Toyota RAV4 review
The fourth-generation Toyota RAV4 is bigger and more practical than ever, but it's not great to drive
The Toyota RAV4 is bigger than ever, and a recent facelift means it looks handsome, too. A new hybrid model will be attractive to company car buyers thanks to its low CO2 emissions, but there are also diesel and petrol models available in the range. There's lots of standard equipment, too.
When the Toyota RAV4 first went on sale back in 1994, it was one of the first cars to move towards the crossover SUV formula that is so popular today. Available with a choice of three or five doors and two or four-wheel drive, the RAV4 offered buyers the space and style of a 4x4, with the manoeuvrability and fuel economy of a supermini.
Today, the RAV4 has bloated somewhat, and instead of rivalling cars like the Ford Fiesta – or even the Volkswagen Golf – direct competitors now come in the shape of Honda's CR-V, the Renault Kadjar and the Mazda CX-5.
The range starts off with the Active model with a 2.0-litre diesel engine, moving up to the Business Edition with the same engine but adding Toyota's 'Go' sat-nav, air-conditioning and auto lights and wipers. Business Edition Plus is the cheapest hybrid model available, featuring LED lights, keyless go and a powered tailgate.
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Icon trim is available with the diesel, 2.5-litre hybrid and 2.0-litre petrol engines, and equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, part-leather upholstery, an electric driver's seat and heated seats - but sat-nav is an optional extra. Top-spec Excel models can also be bought with any of the three engines, and get roof rails, parking sensors and full leather upholstery.
Engines include a 2.0-litre diesel, a 2.0-litre petrol and a petrol-electric hybrid. Four-wheel drive is available, but only on hybrid and 2.0-litre petrol variants.
Engines, performance and drive
The original Toyota RAV4 was quirky and fun, and you can sense the spirit of the first generation car in this modern-day model, particularly the diesel. The steering is a little too light, but it's direct and accurate. Combined with the good view of the road from the high driving position it makes the RAV4 easy to place. There's decent grip and surprising compsure, with body rolll remarkably well checked for such a high-riding machine.
Unfortunately, the hybrid isn't quite as accomplished. The extra weight of the electric motors and battery pack blunts its reponses, making it far less enjoyable to drive. There's less front end grip and the suspension doesn't control body movements as well. On top of that, the hybrid doesn't ride that well and it thuds into potholes while sharp ridges send a shudder through the cabin.
Still, it's still not quite as much fun as a Mazda CX-5. The RAV4 is composed on the motorway, and thanks to the large cabin passengers will stay happy for the whole journey, too. Although it's been set up for comfort, bumps in the road are still rather noticeable, and over potholes the ride starts to feel stiff.
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The hybrid version of the Toyota RAV4 is a great choice for driving in town, as there's absolutely no noise while crawling through traffic - the electric motors provide the power for around a mile, with the engine cutting in when you need to accelerate hard or the batteries get to their minimum charge. Even when the motor does start up it's well insulated, although the CVT gearbox means that when you put your foot down there's a loud droning noise.
The brakes are strong and on hybrid models are used to partially recharge the batteries - you can even hear the generator when you stop from high speed. Yet Toyota still hasn't managed to engineer a seamless transition between regenerative braking and the traditional discs and pads, plus the pedal has a sharp action.
There are two gearboxes, each paired with a different engine: a manual and a CVT automatic. The manual in the diesel model has a fairly long throw and feels notchy, and the CVT is noisy while accelerating, but on the motorway and in town it's pleasant and smooth.
Sport mode features on four-wheel drive models and adds weight to the steering and automatically sends 10 per cent of the to the rear axle in an effort to combat understeer. However, even in this set-up the RAV4 lacks the grip, composure and precision of rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Kuga.
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid uses a 2.5-litre petrol engine and either one or two electric motors depending on whether you go for four-wheel drive or not. On the AWD model the second motor powers the back wheels - but there's no more power available. There's plenty of it, however, with 195bhp in total - so it's good at overtaking on the motorway. It's well insulated too, as long as you keep your right foot off the floor.
Toyota has dropped the 2.2-litre D-4D diesel option, leaving just the 2.0-litre model. It’s been updated with an extra 19bhp to allow it to be just as fast from 0-62mph as the old 2.2 (9.6 seconds).
Its performance is adequate enough and almost on par with the Mazda CX-5 diesel, on paper at least - but it doesn’t feel quite as energetic on the road. It’s subdued enough at a cruise, but it lags behind some of the best in class overall for noise and vibration, especially at low speed. The hybrid is quieter at low speeds and on light throttle openings, but ask the Toyota to accelerate even moderately quickly and the CVT gearbox sends the revs soaring, which results in a coarse and intrusive drone from the 2.5-litre engine.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The most economical Toyota RAV4 is the 2.0-litre D-4D diesel mode, which returns 60.1mpg and emits 123g/km of CO2. That's true whichever model you go for, with larger wheels making no difference to the economy (though they do raise CO2 emissions by 1g/km).
Go for the hybrid and you'll find lower CO2 emissions and therefore lower VED and company car tax costs - but not by much, as the FWD model emits 115g/km and the AWD model emits 118g/km. Economy figures are just behind the diesel too, with the FWD returning 57.6mpg and the AWD returning 55.4mpg.
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The most expensive model to run will be the 2.0-litre petrol, which emits 152g/km and returns 43.5mpg. We'd steer clear of this model in most cases - it's not even cheaper to buy than the more efficient diesel.
