TOYOTA may be seen as a slightly bland yet massively successful car company, but it has made bold moves in the past, like actually bringing the Prius to market.
Mostly, however, it has made smart moves. Like looking at the Suzuki Vitara, a compact SUV first launched way back in 1988, and realising that, if they made a vehicle the same size but less focused on actually going offroad, they’d have a phenomenon on their hands.
The result was the RAV4, launched in 1994 and generally acknowledged as the first ‘crossover’ SUV, or soft-roader.
Just look at how many rivals it has now, from the Nissan Qashqai to the Subaru Forester, and you can see what a profound effect it has had on the market.
Toyota was smart enough to realise that jacking up a Corolla and putting some serious-looking plastic cladding on its flanks could be enough to open up a whole new market.
RAV4 stands for Recreational Activity Vehicle with 4-wheel drive. But part of its genius was that it was also offered with front-wheel drive, making the supposedly off-road tech an option you didn’t have to pay for if you knew damn well you’d never use it.
The RAV4 has grown, and grown less ugly, over the years, but its longevity is another marker of what a stand-out vehicle it has been.
High driving position and illusion of ruggedness makes it extremely popular with female buyers.
All the world’s soft SUVs only exist because of the RAV4. Could we have lived without them? Yes.