Toyota's latest SUV has grown up - and it's cheap. Edward Stephens reports.
Nineteen years after Toyota gave birth to the first-ever SUV with the unveiling of its radical RAV4, a fourth generation has just hit the streets.
With successive generations the model has evolved and grown up, slowly turning its back on the compact, cheeky three-door, which was the first “urban 4x4”.
The latest generation of this Sports Utility Vehicle is no exception. It’s larger, offers more space, more refinement and more choice.
Despite being a more sophisticated product, the new RAV4 (it stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel-drive) is cheaper than the generation it replaces.
Some seven per cent or £1,745 cheaper in fact in the case of the two-wheel-drive entry level model, with a starting price of £22,595 – which might explain why Toyota is confident that RAV4 sales this year will be up a massive 75 per cent on those of 2012.
In fact more than 3,000 people in the UK registered their interest in the new car without even seeing it.
When they do see it they will be surprised by just how much it has grown up, ensuring far more space inside the cabin for passengers and far more space beneath the tailgate for luggage.
The distance between the front and rear seats has been dramatically increased and this – in conjunction with the new thinner front seatbacks – means rear seat passengers now have an extra 40mm of knee room.
To put it into perspective, when I sat in the rear seats – with the front seat in the position I normally drive in – I found I could sit back and stretch my legs out fully.
And if you tend to pack a lot into your RAV4 you will find that in the new one you can cram in 1,167 litres, which means an extra 256 litres more than the third generation. Even the tray beneath the boot floor has doubled in capacity from 51 litres to 100 litres.
Other improvements include lowering the height of the sill for easy loading and widening the tailgate opening.
In Britain the car will be available with a 149 bhp, 2.0-litre petrol engine with all-wheel-drive mated to a CVT gearbox; a 2.0-litre 122bhp diesel with two-wheel-drive and a 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel with AWD. The larger diesel is available with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed auto gearbox.
There are now three trim levels; the entry level Active, the mid-range Icon – which is expected to account for the bulk of sales – and the top-of-the-range Invincible.
Inside the cabin the new, more muscular RAV4 is more refined with a more up-market feel to it, although I did find a number of switches were too low down on the dashboard to view/use easily.
The position of the driver, however, has been dramatically improved and you now have much better forward view, helped by the narrowing of the front pillars – a real bonus when driving the car over rough terrain.
Under normal circumstances the four-wheel-drive versions operate in front-wheel-drive only, to save fuel. If sensors detect that the wheels are slipping, power is also put to the rear axle, although you can switch to permanent 4WD with a button on the dashboard when the going gets really tough.
The higher-spec models, however, now get Toyota’s new Integrated Dynamic Drive System to improve handling and stability and when you switch this to Sport mode, drive also goes to the rear axle on bends and corners – to a greater or lesser degree – to improve cornering.
On the road the RAV4 handles exceptionally well, particularly in “Sport” mode. There is no roll on corners and the car feels confident and stable even when pushed hard.
Both 2.0-litre and 2.2-litre diesel models, which I tried, pulled well with plenty of flexibility through the gears, although the automatic 2.2-litre was much noisier and I preferred the manual versions.
Chunky, well-supportive seats hold you firmly in place and a short ride over rough terrain showed just how this car can deal with deeply-holed roads.
Despite the size of the new car, the larger diesel will average almost 50 miles per gallon with the 2.0-litre boasting more than 42mpg. Acceleration figures from 0-62 mph are 9.6 and 10.5 seconds respectively with top speeds of 111mph and 118mph.
More than 160,000 RAV4 models have been sold in the UK since the first trendy car was launched in the mid-90’s and some 4.5 million worldwide.
The new version may well be aimed at a different, more grown-up sector of the market, but it still retains the engaging character of the original, which should ensure continued sales success in the future.