The Mazda CX-5's 2.2-litre diesel returns 61mpg, which just about beats the RAV4, but the lower-powered Renault Kadjar diesel returns 74.3mpg. Even the higher-powered Renault returns 65.7mpg - so there are better choices in the crossover class if fuel economy is important to you.
While rivals like the Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-5 are placed into insurance groups 15-20, the RAV4 will be more expensive to insure - the 2.0 diesel model is in insurance group 28 and the hybrid in group 32. Going for the four-wheel drive version will increase premiums too, with the hybrid model going up to group 34 in AWD form.
The Toyota RAV4 will hold on to about 43 per cent of its value after three years, which is about the same as many of its rivals. The Skoda Yeti manages 43 per cent, for example, and the Nissan Qashqai 45 per cent. Entry-level models are more likely to hold on to their value, with top-spec cars losing out the most.
Interior, design and technology
A recent update to the Toyota RAV4 meant the front of the car is significantly better looking than before, but overall the design is sadly rather plain - the Mazda CX-5 and Renault Kadjar prove that cars in this class can look good, and the RAV4 falls far behind them.
The facelift got rid of the previous car's 'nostrils' and moved the grille upwards, integrating new headlights and a larger badge. It's smart, and gives the car a more modern look at the front. The rear wasn't changed much at all, and now looks outdated next to the refreshed nose.
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The RAV4's mix of creases and curves lacks the cohesion of rivals like the Ford Kuga, particularly at the bluff rear end. One bonus is the top-hinged tailgate, with Toyota scrapping the old side-hinged setup that made the RAV4 hard to use in tight car parks. As a result, the latest-gen car is much better in this respect.
The interior quality has been improved recently as well, and while the RAV's cabin lacks charm it does feel well built. Standard kit includes a touchscreen display, DAB radio, a reversing camera, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning and tinted windows. Higher trim levels get sat-nav, auto lights and wipers, a powered tailgate, leather seats and a full set of parking sensors.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Sat-nav comes as standard on Business Edition and Business Edition Plus models, and it's available as an optional extra on other specifications. Toyota calls it 'Go' or 'Go Plus depending on which version it is (Go Plus gets 3D effects, text-to-speech functions and voice controls), and it's served up pin a 7-inch touchscreen display in the dashboard.
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The sat-nav looks a bit dated, with chunky graphics and a low-resolution screen meaning rival systems are easier to use. There are few buttons, which clears up the dashboard, but the awkward touchscreen controls can get frustrating. The nav does give clear, cons ice directions, however.
Smartphone connectivity will be a boon for some drivers, and the display screen comes as standard. There's even a Google Street View function on certain models.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The RAV4 has grown in size with each new generation. This time, the Toyota is 30mm wider and 205mm longer than its predecessor. It also has a 100mm longer wheelbase, at 2,760mm, giving impressive interior space, particularly in the rear which features a totally flat floor and excellent head and legroom for all three passengers.
The boot is now accessed by a top-hinged tailgate, rather than one that opens like a door. Boot space has increased by 51 litres, to 547 litres, thanks to the fact that there’s a 100-litre storage area under the boot floor. However, this means there's no spare tyre.
There are plenty of deep cupholders throughout the interior, too, while the sports seats fitted on Icon models and above are comfortable.
The RAV4 is around 4.6 metres long and 1.8 metres wide, which is on the large side for a crossover. It's bigger than the Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti and even the Mazda CX-5, and the boxy shape means it makes good use of that size, with plenty of room inside.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
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Thanks to a flat floor there's enough room for three passengers in the back, and none will be wanting for legroom, even with a tall driver or front-seat passenger. There's lots of headroom for the out seats, but the middle seat does start to feel cramped as it's much higher up. Getting in and out is easy as the RAV4 doesn't ride that high, even on the larger 18-inch alloy wheels.
With a boot capacity of 547 litres with the seats up, there's lots of luggage space in the Toyota. That's reduced to 501 litres in the hybrid version, but that's still comparable to the Mazda CX-5, which has 503 litres. The Honda CR-V's 589-litre space beats both significantly though.
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Fold the rear seats down and you'll open up 1,735 litres of space, but the floor isn't completely flat. There's a useful storage net that goes across the boot, though, which means you can slot in longer items underneath and store things like backpacks and coats in the net for easy access. There's an under-floor storage area too.
The RAV4 can tow up to 1,650kg in AWD hybrid form, but the towing capacity varies greatly depending on which engine you go for - the petrol manages 1,500kg, but the FWD hybrid only 800kg.
Reliability and Safety
All models in the RAV4 range are available with a Safety Sense pack, which adds a pre-collision detection system (to warn the driver of a collision and automatically brake if needed), adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, road sign assist, automatic high beams and trailer sway control.
Euro NCAP hasn't tested the very latest model but the RAV4 previously scored five stars in the crash tests - with stability control and seven airbags as standard.
Our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey ranked Toyota as a brand to be the third most reliable manufacturer, and the RAV4 came in 29th overall. It scored a seventh place finish for reliability and 15th place for build quality too, which is a strong indication that the car will be one of the most dependable on the road.
Toyota's reliability score in our survey is backed up by the manufacturer warranty of five years of 100,000 miles. It shows the confidence Toyota has in its cars and compares favourably to Nissan and Mazda's 3-year policies. The Kia Sportage has a seven-year warranty though.
Fixed-price servicing is available from £149 for the RAV4, which compares well with Nissan and Mazda. Servicing for the diesel model is every 10,000 miles, which is a bit more often than rival models.