In 1994, Toyota launched the Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive, or RAV4, and in the process it created the compact SUV – a class that now dominates nearly every motor manufacturer’s agenda. But while the original RAV4 broke new ground, the latest fourth-generation model has its work cut out to take on rivals from Audi to VW, and lots in between.
The styling is sharper. There’s an aggressive trapezoidal shape in the front bumper that houses the number plate and a gurning air intake, while the angular headlights look great, particularly where the chrome bar from the grille runs into each lamp.
While the previous model shrank into the background, Toyota has tried to make the new car stand out in a more crowded marketplace. It’s still no looker, but it’s more distinctive.
The new car is 205mm longer and 30mm wider, at 4,570mm and 1,845mm respectively. Yet the more significant increase comes in the wheelbase – it’s 100mm longer, at 2,760mm, which gives excellent levels of interior space.
The dash is a smart design, although the plastics are hard and scratchy, despite Toyota’s best efforts to jazz things up with carbon-fibre-effect trim. New Clear Blue dash lighting is soothing at night, too, while the mid-spec Icon model – predicted to be the top seller – has all the kit you need, including auto lights and wipers, sports seats and Toyota’s touchscreen infotainment system. Our top-spec Invincible adds extras like leather seats, but isn’t really worth the extra £1,700.
There’s loads of space in the rear, even in the middle seat as the floor is flat. The seats fold flat with a simple tug on a handle on either side of the rear seatbase.
Toyota has ditched the spare wheel to give 100 litres of space below the boot floor, while the 547-litre load bay is accessed via a top-hinged tailgate; until now, the RAV4 has been hampered in tight parking spaces by a side-hinged design. There are plenty of hooks for tethering large items while a cargo net – for oddments weighing up to 10kg – hangs from two poles by the retractable boot cover. We just wish Toyota had kept a 12V socket back here; the only one is now up front.
The 2.2-litre diesel in our test car was a bit rattly on start-up, but the RAV4’s steering, pedals and gearshift are light and slick, while the high-set view out makes low-speed manoeuvring easy.
The soft set-up means a comfortable ride, but body roll is an issue in bends. So while the car is safe and predictable to drive, it’s not particularly grippy. Sport mode boosts the handling by moving more of the engine’s power to the rear axle and upping the steering weight, but it can’t hide the fact that the RAV4 is only average to drive.
Our car had Toyota’s lane keep assist, which just beeps annoyingly if it senses you’re drifting out of lane, rather than vibrating the steering wheel or intervening, like rival systems. More useful is the blind spot monitor, which illuminates a light in the door mirror if a vehicle is sneaking up alongside.