Toyota’s new RAV4 looks as if it’s been sprinkled with the automotive equivalent of Miracle Grow.
As a result the popular compact SUV has grown enormously, while still retaining the characteristics that has always made it a best seller.
The new, fourth generation RAV is longer and wider than its predecessor although its reduced height has ensured that it doesn’t look like a bulky 4x4.
The extra inches – combined with thinner front seatbacks – means an abundance of legroom in the rear that owners of the first RAV4 models back in 1994 could only dream of.
It’s pretty good in the front too, thanks to a revised driving position which gives the driver more space, more comfort and better vision. From behind the steering wheel you now feel more involved with the vehicle which makes driving it far more fun.
As you push the starter button and move off, the first thing that strikes you is how quiet it is in the new cabin. Combine that with a super slick six-speed gearbox and one of the best rides I have come across in a long time and you soon start to warm to this newcomer.
And while it’s not the fastest vehicle away from the traffic lights, its performance in the higher gears is exceptional for the engine size with instant response and shed loads of pulling power.
In its price bracket, the RAV4 has gone right to the top of my long distance cruiser favourites.
It’s also a very practical vehicle with the larger dimensions meaning more luggage space, the RAV4’s carrying capacity growing by 256 litres to 1,167 litres.
A deep well under the floor of the luggage area and a carrying net slung between two aluminium bars meant not only an abundance of space but plenty of flexibility for transporting items of different kinds. And the tailgate is now hinged at the top compared to side hinged doors on previous models.
Externally it’s a very macho looking car with a dramatic “face” and dark tinted side windows, while the cabin on the Invincible spec model has a nice upmarket feel to it with leather upholstery and most of the dashboard covered in a leather-look material and liberal use of carbon-fibre look panels.
The two-wheel-drive Invincible version that I tried was packed with features to make life easier for the motorist, including electrically adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, power operated tailgate, roof rails and keyless ignition.
Over a week of driving, I managed to average a respectable 44 miles per gallon, helped by the car’s stop-start system, although if you opt for the four-wheel-drive version with the same engine that figure will drop.
For me the new RAV4 was a very pleasant surprise, proving to be one of the most enjoyable cars I have driven all year.
Toyota RAV4 Invincible
Mechanical: 122 bhp, from 1998 cc, four cylinder diesel engine driving front wheels via a six speed manual gearbox.
Max speed: 111 mph
0-62 mph: 10.5 secs
Combined mpg: 57.6
CO2 emissions: 127 g/km
Warranty: 100,000 miles/5 years