The Toyota RAV4 is a comfortable SUV that’s easy to drive and even reasonably perky but it’s let down by a frustrating automatic gearbox which causes the engine to rev noisily
You can only get the Toyota RAV4 with one engine – a 2.5-litre petrol unit which drives either the front or all four wheels with the help of an electric motor and a battery. This configuration means the RAV4 can drive at slow speeds using just the electric motors and even cruise briefly at motorway speeds without resorting using the petrol engine to drive the wheels.
Toyota claims this combination of petrol and electric power lets the RAV4 return up to 51mpg – and they’re not far off. You can expect to see a figure in the high forties in normal driving conditions.
You can get the Toyota RAV4 with either front-wheel drive or with four-wheel drive – where an additional electric motor drives just the rear wheels. Four-wheel-drive models can send as much as 100% of the hybrid system’s power to the front wheels or 80% to the rear wheels to help maximise grip on slippery surfaces. If you ever fancy taking your practical family SUV off-road, you’ll be pleased to hear Toyota’s also fitted it with a system that uses the brakes to stop individual wheels spinning on very loose, uneven ground.
The Toyota RAV4 handles its large body with impressive composure through a series of twisting corners, but the lazy CVT gearbox makes enjoying a spirited drive rather tricky
In four-wheel-drive cars, the combined power of the petrol engine and electric motors is 222hp – more than most comparable family SUVs. As a result, the Toyota RAV4 will accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds so it’s easily punchy enough to sprint down a motorway slip road or breeze past slow-moving traffic.
Unfortunately, somewhat blunting the RAV4’s performance is the standard automatic gearbox. This CVT unit causes the engine to rev unnaturally highly when you accelerate hard and it responds lazily when you put your foot down to overtake other cars. It’s rather indecisive, too – constantly adjusting the gear ratios when you’re cruising at motorway speeds.
You sit high up in the Toyota RAV4 so you get a good view out over other cars. The pillars beside the windscreen are relatively thin and the side windows are nice and large so it’s surprisingly easy to manoeuvre through city traffic.
The steering isn’t particularly heavy and every model gets rear parking sensors and a reversing camera to help make parking relatively stress-free, too. Pick a Design model or above and you also get front parking sensors. Unfortunately, the reversing camera looks like video taken by an early 2000s camera phone so you might struggle to spot smaller obstacles behind you – especially at night.
Once you’ve left the car park you’ll find the RAV4 does a good job smoothing out bumps and potholes around town. It doesn’t lean a great deal on faster country roads either, and the direct steering makes it easy to accurately carve from one corner to another. Sure, it’s no sportscar and it doesn’t feel as agile as a SEAT Ateca, but the Toyota RAV4 drives pretty well for such an upright family SUV.
Settle into a long motorway journey and you’ll find it’s pretty relaxing, too. The large door mirrors produce a slight whistle at speed, but you won’t hear much noise from the tyres – even in high-sec cars with their larger 18-inch alloy wheels.
It comes with plenty of driver assistance systems as standard, too. Adaptive cruise control comes as standard, as does lane-keeping assist and road-sign recognition. You also get automatic emergency braking to help prevent avoidable collisions with other cars, pedestrians and even cyclists.
The Toyota RAV4 hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP yet, but these features should help it score highly when it’s assessed.