In August of 2016, Toyota’s RAV4 CUV outsold its long best-selling Camry sedan for the first time ever. For that matter, so did the Honda CRV and the Nissan Rogue. CUVs have become the best selling passenger cars. Who would have predicted that in 1994, when Toyota launched the very first CUV (1996 in the US)? And although the longer four door version was always the best seller, it’s easy to forget that the RAV4 was also available in a short version, both as hardtop and as soft top.
The origins of the term CUV (“crossover utility vehicle”) are a bit vague. According to one source, it was used to describe the market segment of some AMC/Jeep vehicles (Eagle, SX/4) as a rationale for Chrysler’s acquisition of AMC in 1987. But those were sedans/wagon bodies converted to all-wheel drive. In the generally accepted definition, a CUV is a multipurpose vehicle based on sedan underpinnings, but with its own completely unique body, inherently taller than its sedan donor. And in terms of kicking off the modern CUV explosion, the 1996 Toyota RAV4 gets the honors.
The RAV4, in both short and long-wheelbase form, was originally only sold in Japan, starting in 1994. US sales began in 1996. It sat on a modified Corolla platform, and was powered by the 2.0 L 3S-FE 16-valve four used in a variety of mid-sized Toyotas. In the original RAV4 version, it was rated at 120 hp. A minor facelift in 1998 brought a 127 hp version. Auto parts for the Toyota RAV4 model are still available online, so no need to worry about replacement parts.
1998 also saw the introduction of the soft-top version of the two-door, to compete more directly against the Suzuki Sidekick/Geo Tracker, which were not CUVs, as they were designed as 4x4s from the ground up.
Needless to say, the two-doors were very short indeed, sitting on an 86.6″ (2200mm) wheelbase. And how huge are CUVs like the Buick Enclave? From tiny RAV4s do mighty CUVs grow…