Toyota's GR Sport-ified RAV4 for Europe Deserves Some Attention

Image:  Toyota
Image: Toyota

The Toyota RAV4 Prime is faster than you’d think, with its 302 horsepower. But, in true Toyota fashion, it keeps any and all sporting pretense on the down low. In Europe, the brand is playing things a bit differently with the announcement of the RAV4 GR Sport.

Now, I know plenty of you are rolling your eyes at “RAV4" and “GR” in the same sentence, unless that sentence happens to go something like, “I can’t believe the same company that makes the RAV4 also makes the GR Yaris!” GR Sport is Toyota’s version of Hyundai’s N Line, or BMW’s M Sport, trickling some of the motorsport-inspired trim from those brands’ full-fat GR offerings down to ordinary grocery-getters and family-haulers. The RAV4 GR Sport, which comes in both hybrid and plug-in hybrid forms, is one such car.

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Image:  Toyota
Image: Toyota

But Toyota deserves a little bit of credit here, and I’ll tell you why. Typically with these fake-fast trim packages automakers dangle in front of us, the transformation is skin deep. You get the bumpers or maybe the wheels of the true enthusiast offering, without any of the hardware. This is not the case with the RAV4 GR Sport, which actually benefits from a tauter ride! As Toyota explains:

The sportier looks are complemented by further improvements to the suspension for the GR SPORT model. The new stiffer springs and shock absorber settings are expected to give the RAV4 GR SPORT a handling boost and offer a more engaging driving experience.

That’s a little bit of effort! Not a ton of effort, but hey — they’re giving you something the non-GR Sport model doesn’t have, that isn’t purely visual. Because inside, wouldn’t you know there are plenty of GR badges all over the place, even embossed in the headrests atop the suede-insert sport bucket seats.

Image:  Toyota
Image: Toyota

In all seriousness, I don’t think we’re missing a whole lot here by not getting the GR Sport RAV4 in the States. But I do find it puzzling how Toyota’s performance branding is sort of all over the place now.

Toyota Racing Development, or TRD, was once the global signifier for the automaker’s enthusiast-minded products. That was replaced by Gazoo Racing, or GR, halfway through the last decade. Meanwhile, Toyota Motor North America has sort of repackaged TRD as a purely off-roading type thing, which I suppose makes sense in this overlanding-obsessed market — until you remember that Toyota still offers the Camry TRD. It must be the NASCAR connection that keeps it alive.

Contrast that with Europe and Asia, where Toyota has rolled out the GR Sport line across damn near its entire range — even the new Land Cruiser. Here, there’s no such thing as GR Sport. I wonder if Toyota’s American arm ever plans to change that. As for this RAV4, I can’t tell you how much Toyota Europe intends to charge for it, but I can tell you that interested shoppers can look for it in the coming weeks.

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