Like the Mid engined Recreational 2 seater, (MR2) of a decade earlier, Toyota’s product planners had spotted yet another new US market niche in the early 1990s. The Recreational Active Vehicle with four wheel drive RAV-4, as it became known was a simple proposition. The Recreational Active simply combined the snappy acceleration and nippy handling of a sporty hatchback with the looks and high driving position of an off roader. It was a formula that other manufactures eventually rushed to follow. It was obvious by the turn of the decade that, with the market share off roaders increasing every year. This was especially true in the USA, it was obvious that there was something integral to the 4×4 character that was attracting buyers, despite the inherent disadvantages. The vast majority of 4x4s tended to the derivations of genuine off roaders, which meant they had heavy separate chassis and long travel suspension. Used as road cars, there off roaders handled poorly, were noisy, overweight, oversized and uneconomical. Even Suzuki’s small 4x4s were basically just farm vehicles.
Toyota correctly figured that it was the looks and driving position that attracted buyers, particularly women. So they used the running gear of an ordinary Toyota road car as the basis of a 4×4 that would be an ideal urban runaround. The RAV-4 was a swift (thanks to a 129 bhp engine from the Carina), handled very well and was surprisingly refined. Such was the RAV-4’s success that manufactures as diverse was Honda and Land Rover were forced to follow suit.