Toyota Rav4

Before the RAV4 arrived in 1994, most 4x4s were designed for driving across rough terrain, at the expense of road manners. But the Toyota combined car-like abilities with chunky looks, practicality and hot hatch performance.

Before the RAV4 arrived in 1994, most 4x4s were designed for driving across rough terrain, at the expense of road manners. But the Toyota combined car-like abilities with chunky looks, practicality and hot hatch performance. The revamped RAV4 came out in 2000, sexier and sportier than ever, with decent trim, a strong image and robust build. It is frequently at the top of customer reliability surveys, and is one of the most dependable cars we've had on the Auto Express fleet. Although prices are high, there are plenty of RAV4 variants to choose from, with the three-door a stylish alternative to a regular hatchback, and the five-door suitable for a family. But bear in mind that the 1.8-litre models are powered only via the front wheels. The RAV4 comfortably staves off depreciation, so there are few bargains to be had. The warranty is long and comprehensive, but you'll rarely need it as these models hardly ever go wrong.Checklist * Trim: many owners complain of rattles, especially with the dash. The plastic scuttle panel under the windscreen is the main culprit, but is fixed by inserting a felt pad. * Warning lights: dashboard warning lights can flicker. This has usually been attributed to misbehaving catalytic converters or loose petrol caps, and requires investigation with diagnostic equipment. * Engine: auxiliary drivebelts can chatter, which is caused by the tensioner becoming slack. The cure is a new belt and tensioner as soon as you hear the noise. * Bodywork: few RAV4s venture off-road, but some owners can't resist. Look underneath for mud, dents and scrapes, which could all lead to problems down the line. * Brakes: front discs wear quicker than average, so need regular checks. All brakes can clink, squeak and grind, noises which are usually cured by grease or new pads.Driving impressions Designed to behave more like a car than off-roader, the RAV4 offers sprightly performance, precise steering and a comfortable ride. A stylish and tough interior matches its city-chic bodywork. While the diesel has low-down pulling power and returns 40mpg, petrols are better value, particularly the 2.0-litre. Auto 'box is £500 extra when new.Glass's View Demand for the popular RAV4 has been seemingly endless in the SUV sector of the market over the past few years. Used stocks are not available in appreciable numbers, though, as models tend to get snapped up quickly, which has helped to keep residuals buoyant. As such, a RAV4 should hold its value well over the long term, especially if it's a high-spec diesel. Five-door models are the most sought after, but even the three-doors don't hang about. Jeff Paterson, Snr Cars Editor, Glass's GuideLife With A Rav4 I love my RAV4 1.8 NV, and the kids enjoy sitting so high up. It's very economical, and servicing costs are low, but I need to have a clonking noise checked. All the same, it has real style. Emma Longley, Newark, Nottinghamshire My GX five-door is a manual, but I wish I'd bought an auto, as the gearbox is so clunky. However, the car corners pretty well and turns heads, too. Mark Cash, Salisbury, Wiltshire

Verdict

The compact SUV market is one of the most competitive in the new car sales charts, and the same can be said for used models. However, the RAV4 is the absolute best as a second-hand purchase. It's one of the easiest SUVs to drive, has excellent road manners and surprising refinement, while the D-4D diesel eng-ine returns good economy with no negative effects on performance. As a used leisure vehicle, the Toyota is simply without peer.

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