Toyota's latest generation RAV4 has become quite the polished item. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Toyota's RAV4 compact SUV soft roader has been around so long it's easy to forget quite how far it's come. The much improved fourth generation model we look at here is more sophisticated, better finished, and far more efficient thanks to the fresh option of hybrid power. Reacquaint yourself with it. You might be in for a surprise.
It's easy to underestimate quite what a debt of gratitude we owe the Toyota RAV4. Back in 1994, the market for compact 4x4s was massively different to the one we have today. If you wanted a modestly-sized SUV back then, you had to do so with the proviso that it was likely to fall over if it was shown a picture of a corner. The RAV4 changed all that. It was the first small 4x4 that was actually good fun to drive on road.
But times change. The RAV4 has grown ever bigger and more sophisticated in response to rival soft-roading compact SUVs like its nemesis, the Honda CR-V. The fourth generation car, first shown in late 2012, is a smarter take on a well-established theme and has been further developed here with a smarter look and feel, plus the option of hybrid power.
Under the bonnet, the key news is the introduction of the first RAV4 hybrid model. Toyota has chosen not to offer the kind of Plug-in hybrid technology here you get in a rival Mitsubishi Outlander but the more conventional 2.5-litre VVTi petrol/electric unit you do get is commendably smooth and frugal, putting out 194bhp and able to get to 62mph in 8.4s. It's offered with either two or four-wheel drive configurations, the latter equipped with Toyota's E-Four system. This uses a second electric motor at the rear which provides automatic electronic all-wheel drive to give increased traction. The lightweight technology - there is no central propshaft - also gives RAV4 Hybrid a 1,650kg towing capacity.
Of course, many RAV4 buyers will prefer to save a little up-front cost and stick with a more conventional powerplant up-front - probably a diesel. For these folk, Toyota has dispensed with the rather noisy 2.2-litre diesel engine that was in the previous version of this car in favour of an uprated version of its 2.0-litre unit, upgraded from 124 to 141bhp. Here, you get a decent 320Nm slug of torque and 62mph is 9.6s away en route to 121mph. Unfortunately though, you can't have automatic transmission or AWD with this diesel unit. Both these things though, are included on the 2.0-litre Valvematic petrol variant which offers 149bhp and makes 62mph in 9.9s en route to 115mph.
Design and Build
This heavily revised fourth generation RAV4 gets a smarter look than before - and in particular, a sharper front end. The upper grille is more slender and is flanked by restyled halogen or LED headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights. The middle grille has been made wider and the lower, trapezoidal grille has been made significantly larger. Inside, the cabin still doesn't have a truly premium brand feel but it has been tidied up quite a lot. The instrument binnacle, the centre console and the gearshift surround get a slightly smarter look. Plus the centre console has been redesigned to accommodate the latest Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system touchscreen.
Otherwise, things are much as they were in the original version of this MK4 model. All the instrument and switchgear is backlit in cool blue and the dash features strong upper and lower beams, interrupted by a curved, metal-finished spar to frame the instrument binnacle, steering wheel and driver's footwell. The front-to-rear seat couple distance remains a best-in-class 970mm. Combined with a thinner front seatback design, this increases rear legroom. Thanks to Toyota's Easy Flat system, the rear seats can be quickly and easily folded flat (the seats dividing 60:40) and each section can be reclined independently. The load space is long, increasing capacity to 547-litres, and there's also a 100-litre undertray.
Market and Model
Your perspective on RAV4 pricing will depend upon what kind of car you perceive this to be. The motoring mags will tell you that it competes with family Crossovers like Renault's Kadjar and Hyundai's Tucson - but against these cars, it looks quite expensive, with prices pitched in the £24,000 to £31,000 bracket. Toyota though, perceives this as something more than a Crossover: yes, the RAV4 can appeal to that kind of buyer but traditionally, it's also been something more sophisticated, a more capable compact SUV too - a car like Honda's CR-V. It's certainly priced very similarly to a CR-V.
As we've been saying, there are three engines on offer, but if you want a manual gearbox, you'll have to have the 2.0-litre diesel that most customers will choose, available in all four grades, 'Active', 'Icon', Business Edition' and 'Excel'. It seems strange though, that Toyota isn't offering diesel buyers an all-wheel drive option. You have to have that with the auto-only 2.0-litre Valvematic petrol alternative. And there's the option of either two or four wheel drive if you go for the new powerplant introduced to the RAV4 line-up, a 2.5-litre petrol/electric Hybrid. All models get the brand's latest Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system. Plus, if you avoid entry-level trim, you get the option of the brand's latest 'Safety Sense' package of electronic features.
Cost of Ownership
Toyota's decision to discontinue the 2.2-litre diesel used in top derivatives of the previous version of this car is all to the good in terms of economy. The freshly upgraded 141bhp 2.0 D-4D unit manages 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, which is about 10mpg better than the old 2.2 could manage. The CO2 figure's better too - 123g/km on 17-inch wheels. It's interesting to compare these figures against those of the petrol/electric 2.5-litre Hybrid variant. This derivative manages 57.6mpg on 17-inch wheels and 115g/km of CO2 in 2WD form. Or 55.4mpg and 118g/km in AWD guise. Go for the conventional automatic 2.0-litre Valvematic petrol model and the figures are 43.5mpg and 152g/km.
The RAV4 Hybrid falls into VED tax band C, so owners will pay nothing for the first year registration. Toyota talks of owners saving around 12% in BIK tax payments over an equivalent diesel model, a saving of £2,287 for a 20% UK tax payer. Plus of course you'll be using cheaper green pump fuel. As for residual values in the range overall, well these have always been good for RAV4 buyers, in most cases bearing comparison with the models from premium brands and there's little reason to doubt that they'll only improve this time round.
The changes Toyota has made in refining this fourth generation RAV4 have been welcome. The car now has the more distinctive look it always needed, plus infotainment and safety has been brought up to speed. The important news though, lies in the introduction of hybrid power, still a rare thing in the compact SUV segment. No other brand has more experience with this kind of engine - and that shows with the installation here.
If you have decided that a RAV4 is what you want, don't automatically tick the box for the improved diesel version before you've got your dealer to allow you to have a go in a hybrid model. This petrol/electric variant does, after all, give you the useful option of AWD and once you've added up all the fuel and CO2 figures, it probably won't cost you any more to run in the real world. Something to think about. In a car worth thinking about.