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The Toyota RAV4 is one of the most popular vehicles on the market today, and it’s had an interesting history. For example, its name is vastly different from the names of other Toyota models, but this compact SUV’s moniker is actually simpler than it seems. Here’s a brief look at the Toyota RAV4’s history and what its name means.

A brief history of the Toyota RAV4

The idea behind the Toyota RAV4 was simple. In fact, it’s an idea many folks might think of nowadays because it’s obvious to the average person. That idea was to create a car that could do some light off-roading like an SUV while offering the comfort of a passenger car, MotorTrend reports. The result was a vehicle with a unibody design like a car, different from the truck-like, body-on-frame SUVs that continue to dominate the segment.

The first iteration of the RAV4 came in 1989 at the Tokyo Motor Show. It was called the RAV Four concept, and unsurprisingly, it remained a concept. Toyota’s engineers made a second iteration that debuted as another concept in 1993. This was pretty close to what would eventually become the first generation of the RAV4 sold to consumers, MotorTrend says. It debuted in Japan and Europe in 1994 and crossed the ocean to America in 1996. 

Since then, it has become the best-selling compact SUV.

What does RAV in RAV4 stand for?

The Toyota and RAV4 logos displayed on the back of a Toyota RAV4 at a dealership in Oakland, California, in 2011
Toyota RAV logo | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“RAV4” stands for “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4WD.” It isn’t a particularly creative name compared to something like the Prius or Tacoma, but it spells out exactly what Toyota intended this small SUV to be. And certainly, as the vehicle’s history shows, the automaker succeeded. 

The first-generation RAV4 was successful enough: Toyota sold about 300,000 units globally in the first three years. Toyota experimented a bit, and at one point, it even created an all-electric version, the RAV4 EV. This was a different all-electric version from the one Toyota designed with Tesla a decade later. However, both EVs failed for different reasons.

In any case, by 2012, Toyota unveiled the fourth generation of the RAV4, and it’s pretty close to the model that’s so popular today. In fact, to show how far this vehicle has come, Toyota now sells about 400,000 RAV4s a year, and that’s just in the U.S. alone, MotorTrend reports. It’s no surprise why it’s been such a popular car for so long because it has a lot going for it.

An overview of the 2021 model


Are You the 1 Type of Driver Who Should Buy the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime?

The 2021 RAV4, which starts at about $26,000, still does what Toyota intended it to do all those years ago. It comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, but it also offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. The RAV4 Prime PHEV provides a bit more power and far better fuel economy than the standard RAV4. But all models are capable of at least light off-roading.

The RAV4 still provides a comfortable ride, too. This is because of its unibody construction and spacious seating. That said, most trims don’t offer four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive as standard. Instead, they come with front-wheel drive as standard, but AWD is optional and even standard on the higher trims.

Additionally, the RAV4 has all the smart tech you’d expect from a modern vehicle, including advanced safety features and wireless connectivity. Add in Toyota’s reputation for reliability, and it’s no wonder this small SUV is a top seller.