The Toyota RAV4 is a compact crossover SUV from Toyota. It was the first compact crossover SUV, introduced in Japan and Europe in 1994 and beginning sales in North America in 1996. The vehicle was designed for consumers wanting a vehicle that had most of the benefits of SUVs, such as increased cargo room, higher visibility, and the option of full-time four-wheel drive, along with the maneuverability and better fuel economy of a smaller car. Its name stands for "Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive", although not all RAV4s have four wheel drive, which is optional in some countries. The early success of the RAV4 paved the way for other compact SUVs such as the Ford Escape and the Subaru Forester. In most countries, the RAV4 is the only compact SUV from Toyota. In other markets, it is the crossover counterpart of the FJ Cruiser. Since the 2006 third generation model, Toyota has offered both short- and long-wheelbase versions of the RAV4. Short-wheelbase versions are retailed in Japan and Europe, with Australia and North America receiving the long-wheelbase versions. Toyota in Japan also sells the longer version as the Toyota Vanguard.
The RAV4 was originally based on the Corolla platform, and was offered in both two and four-door versions. In the US, a 2.0 litre straight-4 producing 120 hp (89 kW) was offered. Both front wheel drive and all-wheel drive were available, and the RAV4 could be had with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. In 1998, the RAV4 was slightly restyled on the front and rear fascias, and a soft-top two-door was made available. Power was increased slightly to 127 hp (95 kW). In 1999, the two-door hardtop was dropped from the American lineup, leaving the 4-door and soft-top models.
The second generation RAV4 went on sale in the middle of 2000, and came in base Edge and upmarket Cruiser models (model designations may vary according to market), in both 3- and 5-door configurations. The main differentiation between the two models was in appearance. Edge models came with unpainted grey bumpers and side cladding, mirrors, and door handles, and featured steel rims. Cruiser models gained body-coloured (painted) bumpers and moldings, mirrors, and door handles, alloy wheels, and ABS brakes. All models came equipped with a brand-new 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine featuring VVT (variable valve timing), resulting in improved power and torque, as well as fuel consumption. Permanent all-wheel-drive was a feature. Options were ABS brakes (on the Edge), and air conditioning (on all models).
The third generation RAV4 is offered in two versions: a short- or a long-wheelbase model. The short-wheelbase model is sold only in Japan and Europe, with the long-wheelbase RAV4 sold in Australia and North America. Since 2007, the extended-length RAV4 is also sold alongside its shorter counterpart in Japan as the Toyota Vanguard, albeit with a revised front-end body work incorporating a revised grille, bumper, bonnet and headlamps.
The vehicles were built in Toyota's Tahara, Aichi assembly plant, and under contract by Toyota Industries in its Nagakusa, Obu, Aichi plant. Beginning in November 2008, the North American vehicles were built in the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. Second Plant. Beginning in March 2009, Chinese models began production in by Tianjin FAW Toyota Motor Co. Ltd. in a joint-venture plant in Tianjin, China.