Toyota RAV4 review
The fourth-generation Toyota RAV4 is bigger and more practical than ever, but lacks dynamic sparkle
When the Toyota RAV4 first went on sale back in 1994, it was widely considered one of the world's first crossover SUVs. 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 and the Mazda CX-5. Styling won't be to all tastes, but the interior feels nicely built and all models come with a five-year warranty.
The latest model is bigger than ever before, giving class-leading levels of interior space. It also has a top-hinged tailgate rather than one that swings out like a big fridge door, making it much easier to negotiate in tight car parks.
Diesels dominate the engine range but Toyota continues to offer a choice of front and four-wheel drive. However, while Toyota claims its new car is a sharp drive, the new RAV4 is built with comfort rather than performance in mind.
Our choice: RAV4 2.2 D-4D 4x4 Icon
After the success of the GT 86, Toyota has adopted a more dynamic design language for its latest models.
While they may not be to all tastes, the RAV4 gets some neat details about the exterior, including the chrome bar that runs through the grille and into the headlights, as well as the sculpted bodyside. But the car’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 so hard to use in urban areas. As a result, the latest-gen car is much better in this respect.
There are three trim levels to choose from - the two-wheel-drive only Active, plus better equipped Icon and Invincible models. All cars come with alloy wheels, while Bluetooth and air-conditioning feature throughout the range.
Inside, the interior looks good but is let down by some old fashioned buttons and cheap looking dials. On the plus side, Icon models and above get a neat leather finish for the dashboard.
The new Toyota RAV4 has a ride that manages to be quite harsh and firm over small bumps, yet soft and wallowy in corners. The steering is quite vague, too, although the high driving position gives a good view of the road.
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, while the manual gearbox has an obstructive action.
It’s a comfortable cruiser, though, and the larger 2.2-litre diesel offers impressive torque – perfect if you plan to use the RAV4 for towing.
The new RAV4 received a five-star rating from Euro NCAP. That's down to seven airbags and stability control being fitted on all models, while the top-spec Invincible cars get the option of blind spot monitoring, which flashes a light in the door mirror when a vehicle is detected at the car’s side. Lane keep assist is a new feature, too, but this just emits a beep should you stray from your lane, rather than vibrating the steering wheel or seat as in other cars.
The RAV4 feels solidly built and much of the technology and powertrains are updated from the previous car. Toyota came a disappointing 17th overall in the 2014 Driver Power survey – down from fifth in 2012. That's not to say the RAV4 is an unreliable car, though it didn't appear at all in the top 150 model rundown. All models get Toyota’s five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
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.
There are two diesels and one petrol model to choose from. The smaller 122bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is only available with front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, which helps keep emissions down to 127g/km of CO2 and a claimed fuel return of 57.6mpg.
The 149bhp 2.0-litre petrol option only comes with a CVT gearbox and four-wheel drive, and could prove expensive to run, while the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel returns 49.6mpg and emits 149g/km of CO2 while offering a decent 340Nm of torque. The larger diesel is the pick if you plan to use the car for towing, as it can tow a braked trailer of up to 2,000kg.