We drove a $39,000 Toyota RAV4 to see if the best-selling SUV in America is worth the money. Here's the verdict.

Toyota RAV4 Limited 2019Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

  • The Toyota RAV4 is all-new for 2019 the model year.
  • The RAV4 is the best-selling compact crossover SUV in the US ahead of rivals like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, and MazdaCX-5.
  • The 2019 RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter, 203 horsepower, naturally aspirated inline-four-cylinder engine that's shared with the Toyota Camry sedan.
  • We liked the RAV4's impressive suite of standard safety features and its redesigned interior. We were unimpressed by the RAV4's harsh and unrefined powertrain.
  • The base 2019 Toyota RAV4 LE with front-wheel-drive starts at $25,500 while the top-spec Limited trim starts at $33,500. With options and fees, our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited carried an as-tested price of $38,565.

The original Toyota RAV4 crossover SUV first arrived in American showrooms back in 1996. It was a world powered by beepers, fax machines, and dial-up modems. American Online was all the rage and the best-selling car in the US was the Ford Taurus.

Fast forward 23 years, the world has changed considerably. Smartphones, social media and wifi dominate daily communications. AOL is but a shell of its former self and the same can be said for the Ford Taurus that's once again headed for the chopping block.

In 2018, Toyota sold more than 427,000 RAV4s, making it the fourth-best selling vehicle in the US behind only the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, and the RAM 1500.

Read more: We drove a $34,000 Hyundai Tucson to see if it's a legitimate rival for Honda, Toyota, and Subaru. Here's the verdict.

The RAV4 is also the top seller in a compact SUV segment that accounted for roughly one out of every five vehicles sold in the US last year and growing at a rate of 11.9%, according to data compiled by Kelley Blue Book.

In the marketplace, the RAV4 is a direct rival for the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, and Ford Escape.

For 2019, Toyota introduced an all-new fifth-generation RAV4.

Recently, Business Insider had a chance to spend a week with 2019 Toyota RAV4 prototype in Limited trim.

The base 2019 Toyota RAV4 LE starts at $25,500 while the mid-grade XLE, XLE Premium, and Adventure models start at $27,300, $29,500, and $32,900 respectively. The top-grade Limited trim starts at $33,500. Hybrid variants of the RAV4 start at $27,700 for the LE and runs all the way up to the Limited trim, which starts at $35,700. All-wheel-drive is available as a $1,400 option on all trims except the Adventure and Hybrid variants, which come standard with the AWD.

With options and fees, our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited carried an as-tested price of $38,565.

Here's a closer look at the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited:

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In 1994, the original first-generation Toyota RAV4 debuted in Japan. It didn't arrive in the US until 1996 and was available as both as a four-door and ...

In 1994, the original first-generation Toyota RAV4 debuted in Japan. It didn't arrive in the US until 1996 and was available as both as a four-door and ...

... as a two-door. In case you were wondering, RAV4 stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with Four-wheel-drive.

... as a two-door. In case you were wondering, RAV4 stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with Four-wheel-drive.

Toyota even offered an all-electric version of the RAV4 in select regions between 1997 and 2003.

Toyota even offered an all-electric version of the RAV4 in select regions between 1997 and 2003.

Toyota launched a second generation variant for the 2001 model year and...

Toyota launched a second generation variant for the 2001 model year and...

... a third generation for the 2006 model year.

... a third generation for the 2006 model year.

Toyota brought back the RAV4 EV from 2012 to 2014. This time, it featured a Tesla drivetrain.

Toyota brought back the RAV4 EV from 2012 to 2014. This time, it featured a Tesla drivetrain.

The fourth generation RAV4 arrived for the 2013 model. It ended its production in 2018 as the best-selling SUV in America.

The fourth generation RAV4 arrived for the 2013 model. It ended its production in 2018 as the best-selling SUV in America.

For 2019, Toyota is back with an all-new fifth generation RAV4.

For 2019, Toyota is back with an all-new fifth generation RAV4.

The new RAV4 is built on Toyota's new TNGA-K global mid-size platform shared with the Camry sedan. Previous RAV4s were built on compact platforms shared with the Corolla and the Prius.

The new RAV4 is built on Toyota's new TNGA-K global mid-size platform shared with the Camry sedan. Previous RAV4s were built on compact platforms shared with the Corolla and the Prius.

Its wheelbase is now 1.2 inches longer, but apart from that, the RAV4's overall dimensions remain virtually unchanged.

