I was browsing the internet a few days ago and came across a grainy photo of this 1989 Toyota RAV-FOUR concept at the Tokyo Motor Show—with the lower cladding painted silver. I had no idea what it was, until stumbling onto Toyota's UK blog that featured it as part of a RAV4 history article.
It took five years to go from this spunky runabout to the first RAV4 hitting the market—and hoo-boy, there were changes.
Although it's not the most evocative vehicle featured on #bcotd, it's the first time I can point to a concept car and confidently say, "If Toyota had made this Mazda Miata-like crossover, the RAV4 as we know it would have been toast inside of five years."
You're looking at the raw essence of what the designers and engineers wanted to do: a small, light, fun, and sporty—check out those seat bolsters! crossover. Sized like the Suzuki Jimny, it points to years of fun spent bashing dunes and carrying dirt bikes around instead of passengers. It's also more proof for what I've personally noted over years of meeting car designers: they're enthusiasts through and through.
I think we can agree we'd all love to take this little RAV-FOUR to a gravel road and have at it.
I think we can also agree that if Toyota had made this little cute ute, the company would be missing a few trillion dollars from its bank account due to lost sales. Toyota says:
"Toyota can rightfully claim to have created the compact SUV market with RAV4’s introduction in 1994. That year it sold 53,000 worldwide; the following year saw double that number reach the road, and by 1995 the total had tripled.
Global sales have grown with each of the four generations of RAV, with more than five million now having been sold. As a testament to Toyota’s reputation for building hard-wearing, reliable vehicles, more than 90 per cent of the RAV4 ever sold are still on the road today."
Can't argue with that, right? Feel free to point out that the first-generation RAV4 carried the concept's corrugated sides and that it was pretty close in theme and execution to what you see here. (But totally lacks the RAV-FOUR's miniaturized FJ-55 face!)
That's true, but I feel as though the essence of what the design team was trying to accomplish with this concept was lost by the time it hit production—and if sales are anything to go by, that's probably a good thing. What do enthusiasts know, anyway?