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Long-term tests

Toyota RAV4

It's hard to believe that the RAV4 has been with us for a year; it seems like only last week it bounced into our car park, full of the joys of... er, autumn. So has it been a rewarding 12 months with GX52EEM? You bet. Cleaning it up for the photoshoot reminded me what we'll be missing when our beloved 4x4 goes back to Toyota this month.

  • Economical engine, durability, flexible cabin arrangement, sporty dynamics, chunky looks
  • Scuff-prone plastics in boot, tailgate won't open to 90 degrees, noisy at start-up
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It's hard to believe that the RAV4 has been with us for a year; it seems like only last week it bounced into our car park, full of the joys of... er, autumn. So has it been a rewarding 12 months with GX52EEM? You bet. Cleaning it up for the photoshoot reminded me what we'll be missing when our beloved 4x4 goes back to Toyota this month.
After a year of hard work, monster mileages and a couple of European holidays, the RAV4 looks as good as new. The paintwork gleams, the plastics are blemish-free and the trim sparkles. It's a quality that's impossible to put a price on. A car that shines like a new pin on delivery day is one thing; making it out of materials that still look great years later is something else altogether.
The interior has also fared well, although it now has a number of minor battle scars. The light grey trim in the boot is particularly susceptible to scuffs and scrapes and, despite our best efforts to protect it, the constant diet of bikes, spiky camera gear and DIY projects has left its mark.
Thankfully, the rest of the cabin is untouched. The fabrics have stood up very well and, although we haven't taken the seats out often, the split and tumble facility has come in very handy. Since the last update, I have sampled Toyota's legendary aftersales facilities. Having loaned out the RAV4 to colleagues while I enjoyed the summer on two wheels, I got it back to find the first service was due. Fortunately, Currie Motors of Twickenham, Surrey, slotted us in within days and completed the check-up without any fuss. Price: £118.60. The only fly in the garage ointment was getting through on the phone. It took six calls to speak to someone in the service department.
The other major running cost has been fuel, and the car has returned an average 38.1mpg. Not bad considering all the lifting and shifting it's done.
And the RAV has also proved a hit with other members of the Auto Express road test staff. Apart from comments about the big holes in the door pockets, which let stuff spill out, and the sunroof - it always stops halfway when closing - the Toyota has impressed. And in terms of driving, the car has silenced even the harshest 4x4 critics.
Despite its height and balloon-like tyres, there's none of the wobbly driving dynamics that blight other off-roaders. It goes and stops like a hatchback, and steers with enough accuracy and precision to keep even the most demanding of drivers amused. Motorway cruising is also a RAV4 forte. Although it could do with an extra ratio - its arch-rival, the Nissan X-Trail, has a six-speed box as standard - long journeys are a pleasure. Your feedback suggests we aren't the only ones to have fallen for the Toyota. Although some respondents to our Driver Power 2003 reliability and sat-
isfaction survey reported trim problems - mostly on the creaky dashboard - the overall view was very positive. "Brilliant in any weather or road conditions," said satisfied RAV4 owner Joan Hildick of Dartford, Kent. Meanwhile Andy Jacobs, of North Berwick in East Lothian, added: "An excellent mix of practicality, comfort and performance."
For reliability and build, the RAV4 ranks among the best cars we've ever run. The rattle on the dash went away after a few thousand miles, and it hasn't really missed a beat. If I had shelled out my own money for this vehicle, I'd be pretty satisfied.

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