Its wheelbase is now 1.2 inches longer, but apart from that, the RAV4's overall dimensions remain virtually unchanged.

Its grounded clearance has also increased by roughly 2 inches to as much as 8.6 inches.

Its grounded clearance has also increased by roughly 2 inches to as much as 8.6 inches.

The RAV4 news sheet metal is handsome and modern, delivering suburban civility with a subtle evocation of 4Runner/Land Cruiser ruggedness.

The RAV4 news sheet metal is handsome and modern, delivering suburban civility with a subtle evocation of 4Runner/Land Cruiser ruggedness.

The centerpiece of the RAV4's front fascia is a large grille along with a sizable Toyota logo. They are flanked by round fog lamps and LED headlights.

The centerpiece of the RAV4's front fascia is a large grille along with a sizable Toyota logo. They are flanked by round fog lamps and LED headlights.

The rear end design features a subtle spoiler and dual exhausts.

The rear end design features a subtle spoiler and dual exhausts.

The RAV4's interior is also all-new.

The RAV4's interior is also all-new.

We were impressed by the RAV4's interior. Material quality was outstanding and everything felt really well put together.

We were impressed by the RAV4's interior. Material quality was outstanding and everything felt really well put together.

The leather upholstered seats in our test car were soft and supportive with ample adjustments available.

The leather upholstered seats in our test car were soft and supportive with ample adjustments available.

Toyota worked hard to make the RAV4's cabin easy to live with. And it shows. Cabin ergonomics are top notch. Everything the driver needs is clearly marked and easily within reach.

Toyota worked hard to make the RAV4's cabin easy to live with. And it shows. Cabin ergonomics are top notch. Everything the driver needs is clearly marked and easily within reach.

I'm a fan of the various storage nooks found throughout the RAV4, like this one located right above the glove box.

I'm a fan of the various storage nooks found throughout the RAV4, like this one located right above the glove box.

In front of the driver is a hybrid digital/analog instrument cluster. Our test car's 7.0-inch information display worked well and offered a bevy driving data. Lower trim cars come with the a 4.2-inch display.

In front of the driver is a hybrid digital/analog instrument cluster. Our test car's 7.0-inch information display worked well and offered a bevy driving data. Lower trim cars come with the a 4.2-inch display.

Atop the center stack is an 8-inch touchscreen running the latest version of Toyota's Entune infotainment system. Entune is not one of our favorite systems.

Atop the center stack is an 8-inch touchscreen running the latest version of Toyota's Entune infotainment system. Entune is not one of our favorite systems.

Even though Toyota has made improvements to the system, it's still clunky to use and its presentation is decidedly outdated.

Even though Toyota has made improvements to the system, it's still clunky to use and its presentation is decidedly outdated.

Entune is not without its merits. The system has plenty of feature content such as app integration, Wi-Fi connectivity, and built-in navigation.

Entune is not without its merits. The system has plenty of feature content such as app integration, Wi-Fi connectivity, and built-in navigation.

Also, the physical short cut buttons around the bezel of the screen that dramatically improve Entune's usability.

Also, the physical short cut buttons around the bezel of the screen that dramatically improve Entune's usability.

Also, kudos to Toyota for including a tuner knob. It's old school, but it works.

Also, kudos to Toyota for including a tuner knob. It's old school, but it works.

And then there's Apple CarPlay capability. It's available for the first time on the RAV4 and allows you to completely bypass the Entune should you choose to.

And then there's Apple CarPlay capability. It's available for the first time on the RAV4 and allows you to completely bypass the Entune should you choose to.

Lower down on the center stack are the RAV4's climate controls and seat heaters. Again, well designed and easy to use.

Lower down on the center stack are the RAV4's climate controls and seat heaters. Again, well designed and easy to use.

At the base of the center stack is a power socket, USB plug, and a Qi wireless charging pad.

At the base of the center stack is a power socket, USB plug, and a Qi wireless charging pad.

Our test car came equipped with a screen embedded into the rearview mirror. The screen can be turned on or off using a toggle switch at the bottom of the mirror.

Our test car came equipped with a screen embedded into the rearview mirror. The screen can be turned on or off using a toggle switch at the bottom of the mirror.

The system took a little while to get used to, but worked like a charm. It'll be particularly useful when the RAV4 is packed with people or cargo and rear visibility is obstructed.

The system took a little while to get used to, but worked like a charm. It'll be particularly useful when the RAV4 is packed with people or cargo and rear visibility is obstructed.

