Test drive: The 2021 Toyota Rav4 TRD Off Road likes to get a little dirty

The compact SUV is already the best-selling vehicle that’s not a pickup truck and the hybrid model is the country’s most popular hybrid. The Rav4 Prime plug-in hybrid is also one of the fastest-selling cars in the U.S. and on its way to becoming the top seller in its segment. But while its clean machines are doing well, Toyota is also playing dirty to find new customers.

The 2021 Rav4 TRD Off Road is a more rugged version of the model that’s better equipped to head into the great outdoors. It’s not a serious four-wheeler like the 4Runner SUV, but toughened up to go off-piste now and then.

(Toyota)

The all-wheel-drive trim adds a half inch of ground clearance for 8.6 inches, some underbody protection, 18-inch wheels with chunky all-terrain tires that can also handle deep snow and a retuned and more durable suspension with red springs to let the folks at the middle-school drop off line know you’re the cool parent. 

All weather rubber floor mats protect the cabin and cargo area, its taller roof rails can handle more types of racks and it comes with a moonroof and power liftgate. A 360-degree camera good for both parallel parking and squeezing between trees is optional.

It’s essentially a more extreme version of the Rav4 Adventure with a few additional features and uses the Rav4’s standard 203 hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. Hill descent control and a traction management system with settings for mud, sand and rock are included. The maximum tow rating is 3,500 pounds, which is enough for a small camper or a trailer with a personal watercraft or small boat.

(Toyota)

A lot of automakers are heading in this direction with their crossover SUVs as they try to capture the outdoor lifestyle crowd. The Subaru Outback Wilderness, GMC Acadia AT4 and Ford Explorer Timberline are all variations on the theme.

The Rav4 TRD Off Road is still excellent on pavement, with just a touch more noise and bounce in its step due to the tire change and a drop in fuel economy from 30 mpg combined to 28 mpg.

It’s noticeably improved in its namesake element, however, where the tires and suspension provide a much better ride on gravel and can take a solid hit from a rut or bump. This ability also comes in handy with potholes, so you can likely expect the Rav4 TRD Off Road to be a hit in urban settings until that new infrastructure program kicks in.

The Rav4 TRD Off Road is ultimately best treated like a hybrid bicycle or adventure motorcycle. It’s not quite as capable as something like the Ford Bronco Sport or Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and still mostly geared toward the road, but won’t break the second you try to drive off of it.

Just don’t try to go too far.

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2021 Toyota Rav4 TRD Off Road

Base price: $ 37,155

As tested: $ 47,740

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door, all-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: 2.5L four-cylinder

Power: 203 hp, 184 lb-ft

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

MPG: 25 city/32 hwy

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