Toyota has a reputation for producing some pretty serious off-road vehicles. The Japanese government’s request for something even more capable than the US Willy’s Jeep led to what would eventually become the now iconic FJ40. Oil-rich young sheiks with multi-million dollar supercar collections still chose the Land Cruiser to bash dunes and hoon through the Arabian desert. And just ask the Top Gear guys how tough it is to kill a Hilux.
But the RAV4? Not so much. That’s a car more associated with supermarket parking lots, soccer practice runs, and sending your daughter off to college in something safe and practical. But could it also be a rally car contender?
At least one person thinks so, but it’s one person who knows what he’s talking about—Ryan Millen. To the rallycar world, the Millen family is basically what the Manning family is to professional football. Patriarch Rod Millen is an offroad legend with too many championships to count, his eldest son Rhys is a team Red Bull driver credited with being the first person to land a backflip in a truck, and now youngest Ryan, long a copilot of his father, is ready to make his mark on the Rally America circuit. And his personal car of choice, out of every car available in the world? A 2015 Toyota RAV4.
Of course, this isn’t a completely stock RAV4. The interior has been stripped to shed around 500 pounds of weight, the suspension and tires have been beefed up, and necessary safety measures such as a roll cage have been added. But the important bits—the engine, the transmission, the brakes? Exactly the same as the ones sitting behind you in the carpool pick-up lane.
To prove that a rally-winning RAV4 might not be that crazy of an idea, Toyota brought several of us out to the middle of Nevada’s Valley of Fire National Park, a terrain so desolate and treacherous you half-expect to come across Walter White cooking meth at any moment. In addition to introducing us to Ryan’s rally prepped RAV in person, they also let us rip a few straight-off-the-showroom models on a course around the rocky desert.
These little SUVs took everything we could throw at them without hesitation. While they could certainly provide a pack of journalists with a day’s worth of off-road thrills, will a RAV4 have what it takes to keep up with the legendary competition on the Rally America circuit? We’ll find out June 13th at the Idaho Rally when he, the car, and his co-driving girlfriend make their debut.
John Munson is a contributor to Supercompressor. He had a RAV4 rental car for a few days once, so was already fully aware these things could take a beating. Follow his poor decisions on Instagram @jwmunson