Compact SUVs are catching on for the off-road/overlanding crowd. How is that? I mean, after all, aren’t these little “cute utes” just glorified cars with all-wheel drive? Some are, for sure, but many are actually a lot of fun to drive off the beaten path. Take, for example, the Toyota RAV4. This little SUV has a strong following for being a long-lasting, gas sipping ride that is affordable. Enough folks were taking their RAVs off-road that Toyota paid attention and the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road model came into being. Is this machine a serious, dirt-slinging, trail ripping buggy? Toyota put me behind the wheel for a week to see.

Appearances May Be Deceiving

For all-terrain tires that are more in tune to the pavement, but can handle dirt, the Falken Wildpeak AT tires are actually a great option.

When I first saw the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road, I noticed a few things. It looked like it had a low roofline, so I thought I would be cramped inside. That wasn’t the case at all. In fact, I had plenty of room inside the Toyota, and the ingress through the door was really good. The front end reminded me a little of a Polaris Slingshot, too. That’s not a bad thing either, as I like the look. I also noticed that it comes stock with Falken WildPeak All-Terrain tires. These aren’t exactly hard core off-road tires, but for the target audience of this model, they work. They aren’t full-blown street tires, which I’ve seen other vehicles come with, even though they are for the off-road crowd.


I noticed right away that it was equipped with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) dial with MUD and SAND, ROCK & DIRT, SNOW, and NORMAL drive modes, and it has a Downhill Assist Control, too. I couldn’t find any snow, but I found the rest of the terrain types. You can tell the differences with how the vehicle reacts to the various terrain and traction challenges. It surprised me just how well it performed, but then again, I wasn’t really going to push it to a point where I might severely damage the SUV. I want Toyota to let me play with stuff again, and I really don’t want to buy a new vehicle because I have to.

Comfort Level

The controls are very easy to reach and the touch-screen display is far better than many other SUVs that cost more.

The interior of the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road is very comfortable, especially since this is a compact SUV. The seat fits well and has a ton of adjustment. The TRD model has heated and cooled front seats. My wife has grown accustomed to the heated seats, so this is something I look for now. It’s kind of nice, too. If you’re out doing fun stuff like wading a river for trout, spending hours in a tree stand waiting for a deer, or hiking a long trail to the top of a mountain, coming back to the heated/cooled seats is a great way to unwind after an adventure. The rear seats are spacious enough with good foot-room. My son is 6ft and a football player and he fits very comfortably in the back seat. That’s a big deal.

There are plenty of cupholders, which always seems like a silly thing, but come on – that’s important! I don’t know about you, but I gots to have my coffee. I use a 30oz Yeti Rambler cup and the cupholders keep it secure. And by the way, if you aren’t using a Yeti cup, you need one. There are other cups that claim to be “just as good” but I’ve tried a bunch and – well, they’re not.

Check out a Yeti cup for yourself!


The Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road is powered by Toyota’s 2.5-Liter Dynamic Force 4-Cylinder DOHC motor that produces 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. When I picked it up, I went and found a straight road out in the countryside and I floored it. The RAV4 scoots along and is fun to drive. But an “off road” model shouldn’t just be a pavement pounder, right? There was a fun two-track I am familiar with right off said country road. I hit it with dirt flying off the rear tires and my right foot keeping the RAV4 hauling. Pavement is fun, but I prefer dirt.

Here’s what I learned during my time driving the Toyota. Steering is responsive and light, without being too light. It has near perfect all-wheel drive for a SUV. Generally speaking, I prefer real four-wheel drive with differential locks for off-road (as I’m sure most of you do, too), but the RAV4’s Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive works really quite well. It reminds me of Polaris’ On Demand AWD they use on the RZR. The AWD slips in seamlessly when you need it, however it is a little different. This system has a rear disconnect, so it gives you the benefits of a FWD car when it is under nominal use. This gives you a combined MPG of 28. That’s not bad at all.

Know Your Limits

Trunk space is really quite good with the RAV4. I can fit a lot of gear into it for fishing adventures.

In stock form, the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road is good for select off road usage. It will surprise you with its capabilities, but you have to know your limitations. This machine is suited best to overland-type driving, and those who want a small, economical ride to get them to their adventures. I used the RAV4 to head out to some of my favorite fly-fishing locations. It was perfect for that, especially for the places that are a little harder to access by vehicle. The low height of the RAV4 makes it slip right in. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s fun as all get out to drive.

Fly rod
The Orvis Clearwater kit is the perfect fly-rod setup to keep in your ride.

Check out deals on Orvis Fly Fishing Combos here!

Would I Buy One?

Would I buy one? If I needed a ride that got great gas mileage, but could still scoot in the dirt when I wanted to adventure, sure! The RAV4 is pretty cool!

That’s always the base question I ask when I test a machine of any kind. For me, and what I do, I probably wouldn’t get one – for me. Would I buy one for my wife, knowing that she does a lot of the same stuff I do? Yes, I would. The starting MSRP in the U.S. is $35,780. That’s not bad considering all that you get in this platform. My wife’s job requires her to do things like drive down a lot of back roads, visiting farms, etc. The drive modes and performance of the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road would come in quite handy doing that stuff. Plus, if she had one, then I’d get to drive it, too. I call that a win-win!

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