Curbside Classic: 1998 Toyota RAV4 Two-Door – The First Modern CUV, And Electric One Too

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 they were sedans/wagon bodies converted to all-wheel drive. In the modern parlance, a CUV is a multipurpose vehicle based on sedan underpinnings, but with its own completely unique body. 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.

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 large CUVs grow…

The RAV4 also pioneered another category: the first CUV EV. Built specifically to meet California’s zero-emissions regs (later rescinded), it had a 27 kWh NiMH battery pack capable of some 120 miles range, in optimum conditions. Unlike GM’s EV-1, it was actually sold briefly to the public in 2002, and became the only vehicle of its kind on the roads until the modern generation of EVs came along recently. This one is shown with a  “Long Ranger” gen-set trailer for extended trips.

And the current RAV4 EV is reprising its pioneering role, as a product of Tesla and Toyota’s hookup. Now sporting a Tesla electric drive train with a useful battery capacity of 41-.8 kWh, the EPA has deemed its range at 103 miles. Priced at $49,800 before federal and state incentives, Toyota expects (hopes) to sell some 2600 per year in California only, once again to meet the zero-emissions regulations.

While you’re not likely to find the EV version, the RAV4 continues to be one of the best sellers in the category that it pioneered, even if it has grown up along with the rest. What ever happened to shorties? I miss them.