One of the RAV4's highlights is its advanced camera system.

One of the RAV4's highlights is its advanced camera system.

Not only does it have a rear view and an overhead view, ...

Not only does it have a rear view and an overhead view, ...

... it also offers a 360-degree panoramic view that will swing around to show the car's surroundings.

... it also offers a 360-degree panoramic view that will swing around to show the car's surroundings.

The system also has a feature that will show you what the car looks like from the perspective of those around it.

The system also has a feature that will show you what the car looks like from the perspective of those around it.

Here's an overhead view from the front left.

Here's an overhead view from the front left.

All RAV4's come standard with Toyota's Safety Sense suite of semi-autonomous driver's assistance technologies including pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist, and traffic sign assist.

All RAV4's come standard with Toyota's Safety Sense suite of semi-autonomous driver's assistance technologies including pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist, and traffic sign assist.

The RAV4's second row felt roomy and spacious. It offers 37.8 inches of legroom, up from 37.2 inches in the previous generation model. However, it lags behind the Hyundai Tucson's 38.2 inches not to be mention of the Subaru Forester and the Mazda CX-5, both of which offer more than 39 inches.

The RAV4's second row felt roomy and spacious. It offers 37.8 inches of legroom, up from 37.2 inches in the previous generation model. However, it lags behind the Hyundai Tucson's 38.2 inches not to be mention of the Subaru Forester and the Mazda CX-5, both of which offer more than 39 inches.

This massive panoramic glass roof is also a nice optional extra. It gives the cabin and open and airy feeling.

This massive panoramic glass roof is also a nice optional extra. It gives the cabin and open and airy feeling.

Open up the power lift gate and...

Open up the power lift gate and...

... you'll find 37 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold down the second row and cargo capacity increases to 69.8 cubic feet. Both figures are down from the 38.4 cubic feet and 73.4 cubic feet capacities of the outgoing RAV4.

... you'll find 37 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold down the second row and cargo capacity increases to 69.8 cubic feet. Both figures are down from the 38.4 cubic feet and 73.4 cubic feet capacities of the outgoing RAV4.

Underneath the cargo floor is a spare tire, an increasingly rare feature in cars these days.

Underneath the cargo floor is a spare tire, an increasingly rare feature in cars these days.

All non-hybrid RAV4s are powered by a 2.5-liter, 203 horsepower, naturally aspirated inline-four-cylinder engine shared with the Toyota Camry.

All non-hybrid RAV4s are powered by a 2.5-liter, 203 horsepower, naturally aspirated inline-four-cylinder engine shared with the Toyota Camry.

It's mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels or an optional all-wheel-drive system.

It's mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels or an optional all-wheel-drive system.

Hybrid RAV4's are powered by the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a hybrid drive system to produce 219 unit horsepower, sending power to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission.

Our test car came with a fancy Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel-drive system that can send up to 50% of the engine's torque to the rear wheels. It can also distribute power between the left rear and right rear based on road conditions.

Our test car came with a fancy Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel-drive system that can send up to 50% of the engine's torque to the rear wheels. It can also distribute power between the left rear and right rear based on road conditions.

So, what's it like to drive?

So, what's it like to drive?

Shockingly unrefined.

Everything about the Toyota RAV4 conveys thoughtfulness and refinement from the quality of its interior plastics to its comfortable ride.

The same could not be said for the driving experience. The 2.5-liter engine is one of the most coarse-sounding four-cylinder engines I've encountered in a long time. Under hard acceleration, the engine buzzes and strains like a poorly executed 20-year old tuner Honda Civic.

The 8-speed automatic doesn't help the situation. Shifts were a tad slow and came with a somewhat uncouth jolt.

What's most surprising is the fact that the drivetrain is shared with the current generation four-cylinder Toyota Camry, a vehicle we thoroughly enjoyed.

On the bright side, the four-banger delivers strong acceleration amid the noise.

Overall, the RAV4's driving dynamics are unremarkable.

The verdict.

The verdict.

The Toyota RAV4 is the best-selling SUV in America for a reason. It has delivered solid, sensible, and reliable transportation with an extra dose of fun for more than two decades now.

And it is set to continue that trend with the fifth-generation 2019 RAV4.

The new Toyota RAV4 delivers a capable, high-tech, and easy-to-live-with compact crossover in a handsomely-styled package. Now, I just need Toyota to add to some sound insulation and retune the transmission.

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