed

"Wheels with a larger diameter, higher ground clearance. You are looking at the product [and think], & # 39; OK, the car can go anywhere. & # 39; [Consumers] I have to feel that, "said Saeki, who joined Toyota in 1987 and spent his first years as a Landing Gear Landscaper.

Prices for the traditional gasoline models start at $ 26,545 for the base LE and the price limit at $ 34,545 for the Limited equipment. The hybrid models, which boast a 10-mile boost over gasoline at 39 mpg, start at $ 28,745 and reach $ 36,745 in the top tier. The prices include shipping. The sportiest model in the lineup is the hybrid XSE-HV trim with a time of 7 to 60 miles per hour.

Saeki remembers when the small utility market began around 2002. He said consumers were massively entering the segment. Toyota's job was to ensure that every consumer's expectations could be met.

In retrospect, Saeki said he was amazed that the RAV4 would boost a segment that is transforming the industry, accelerating the decline of sedans, and driving luxury brands into the commercial vehicle market. Saeki said he did not know if the crossover madness would keep its momentum, but adaptability would be the key in the years to come.

"The market is a living, breathing thing," he said. "You have to rationally look at it and the consumer's expectations to be flexible as you can adapt."

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