You can probably imagine how the conversation went. A few months ahead of the arrival of her first child, my sister rang to discuss cars. Her ageing Honda Civic wasn’t going to cut it as baby transportation, and “Would you recommend a RAV4?” She had found a good used example on Trade Me. My response: “What’s not to like?”
Drive around any suburban neighbourhood these days, and it’s SUVs by and large – rather than sedans – that you’ll see occupying driveways. In the last six months alone I have reviewed three of them: a pretty good indication of their popularity and the important role they now play in the new car market. The original RAV4 pioneered the concept of the compact or cross-over SUV. It has plenty of attributes people like – especially new mums – including a high driving position, lots of practical space and car-like driving experience.
Toyota has largely stuck with the same formula for the latest incarnation. Which isn’t to say it’s boring, far from it. For a start, it’s graced with the new Toyota design livery. The front nose and light treatment is reminiscent of the new Corolla, although it probably works better on the RAV4. It’s unquestionably modern: the rear roofline tapers in a rakish way that sets it apart from its contemporaries. The result is a smart-looking vehicle that is more commodious than its compact design would suggest.
From the driver’s seat, I was immediately taken with its small and meaty steering wheel, implying this car likes to be driven rather than just piloted. And the driving experience doesn’t disappoint. It will tackle corners with plenty of enthusiasm and bags of grip – far more than you might expect given its higher centre of gravity. The front pews are great, too, offering plenty of lateral support – very handy when you are punting through those tighter bends at a reasonable clip. Some might not be overjoyed by the ride though. The firm set-up helps with assured handling, but at low speeds in particular, the RAV4 can feel a bit jiggly.
There are three trim levels on offer, and both petrol and diesel engines to choose from. My test car was the all-wheel-drive 2.2‑litre diesel GXL – the middle level of trim – which starts at $53,490. I’ve not driven a diesel RAV4 before, and it would be fair to say I was impressed. Mated with a six-speed automatic gearbox, it’s an engine that delivers the goods. Maximum power is a reasonable 110kW, but like many diesel power plants, it’s the torque figure (340Nm) that impresses. This RAV4 will pick up its skirts when required without major strain, although best performance is achieved when flicked to sport mode.
For best economy, ‘Eco’ is the logical setting (naturally, it’s also the default). Toyota quote 6.5 litres/100km, and my run was not far off, achieving a consistent 7 litres, despite some enthusiastic driving.
The GXL offers plenty of standard kit, including creature comforts like climate air and stylish alloy wheels, while the interior is of a high standard. The new dash design looks great, and the soft coverings add a degree of sophistication lacking from some lesser models. On the downside, the head unit has a relatively small and fiddly touch screen.
There may be competition aplenty, but nearly 20 years on, the RAV4 still has an edge. In addition to its enduring popularity, it has the benefit of Toyota’s enviable reliability. It’s not hard to see why my sister chose one.[wp-review] [warning]
Model reviewed: Toyota RAV4 GXL diesel all-wheel drive
Price: $53,490 (two-wheel-drive range from $39,990)
Fuel economy: 6.5 litres/100km (manufacturer’s figures)
0–100km/h: 9.6 seconds (manufacturer’s figures)
Overall: Toyota’s reputation for quality and longevity will help ensure the latest iteration of the RAV4 is as popular as ever[/warning]