The current Toyota RAV4 is reliable, sells well, and in plug-in hybrid form, has one of the longest electric ranges available on PHEVs in the U.S. But it’s not the best RAV4 ever. No, that honor goes to the two-door soft-top version that Toyota sold back in 1998. I do not care if you disagree, because you are wrong.
Maybe it wasn’t the most practical. Or the most powerful. Or the most fuel efficient. But who cares? That little ol’ RAV4 had spunk! It had charm! It was fun! It might not have been a corner-carver, but you know what else isn’t a corner-carver? The current RAV4.
Here, let’s have MotorWeek hose and automotive journalism icon John Davis tell us a little bit more about the 1998 Toyota RAV4 Soft-Top:
Right out of the gate, Davis calls the first-generation RAV4 “cute” and “just plain fun to drive.” To quote him again, “Now, what could Toyota do to make the already fun RAV4 even more so?” Obviously, give the two-door version a soft-top. Which Toyota did.
As Davis points out, it’s a method that works with sports cars, so obviously, Toyota knew it would make the lil RAV4 even better. And in true sports car form, Toyota skipped a power-operated soft-top in favor of a manual one. For lightness, obviously.
It might not have offered “the wind-in-the-hair feel of a true convertible,” but who cares? It’s not like the current RAV4 offers that either. And the best part? Upgrading to the obviously superior RAV4 Soft-Top was free! That’s right, the $16,798 all-wheel-drive model MotorWeek tested cost exactly the same as the hardtop version.
So there you go. Case closed. The first-generation Toyota RAV4 Soft-Top is canonically the best Toyota RAV4 of all time. At least here on Jalopnik, that is.