£23,755 - £34,170 Price range
43 - 60 MPG
It’s easy to forget that the original Toyota RAV4 of the ‘90s was something of a trendsetter, blending an SUV’s raised driving position and four-wheel drive with sensible running costs and handling characteristics more in keeping with a normal car. Magazines even compared its free-spirited nature to the VW Golf GTI of the time.
Given Toyota’s foresight back then, it’s perhaps surprising that only now is the RAV4 offered with a hybrid option – especially given that it comes from the same company that pioneered the mass-produced hybrid with the Prius.
Unfortunately for Toyota, others haven’t been so slow – Mitsubishi’s super-frugal PHEV springs to mind – while the Nissan Qashqai and its Renault Kadjar spinoff have widely been credited with refining the crossover-craze that the RAV4 arguably started. Check out how the RAV4 fares against one of its key rivals – the Mazda CX-5 – in our side-by-side comparison.
With the competition circling, this facelifted model couldn’t have come at a better time. It gets a fresh new look inside and out and remains a sensible choice for families thanks to its decent fuel economy and spacious interior.
The range kicks off with the Active model, which comes with keyless entry, electric windows, air-con and electrically adjustable door mirrors. Also nice is the seven-inch display complete with rear-parking camera – a welcome addition when it comes to parking a portly SUV.
Not much will excite you about the RAV4’s interior, but then there’s very little to dislike either. Many of the car’s controls fall under the remit of its dated-looking and sometimes-sluggish-to-respond infotainment screen. The kind of things you want to adjust quickly on the move – such as the ventilation system and stereo – are operated via large knobs that fall easily to hand.
Sat-nav is a £758 option on most models, but one that is worth going for and sure to make the car more appealing come resale time.
While Toyota claims to have boosted the interior’s ‘sensory quality’, reviewers aren’t so convinced, telling us that little effort is needed to locate hard plastics. That said, they are reported to be durable and hard wearing, even if they’re not up to the quality you will find in a Nissan Qashqai. A panoramic sunroof that is available in the Nissan would brighten up the interior considerably, but sadly it’s absent from the RAV4’s options list.
Toyota RAV4 passenger space
Up front there’s plenty of space for tall adults to get comfortable and both the driver’s seat and steering wheel offer a wide range of adjustment. Go for an Icon model or above and the driver’s seat adjusts for height electrically. Space in the rear is also pretty decent, and the backrests can recline a few degrees to let passengers relax on longer journeys. Anyone who’s more than six-foot tall will find headroom a little wanting though.
Toyota RAV4 boot space
Although the RAV4 might lose out to the Qashqai and Kadjar in some areas, boot space is not one of them. The Nissan and Renault offer 430 and 472 litres of load-lugging capacity respectively – way off the Toyota’s impressive 547 litres. What’s more, the RAV4’s big boot opening and tiny load lip make it extremely easy to load large items. If you fold down the rear seats you’re left with a huge 1,735-litre space – getting on for 200 litres more than the Toyota’s aforementioned rivals offer. While no official figures are quoted, reviewers report that hybrid models lose some load capacity thanks to their batteries.
Given that the old Toyota RAV4 had young aspirational types flocking in their droves thanks to its mix of SUV styling and nimble handling, it’s a surprise to find the latest model is rather staid in the second of these departments.
Capable rather than fun is the overriding verdict, with steering that’s direct, but gives little away in terms of whether the front wheels are teetering on the edges of their grip levels. Go for the hybrid version and the conclusion is downgraded to merely ‘adequate’ because the extra weight it carries shows up in the form of less adhesion (understeer) and plenty of body lean. Ride comfort has been improved, though, with the RAV4 selflessly shielding its occupants from the worst bumps in the road, although reviewers remark that it hits the mark better as the speeds rise.
Out on the motorway the hybrid model continues to make a nuisance of itself, this time thanks to its CVT gearbox. It’s designed to hold the engine at peak power – but in practice this means that, with anything more than a faint prod of the throttle, it screams to 5,700rpm and stays there until you stop accelerating. This, as you can probably imagine, gets tiresome after a while and even non-enthusiasts will mourn the demise of the harmonious rise and fall of engine noise you get with a conventional gearbox.
Although four-wheel drive is standard in hybrid (and an option in petrol) RAV4s, this is not a car that has been built with off-roading in mind. Fitting the system will give you extra piece of mind on slippery roads, but only optimists would tackle anything more challenging than a grassy field.
Toyota RAV4 buyers get three engines to choose from: a diesel, petrol and hybrid – all of which are reasonably cheap to run, but lacking in any form of entertainment.
Toyota RAV4 hybrid
Had Toyota launched the hybrid RAV4 ten years ago we would have likely been impressed by its low running costs and decent performance. But, in a world where the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV now prowls, most of that shine has been lost. Even Toyota would be hard pressed to argue – the PHEV manages fuel economy of 156.9mpg (to the RAV4’s 57.6mpg) and is not only free to tax, but also exempt from paying London’s Congestion Charge, as well as coming with £5,000 slashed off the price thanks to a Government grant for plug-in hybrids. The RAV4, meanwhile, pays the congestion charge and will cost £30 a year to tax. Factor in the Mitsubishi’s ability to travel 32 miles on electricity alone, making short commutes very cheap indeed, and there’s very little reason to choose the Toyota. It can travel just two miles on its batteries and also lacks the Outlander’s plug-in function for quick recharging.
