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Toyota RAV4 (2013-2018) review - Engines, performance and drive

The Toyota RAV4 can't match its rivals for ride, handling or performance

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

3.5 out of 5

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The original Toyota RAV4 was quirky and fun to drive, but you don't sense much of the spirit of the first generation car in this fourth-generation model. It's perfectly adequate for most tastes, but when you've got agile and engaging rivals like the Mazda CX-5 and SEAT Ateca, 'adequate' isn't really good enough.

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The RAV4 offers decent ride comfort most of the time and reasonable refinement, which is a bonus. It's grippy, too. But there's quite a lot of body roll, the steering doesn't inspire driver enjoyment, and it feels heavy and lumpen where the best rivals feel agile and nimble. For family use, however, it'll do the job.

The hybrid is even less accomplished. The extra weight of the electric motors and battery pack blunts its responses, making it far less enjoyable to drive. There's less front end grip and the suspension doesn't control body movements as well. On top of that, the hybrid doesn't ride that well and it thuds into potholes while sharp ridges send a shudder through the cabin.

The RAV4 is composed on the motorway, and thanks to the large cabin passengers will stay happy for the whole journey, too. Although it's been set up for comfort, bumps in the road are still rather noticeable, and over potholes the ride starts to feel stiff.

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The brakes are strong and on hybrid models are used to partially recharge the batteries - you can even hear the generator when you stop from high speed. Yet Toyota still hasn't managed to engineer a seamless transition between regenerative braking and the traditional discs and pads, plus the pedal has a sharp action.

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There are two gearboxes, each paired with a different engine: a manual and a CVT automatic. The manual in the diesel model has a fairly long throw and feels notchy, and the CVT is noisy while accelerating, but on the motorway and in town it's pleasant and smooth.

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. The hybrid's four-wheel drive system uses electric motors at the back, rather than a driveshaft.

Engines

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid uses a 2.5-litre petrol engine and either one or two electric motors depending on whether you go for four-wheel drive or not. On the AWD model the second motor powers the back wheels - but there's no more power available. There's plenty of it, however, with 195bhp in total - so it's good at overtaking on the motorway. It's well insulated too, as long as you keep your right foot off the floor.

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Toyota has dropped the 2.2-litre D-4D diesel option, leaving just the 2.0-litre model alongside the equivalent petrol. It’s been updated with an extra 19bhp to allow it to be just as fast from 0-62mph as the old 2.2 (9.6 seconds).

Its performance is adequate enough and almost on par with the Mazda CX-5 diesel, on paper at least - but it doesn’t feel quite as energetic on the road. It’s subdued enough at a cruise, but it lags behind some of the best in class overall for noise and vibration, especially at low speed. The hybrid is quieter at low speeds and on light throttle openings, but ask the Toyota to accelerate even moderately quickly and the CVT gearbox sends the revs soaring, which results in a coarse and intrusive drone from the 2.5-litre engine.

The hybrid version of the Toyota RAV4 is a great choice for driving in town, as there's absolutely no noise while crawling through traffic - the electric motors only provide the power for around a mile though with the engine cutting in when you need to accelerate or the batteries (quickly) get to their minimum charge. Even when the motor does start up it's well insulated, although the CVT gearbox means that when you put your foot down there's a loud droning noise.

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