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 floormats on this example seem to be factory, and as an original JDM car, it’s of course RHD, and the seller states the car has only rolled about 12k 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 a 5-speed manual transmission with a new clutch. It also has a number of aftermarket 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. Painted dark blue, the seller advises that the paint is starting to fade a bit on the roof and there are some small dents, but overall it seems to shine well, and the original sticker graphic on the rear quarters really drive home that unique ’90s vibe.
While the exterior has a few little blemishes, the seller states 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 12k miles. Even the cargo area floor is impeccable, and the back seats fold down for a little extra practical storage.
Well appointed, this RAV4 features a moonroof, power windows, power locks, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CASS 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. Who knows on valuation, but this is definitely a “find another one” situation.