In fairness to the Toyota, its combination of an electric motor and 2.5-litre petrol engine combine to produce 197hp making it quite a bit quicker than the PHEV – with 0-62mph taking 8.3 seconds, compared to the 11-second time posted by the Mitsubishi. This, though, is unlikely to hold great sway with the RAV4’s target audience.
Toyota RAV4 diesel
While the 2.0-litre 143hp diesel still lags behind the pack a little, it doesn’t whiff of obsolescence quite like the hybrid does. Careful deployment of the accelerator pedal results in fuel economy as high as 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 123g/km for road tax of £110 a year. But, while the RAV4 is quicker than a diesel Nissan Qashqai (0-62mph taking 9.6 seconds versus 11.9), the Nissan is free to tax and can manage fuel economy of more than 74mpg.
Toyota RAV4 petrol
Being neither quick nor cheap to run means the petrol RAV4 is likely to be the least popular choice here in the UK. Its 151hp 2.0-litre engine will get it from 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds, but doing so makes the car’s 43.5mpg combined fuel economy figure drop like a stone. By comparison, the 1.2-litre petrol engine available in the Qashqai is more than a second slower from 0-62mph, but can return 50.4mpg. It’s also cheaper to tax with CO2 emissions of 129g/km leading to an annual tax bill of £110 a year, instead of the £180 (owing to CO2 emissions of 152g/km) the Toyota will need to keep HM’s Treasury happy.
In fact, performance isn't really its strong point - it "doesn't really like to rev at all; it's out of puff before you hit 4,000 rpm" according to one reviewer.
Economy from the two-wheel drive 2.0 out-punches its larger stablemate though, with combined economy of 57.7 mpg and CO2 emissions of just 127 g/km. And performance isn't that far off the larger-engined car either, at 9.9 seconds to 62 mph next to the 2.2's 9.6 seconds.
Another is a little more positive, saying it has "good mechanical refinement". Opinions also differ on the D4D's performance - one says it's "flatter at the bottom end of the rev range" than the less-powerful 2.0-litre diesel, but others say it has "easy pulling power".
Performance is par for the class, at just under 10 seconds to reach 62 mph and a top speed just off 120 mph. There are more "justs" with economy too, at just under 50 mpg combined. CO2 is 149 g/km.
Safety body Euro NCAP has yet to get its hands on a new RAV4 so we’ll have to wait for a definitive verdict on the model’s safety credentials. It’s based on the old five-star car though, so expectations are high.
All models come with multiple airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes and a tyre pressure monitor. Business Edition Plus models and above can have their safety boosted significantly by adding Toyota’s Safety Sense System, which looks like extremely good value – adding auto dipping headlights, auto emergency braking, adaptable cruise control, a lane departure warning system and traffic sign recognition for just £695.
There are five trim levels to choose from when specifying your RAV4, but unless you like your cars bristling with kit the basic version will do just fine.
Toyota RAV4 Active
Active trim is the cheapest route to RAV4 ownership, but lacks little in the way of essential kit. It comes as standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a reversing camera, seven-inch display, six-speaker stereo and a DAB digital radio. The £758 sat-nav system is the only piece of equipment missing, but that omission is by no means unique for the price bracket.
Toyota RAV4 Business Edition
Business edition models get the sat-nav as standard, plus useful features such as auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, front fog lights and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror – if you’re willing to spend more it could well be the range’s sweet spot.
Toyota RAV4 Business Edition Plus
Going for the Plus variant only buys you a few extra features, but they are useful ones – things like keyless entry, bright LED headlights and an electrically powered boot door. The car’s automatic headlamp levelling could also prove handy, ensuring the headlights illuminate the road perfectly even if there is a heavy load weighing down the back of the car.
Toyota RAV4 Icon
Icon trim is worth going for if you want to make your RAV4 stand out in the car park, without splurging your cash on the top-of-the-range model. It comes with eye-catching 18-inch alloy wheels (an inch bigger than lower-end models) and a leather interior that lifts the feel inside and is also better at deflecting the smears and spillages that come hand in hand with family life. The front seats are heated to take the edge off cold winters days, while the driver’s has electrically adjustable height and lumbar support.
Toyota RAV4 Excel
Excel models sit at the top of the range and get a unique design of 18-inch wheels to make that clear. They also have front and rear parking sensors and a premium leather interior, but strangely do without sat-nav and will require extra outlay to fit Toyota’s Safety Sense System.
It’s a shame to say that the latest Toyota RAV4 has lost some of the innovative spirit that made the original car popular with road testers and buyers alike, leaving what is essentially a good car but not a great one.
While the option to specify hybrid power is rare in this class, the Mitsubishi PHEV offers drastically cheaper running costs, making the RAV4 Hybrid tricky to recommend. The standard models, meanwhile, are a solid choice if you need a sensible family car – but lack the inspiration of models such as the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar, which remain the preferred options in this class.