Baby SUV. Cute ute. Compact SUV. The Toyota RAV4 was like a category unto itself when it rolled onto the automotive scene in 1994. For the U.S. market, the first- and second-generation RAV4s arrived at a time when U.S. auto buyers were just starting to suffer big SUV fatigue: many enjoyed the elevated seating position and perceived safety advantage of the sport utility vehicles proliferating in the mid-1990s. But for some, the almost big-rig proportions seemed like overkill, the ride quality was jolting, and well, SUVs' reputations as gas hogs are legendary.
The diminutive RAV4 (Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-Wheel Drive) solved many of those problems by attaching a downsized SUV body to the chassis of an ordinary passenger car. In the first- and second-generation RAV4's case, it shared its under-the-body bits with the Toyota Corolla. The RAV4 is in fact credited with being the first compact SUV [source: MotorWeek].
While today RAV4s are in fact classified as crossovers, it made our list because it came out in 1994, many years before the term entered popular use. And the ground-breaking RAV4 proved that even in a time when massive Hummers freely roamed the roads, that there was a market for the non-extreme SUV.
For more information about crossovers and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.