December 12, 2017

CHICAGO — With Toyota’s RAV4 expected to seize the brand’s sales crown from the Camry this year, the compact crossover is getting a more rugged version that may portend the shape of things to come.

The RAV4 Adventure features mostly cosmetic changes, such as a roof rack, lower body guards and a small lift in height, according to Toyota.

But it also has some functional changes, such as a towing package with a more robust radiator and supplemental cooling for engine oil and transmission fluid.

More interestingly, the Adventure trim could represent a new branch of a RAV4 family that is expected to sell as many as 400,000 vehicles this year, said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota Division.

“I think we’re trying to listen to consumers,” he said last week in an interview on the sidelines of the Chicago Auto Show. “We’re trying to go in the direction of some of their wants and needs and interests. I think we’re optimistic that this package can deliver on a little different look as that whole segment expands.”

For the 2016 model year, Toyota launched the RAV4 Hybrid. The eco-friendly model was a hit, selling 45,070 units in the U.S. last year, according to HybridCars.com. That accounts for 13 percent of RAV4 sales.

Now, Toyota is floating a trial balloon to see if consumers want something with a little more DNA from Toyota’s truck division.

“This is the first step. And from here we want to grasp the consumer acceptance and then see where we can go with it leading into the next major change for the RAV4,” said Greg Bernas, chief engineer in the Toyota Technical Center’s product development office.

Turning the soft roader into a rock climber would take additional engineering and “sitting down and understanding exactly what the capabilities are,” Bernas said, but isn’t out of the question if consumers show enough interest.

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