In the early 1990s Toyota
introduced the RAV4 to the Japanese market with a very positive reception.
Another small-tall (as they referred to them), the short wheelbase, tall
greenhouse was relatively typical of true Japanese car design, but not
something American consumers were familiar with. That was part of Toyota’s
hesitation in bringing the model to the U.S. – would they think it was goofy?
As it turned out, the RAV4 was introduced stateside to great acclaim in 1996 –
everyone seemed to love it. Versatile and nicely priced, it was offered as a
5-door or 3-door, with a manual or automatic transmission and with front or
all-wheel drive; it was a vehicle that could be custom tailored to whatever the
customer wanted, and that resonated here as well as it did in Japan. It was
easy to drive, offered nearly 360-degrees of visibility, was relatively
lightweight, and built on an athletic chassis that used components from the
Corolla and Carina. For as tall as it was, it actually handled twisties in
stride, and with a competent driver it could hustle down the road fairly well.
In 1997, Automobile
Magazine named it Automobile of the Year, and through the years,
Toyota continued improving on the design, engineering, power, and so on to make
it even better.
They seemingly built
trillions of them, and still build them today – it’s one of Toyota’s best
sellers – but they were often sold as a simple consumable, largely to a
demographic that needed a car to get them around, not sit in a garage or play
potential collector’s item. As such, few survive with low miles in good or
excellent condition, and fewer still have the period-popular graphics and
matching seat covers and patterned floor mats. Yes, even the floor mats on this
example seem to be factory, and as an original JDM car, it’s of course RHD, and
the car has only rolled about 53k miles from new, which explains the near
showroom look of the RAV4.
A 5-door variant, it’s
equipped with the all-wheel drive system and an Automatic transmission. It also
has a number of OEM accessories which make it a little more rugged, useful, and
even period fun, such as a brush guard with Bosch fog lights, rear bumper step,
and mud flaps. Spare wheel guard / ladder, original sticker graphic on the rear
quarters really drive home that unique ’90s vibe.
While the exterior has a few
little blemishes, the interior is perfect, and by the photos, that looks to be
an accurate description. The seats are upholstered in that trendy JDM period
pattern with colors that play off the dark blue paint, accenting the fender
graphics, a majorly cool element added to blend with the overall feel this RAV4
offers. The dash, door panels, and plastics all seem to be in top notch shape,
the seats looking like they’ve appropriately only been used. Even the cargo
area floor is impeccable, and the back seats fold down for a little extra
Well appointed, this RAV4
features power windows, power locks, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CASS/CD
Aftermarket stereo system. While it’s impossible to actually go back in time
(yet), rides like this at least make it possible to relive those days. Given
that so many of these first generation cars have fallen victim to abuse,
extraordinarily high miles, and a general sense of it being nothing more than a
transportation appliance, this RAV4 is really pretty astonishing.