New Toyota RAV4 Review – Is Bigger Better?

Toyota RAV4 main

Toyota’s original RAV4 was one of the first of the breed of compact SUVs, combining the high driving position and ruggedness off full off-roaders with car-like size and fuel economy.

Nearly 20 years later, Toyota has launched the fourth generation of RAV4 designed, it says, to appeal to those who bought the original car and updated to meet their current lifestyle needs – and we’ve been testing it out.

Exterior

Toyota RAV4 side

The first thing of note with the new RAV4, once you get past the “Keen Look” face appearing on new Toyotas, is the size. It’s 205mm longer and 30mm wider than the outgoing model, with the most significant change being in the wheelbase – stretched 100mm. It’s a far cry from the dinky first gen RAV4 and it puts it in a different, challenging and almost saturated market sector.

Interior

Toyota RAV4 interior

With more space to work with, Toyota has increased the rear leg room by 40mm and the load area can now take 547 litres – with an extra 100 litres in underfloor tray storage – and up to 1,746 litres when piled high. The rear opening itself is lower and wider for better access and there’s a neat, top-hinged electronic tailgate with one button open and close.

Toyota RAV4 rear seats

While it’s not a bad place to sit by any stretch, some of the materials used don’t feel particularly high quality. The leather “sports” seats are passable, but the carbon fibre effect gear gaiter surround is just tacky and some of the high gloss plastics are very easily marked – the box fresh press car we were loaned already had a deep scratch on the interior door handle. The likelihood of them surviving the kids of the thirty-something target market unscathed is low.

Driving

Toyota RAV4 driving

On the road, the RAV4 is very cultured. Despite the electric steering, there was plenty of feedback and feel, with very little central deadzone. The quick steering rack – 2.8 turns from lock to lock – helps provide a sporty feel, though moving such a relatively heavy car about can be quite tiring work on twisty roads.

It doesn’t lumber on those twisties either. Thanks to a new suite of electronic aids, the RAV4 manages understeer well and is quite a capable machine. The 4WD cars are particularly adept, with a new stability control system that redirects torque and adjusts the electric steering to allow better cornering speed for a given steering angle.

However there’s only a token nod towards off road useability. While it’ll manage a rutted track capably with good ground clearance, it’s little better than any other vehicle in the process and the ride is extraordinarily harsh.

Engine

Toyota RAV4 engine

A range of three engines will reach UK shores. The front-wheel drive cars – like the one we used – will only carry the 122hp 2.0 diesel D4-D mated to a six speed manual, while the four-wheel drive models can use the 148hp 2.2 diesel D4-D with six speed manual or automatic or a 149hp 2.0 petrol engine with a CVT.

Equipped with a stop/start system, the 2.0 D4-D manages an impressive 127g/km CO2 – equivalent to 57.6mpg. This means a zero rate year 1 VED, with subsequent years costing £95. Toyota say there are no plans for a hybrid powertrain after customer focus groups indicated an intent to use the car for towing.

Value for money

Toyota RAV4 boot

Three trim levels are available on the new RAV4 – Active, Icon and Invincible – but it’s generally a well-appointed car.

The lower specification Active is far from miserly, particularly for the money, but the higher spec cars can be optioned with toys like the Toyota Touch & Go satellite navigation system, doubling as a fuel economy trip meter and a very useful reversing camera. The blind spot detectors in the mirrors are an excellent touch – lighting up when there’s an obstruction detected and flashing if you indicate or change lanes.

Conclusion

While the car is absolutely adequate in most departments, it does little to stand out from what is a very crowded sector. With nineteen identified competitor cars, including the Nissan Qashqai (which can offer two more seats in +2 form), middle-of-the-road doesn’t really cut it without any obvious advantage over any of the others.

Toyota RAV4 generations

By moving the RAV4 up into this class and away from its roots as a small, quirky, SUV-styled car, Toyota has also opened up a gap now filled by the Nissan Juke. It hasn’t escaped notice at Toyota either – could we see an offering true to the original car soon?

For more information check out our full summary of the Toyota RAV4 alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!

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