Toyota’s RAV4 reviewed

Toyota's RAV4

Toyota's RAV4 - Credit: Archant

The latest fourth-generation model is sleeker and more practical

Toyota is currently celebrating 20 years of the RAV4, the original soft roader. This ‘Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive’ was a sensation, sparking a ‘RAVolution’ that other manufacturers simply had to join.

Toyota was forced to double production levels within a month of launch and soon yielded to customer demand for a five-door version to augment the original three-door.

With its small size, grippy, all-wheel drive and big tyres, the new car had usability and affordability, plus fashionable funky chunky 4x4 styling – market watchers dubbed it ‘The 4x4 GTi’ or ‘The GTi off-roader’.

Four generations on, it enjoys a prestigious sub-brand status: asked what car he or she drives, a RAV4 owner usually says, with a touch of pride, ‘a RAV’ rather than a Toyota.

But success has a downside: lots of wannabe competition. The VW Tiguan, Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, Mazda CX-5 and, particularly, keenly priced opposition from Korea’s Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage, have reeled in the RAV4’s once pioneering lead.

Its youthful appeal has been surrendered in order to please a wider audience or keep original fans happy as they grew older, so dimensions and practicality have grown at the expense of compactness and sportiness.

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But the car has loyal fans and the latest fourth generation model (from £22,595) is both sleeker and more practical, with more boot space, a fully flat load floor with seats folded, plus generous under floor stowage.

It has also gained a lifting tailgate, which people prefer for easy loading and as a rain shelter, and the rear now seats three in comfort, with generous leg and headroom and a virtually flat floor, allowing all rear passengers to alight either side

The latest car also appears even more rock solid, but there is a marked lack of flair about the new cabin and while the big infotainment touchscreen works well, it is dull and off the pace set by some other mainstream brands.

But there is plenty of stowage space, the commanding driving position that made the original car so popular is still a highlight, handling remains sure-footed, body roll is well-controlled on corners and ride quality is forgiving enough to make it a good all-rounder.

Powertrain options are diesel, except for a 2.0-litre petrol with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) ‘box, but you’ll pay just £900 more to get the equivalent diesel 4x4 model and an extra 10mpg on average.

If economy is your key issue, check out the cheaper front-wheel, drive-only variants. Toyota was a pioneer in offering this choice on early RAV4s, but the market wasn’t ready; now people recognise that economy and lower running costs and emissions are as important as SUV style. The latest RAV4 should please on both counts and comes with Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile warranty. n

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