Toyota's RAV4 has gone back to the drawing board to help keep it at the top of the lifestyle SUV class it created
Competition is tough in the compact SUV sector - and the RAV4 has really raised its game. With more cabin space and some brilliant new diesel engines, it's a solid all-rounder that will be painless to own. Add to that its car-like driving experience, commendable off-road ability and excellent kit, and it adds up to a great-value package.
On sale this month, the new model aims to extend its predecessor's reign as the best-selling compact SUV in Europe by beating opposition which is tougher than ever before. None of this has been lost on Toyota's engineers, though, and the third-generation RAV4 is fresh from the ground up.
The car is bigger, features an electronic four-wheel-drive transmission and a new range of engines - including a powerful 175bhp turbodiesel.
But before you get behind the wheel, it's clear that the RAV4 has lost some individuality - which is a pity. Its soft, generic SUV shape means the newcomer is no head-turner, lacking the sportiness of its predecessor, or the ruggedness of a Land Rover Freelander. However, it's 145mm longer and 80mm wider than the old car, and boasts interior space any rival would be proud of.
Thanks to a rear bench that slides fore and aft, there's lots of passenger room. Compact rear suspension means vast boot space, too - up to 1,469 litres with the rear seats folded. Only the impractical side-opening tailgate stands out for criticism.
Equipment levels are generous, and even base XT3 models get air-con, an MP3 player-compatible stereo and alloys. Higher spec versions get a six-disc CD changer and sat-nav, too.
Beneath the skin are more comprehensive changes. All new RAV4s get Active Torque Control (ATC) - a system which drives only the front wheels most of the time, diverting up to 45 per cent of power to the rear wheels when things get slippery. XT4-trimmed models and above get traction and stability control, too, plus Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), which holds the car stationary briefly after the handbrake is released. The RAV4 drives like a big estate car, although the seating position is higher, and there's a bit more body roll. Together with a comfortable ride and well weighted steering, it's a competent performer.
As well as a revised 4x4 system, the RAV4 gets two new engines: a 150bhp 2.0-litre VVT-i petrol with a five-speed manual gearbox and a 2.2-litre D-4D diesel in 134bhp and 175bhp power outputs. Both of these have six-speed manuals.
The top-spec D-4D 180 will provide strong performance, but most buyers will be more than happy with this D-4D 140, which offers a wide spread of usable power and decent pace. With good refinement and 42.8mpg combined fuel economy, it's no surprise it's tipped to be the best-seller.
When sales get underway, the RAV4 range will start at £18,995, rising to £26,995 for the flagship D-4D 180 diesel. Factor in the Toyota's best-in-class residual values, and the newcomer is going to be hard to beat.