Published on Saturday 20 December 2014 10:21
Ten Second Review
Toyota's RAV4 compact SUV soft roader has been around so long it's easy to forget quite how far it's come. The fourth generation models are bigger, better finished, and far more efficient without forgetting that cars in this class need to look good and drive well too. Reacquaint yourself with it. You might be in for a surprise.
It's easy to underestimate quite what a debt of gratitude we owe the Toyota RAV4. Back in 1994, the market for compact 4x4s was massively different to the one we have today. If you wanted a modestly-sized SUV back then, you had to do so with the proviso that it was likely to fall over if it was shown a picture of a corner. This was all part of the bargain. You saved money on the upfront cost, but shelled out when it disappeared through a hedgerow on its door handles. The RAV4 changed all that. It was the first small 4x4 that was actually good fun to drive on road.
But times change. The RAV4 has grown ever bigger and more sophisticated in response to market entrants like the Land Rover Freelander, the Nissan X-TRAIL, the Honda CR-V and the Ford Kuga. The fourth generation car, first shown in late 2012, is a smarter take on a well-established theme. More spacious and more efficient but with lower up front pricing, it aims to bring the RAV4 back to its previous position, front and centre in the compact SUV marketplace. The recent addition of an AWD option for the entry-level 2.0-litre diesel variant can only help that quest.
You probably won't be too shocked to learn that the latest RAV4 engine range is heavily biased towards diesel. After all, that's where around 80% of all sales go. There is a petrol engine available, a 2.0-litre Valvematic unit that's mated to a CVT gearbox which directs drive to all four wheels, but it's very much a minority interest item. Of more relevance are the two diesel powerplants on offer. The first is an engine that's not going to be familiar; a 122bhp 2.0-litre D4-D diesel unit that's paired to a six-speed manual gearbox with drive going either to the front wheels or to all four wheels - depending on the version you choose.
Go for the punchier 148bhp 2.2-litre D4-D diesel and you get drive going to each corner and also the option of an automatic transmission. The 'Integrated Dynamic Drive' set-up is an interactive management system which co-ordinates control of the RAV4's neat 'Dynamic Torque Control AWD' system, Vehicle Stability Control and electric power steering to improve performance, handling and safety. There's also 4WD Lock button for off-road driving, allowing the driver to lock torque distribution in a 50:50 ratio at speeds up to 25mph.
Design and Build
The third generation RAV4 changed the look and feel of the car when it replaced cute and chunky with bold and aggressive. The latest version extends that theme, with a sharp, assertive look that mirrors many of the design cues of the iconic Landcruiser. It's 205mm longer, 30mm wider but 25mmlower than its predecessor, with the Toyota corporate face now including bigger front grilles and sharp-edged headlights flanked by LED daytime running lights. In profile view, the MK4 RAV4 shows a rising belt line, with blacked-out centre and rear pillars emphasising the lengthened side glass area and increase in interior space. The tailgate is now top-hinged with an integrated roof spoiler.
This RAV4's cabin has taken a step up in materials quality, with soft padding on many of the touch-points for driver and passengers, crisp trim finishes, new colours and more leather around the instrument panel. All the instrument and switchgear is backlit in cool blue and the dash features strong upper and lower beams, interrupted by a curved, metal-finished spar to frame the instrument binnacle, steering wheel and driver's footwell. The front-to-rear seat couple distance is now a best-in-class 970mm. Combined with a thinner front seatback design, this increases rear legroom. Thanks to Toyota's Easy Flat system, the rear seats can be quickly and easily folded flat (the seats dividing 60:40) and each section can be reclined independently. The load space is longer, increasing capacity to 547-litres, and an extra 49-litres of storage have been added to the undertray, taking it to 100-litres.
Market and Model
So we've established there are front and all wheel drive variants, three engines on offer and also a choice of three different transmissions. What about the trim levels? Well there are Active, Icon and Invincible grades. Active grade comes with 17-inch alloys, air conditioning, Bluetooth, electric windows front and rear, rear privacy glass and front fog lights. Next, the Icon trim includes a powered tailgate, a folding function on the powered door mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, part-leather instrument panel trim and dual-zone automatic air conditioning. The Toyota Touch multimedia touch screen system also features on Icon models, with a DAB digital tuner, rear-view camera and Bluetooth. At the top of the range, the Invincible adds equipment features such as roof rails, leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear parking sensors and Smart Entry and Start.
Prices start at just over £22,000 which undercuts the Land Rover Freelander by just over £1,000 but the British car counters with more power and a more prestigious badge yet loses out in terms of equipment and warranty, the Toyota's five year warranty outstripping the Land Rover's three. The Toyota also weighs in cheaper than the Honda CR-V, although the latest and larger Ford Kuga might just get the drop on the RAV4's price. Four-wheel drive models open at around £25,500 for a petrol model and around £26,000 for a diesel.
Cost of Ownership
Fuel economy takes a huge step to the good with the MK4 RAV4 2.0-litre diesel. You'll get 57.6mpg from this car, compared to a best of 47.1mpg the old RAV could manage. That in itself will be a massive incentive, especially when compared to 43.5mpg you'll get from a 2.2-litre diesel Honda CR-V. Even the 2.2-litre diesel RAV4 betters that, with a 49.6mpg showing. Fancy the petrol powerplant? Calculate your annual mileage and decide whether the 39.2mpg consumption figure works for you.
Emissions are way down (ie. impressive), with the 2.0-litre diesel recording 127g/km, while the 2.2-litre registers 149g/km. It's well worth noting that the automatic gearbox will bump that figure up to 176g/km. Go for the petrol car and you're looking at 167g/km. Residual values for the RAV4 have always been good, in most cases bearing comparison with the Freelander, and there's little reason to doubt that they'll only improve this time round.
It's hard to see how Toyota could have done much better in developing this generation RAV4. It needed more space inside, it needed a better quality of finish and it needed more assertive styling. Check, check and check. Like every new car launched these days, it had to become more efficient, but the addition of an economical 2.0-litre diesel - and now the availability on that unit of AWD - has given it a boost that will have many competitors looking to the drawing boards.
It would have been nice to see a hybrid option at a competitive price as this is one area where Toyota has a huge lead on most of its rivals. A really punchy 200bhp+ diesel model could also have really shown us what that chassis is capable of. These may well be in the pipeline. For the time being at least, the RAV4 has a strong claim on being the best of the mainstream compact 4x4s.