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Toyota Rav4: Is It AWD Or 4WD?

It’s comfortable, it’s spacious, the safety features are insanely up-to-date and beyond this century, the technology keeps you up to date with real-time journey planning abilities, the RAV4 almost has everything you need in a vehicle. But is it 4WD or AWD?

Since its release in 1994, the Toyota Rav4 has come available in two main drivetrain systems. All-wheel-drive (AWD) and front-wheel-drive (FWD) are either offered as standard or upgrades and some four-wheel-drive (4WD) capabilities are offered in Rav4 vehicles depending on who you ask.

So, you’ve narrowed your vehicle search down to the Rav4 and it’s competing for first place on your list of possible vehicles to go out and buy. Would it change your mind to know that the latest Rav4 2021 release is not offered as a 4WD?

We hope not! Read on to learn more about the Rav4 and its drivetrain systems.

Is the Rav4 AWD or 4WD?

Toyota’s Rav4 has been offered in both all-wheel drive (AWD) and front-wheel-drive (FWD) in all its models since coming to the American market in 1996. There are, however, some Rav4 vehicles that come with a specific four-wheel-drive (4WD) -like systems but many would argue it is an AWD that offers 4WD abilities.  

Did you know the term “Rav” used to stand for Recreational Activity Vehicle and the number 4 represents the term four-wheel-drive?

Why some argue the mini–SUV Rav4 is a 4WD is because it does cater for some 4WD advantages. Like the option to purchase a 4WD anti-brake lock system as an additional feature and the exceptional ground clearance to make this compact crossover vehicle have a similar body shape to a 4WD.

Because Toyota has other vehicles, like the Land Cruiser, that is better for recreational activities, Toyota has changed the Rav4 name to mean “Robust Accurate vehicle”.

The Rav4 is described as a “lifestyle vehicle with the additional benefit of some all-wheel drive performance) – Toyota UK Magazine.

·         Which models of the Rav4 are AWD, FWD, or 4WD?

If you’ve purchased a used Toyota Rav4 and are unsure whether it’s FWD, AWD, or 4WD, we don’t blame you. The Rav4 has been said on numerous occasions to be a 4WD because they do use a full-time 4-wheel drive system and have some 4WD options. They are, however, all-wheel drive vehicles. Yes, confusing we know.

You can check your vehicle’s VIN and contact a local Toyota dealership to check what drivetrain your vehicle has. Otherwise, you can look under the car and check if you have front and rear axles.

Wikipedia has a decent table that outlines the engines and the year models of the Rav4 with the different drivetrains and body styles available.

Which Toyota Rav4 Cars are AWD?

All Toyota Rav4 vehicles are offered in AWD and FWD (or in some countries better known as 2WD).

Most Rav4 cars are offered as a standard FWD system except the hybrid models and the adventure trim which have a standard AWD feature.

Some years offer AWD in every trim for an additional price too and although not technically a 4WD, you can almost drive a Rav4 like a 4WD!

Toyota has advanced the Rav4 over the last 20 years and now offers the Rav4 in the following trim levels:

  • Le
  • XLE
  • XLE Premium
  • Adventure
  • TRD Off-Road
  • Limited

And the Rav4 Hybrid vehicle offers the following:

  • Le Hybrid
  • XLE Hybrid
  • XLE Premium Hybrid
  • XSE Hybrid
  • Limited Hybrid

You can see all of the trim features and what sets these levels apart from one another here.

Here is a brief history of the Rav4 from its release on the American market in 1996 and its most recent release of the 2021 – 2022 models:

  • 1996

The RAV4 is introduced to the US Market in January 1996 after first being launched in Japan in 1994. This mini-SUV was designed and targeted to younger adults who couldn’t afford the money for a larger more expensive SUV but who wanted the benefits of an SUV with AWD or 4WD abilities.

Available in FWD (front-wheel-drive) and AWD (All-wheel-drive) RAV4 comes equipped as standard AWD in some of its trims which are great for handling snowy, wet, and slippery road conditions. 

·         2021

The 2021 Rav4 comes equipped with standard AWD on all trim levels but the AWD system differs for each model from basic AWD to torque vectoring AWD (TV-AWD) on the higher RAV4 models. 

2021 Rav4 models offer the Toyota Intelligent AWD system (AWD-I).

Dynamic torque vectoring AWD is a system that can direct up to 50% of power to the rear wheels when needed. This differs from normal AWD because usually AWD sends most of its power to the front pair of tires whereas a 4WD generally sends most of its power to the rear wheels. 

When TV AWD is not switched on the AWD system will work normally as usual. 

Are Rav4 Hybrids AWD or 4WD?

All RAV4 Hybrids are offered as AWD to promote their more adventurous level of driving abilities.

The latest Rav4 Hybrids join engine and wheel power with an intelligence system that automatically detects and monitors the driving conditions and provides adjustments to suit the necessary traction, grip, and handling required in the environment being driven in. Pretty smart huh?

The AWD-I (all-wheel-drive with intelligence) assists the engine to spread and distribute power evenly. Most AWD systems still send the majority of their power to the front tires of the vehicle, but the intelligence AWD system can send up to 60% of power to the back tires as required.

The intelligence AWD system also increases the towing ability of the Rav4 to approximately 3600lbs which is enough to tow a couple of motorcycles, a small camper trailer, a couple of jet skis, and plenty more.

RAV4 All-Wheel-Drive System

As mentioned earlier, the 2021 Rav4 has multiple AWD systems that are slightly different in each model.

The Rav4 offers two AWD systems in its vehicles.

·         Hybrid E-four AWD

These Toyota models employ a secondary electric motor that sends power to the rear wheels. This is so that the AWD system is balanced between the front and rear of the vehicle which improves traction and grip. 

Even in standard AWD vehicles, most of the torque power is sent to the front tires. So, this system works to control and monitor consistent power and the spread of torque between both axels and all four tires. 

The system can automatically detect when the vehicle may need the sending more power to the rear tires due to the front tires losing grip and traction in slippery conditions. 

This provides optimal control to the handling of the vehicle especially when on gravel roads or going up steep hills and in icy road conditions. 

This model can also tow up to 1650kg

·         Mechanical AWD

The fourth generation of the Rav4 features an optional mechanical AWD system designed by Toyota to work like a functional 4WD system combined with stability control and electric power steering.

The mechanical AWD is smart enough to not have to rely on slip detection before administering enough torque to each tire in wet conditions. This mode can be switched on and off manually by the driver.

If understeer is detected, the AWD system can automatically send enough power to the rear wheels, up to 50% to enhance driving performance.

This system is found in the sport modes of the Rav4.


The Rav4 was designed for practicality, fuel efficiency, and minimal off-road abilities. Autotrader for the UK calls the Rav4 the beginning of a 4WD “soft-roader” phenomenon because it does contain some minimal 4WD features.

Although the Rav4 has some off-road adventure-like trims, its true drivetrain comes as either a standard FWD or AWD. But if you’re in the market for a smaller SUV with pretty decent clearance and 4WD skills without paying the hefty SUV 4WD price tag for some minor weekend adventures, you might consider the AWD Rav4.