You’ll need to fork out for the Excel model if you want roof rails
These days, any SUV worth its salt needs to be as eye-catching as it is capable; and, with so many different 4x4s to choose from, the looks can play a big part in deciding what to buy. Toyota know this only too well, so the latest RAV4 has been given a very large injection of kerbside appeal. The protective panels under the bodywork are now finished in a contrasting silver, while a slim, restyled grille, new bumpers, foglamps and LED head- and tail lights all make it look a bit sleeker and more modern than before. On standard cars, you get 17-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass, and all but the entry-level Active model feature power folding door mirrors and fog lights. You’ll need to fork out for the highest Excel model if you want a sunroof or roof rails; and, in the case of the latter, we suspect that most SUV buyers do.
There is no faulting the logical layout of the cabin in the RAV4, with the chunky, simple controls for the climate control and infotainment system arranged alongside and below a 7.0-inch colour touch-screen that is standard on every version. This cluster of switches juts out towards the driver – so it’s easy to reach on the move – but the shelf it creates makes it harder to access the buttons nestled underneath. The driving position is good, placing the driver high enough to give a decent view of the road ahead, and making it easy to get in and out, although the standard seats lack side support and lumbar adjustment cannot be added as an option. Visibility is good, and a reversing camera is also standard fit on all models, making parking a lot less stressful. On most versions, you’ll need to pay extra if you want sat-nav included, but the system is pretty clunky, with slow responses, and it’s quite easy to make a mistake and miss a vital turning. The durable hard plastics on show in here are also a bit utilitarian and basic when compared with the best cabins available in this class too – and that includes the Nissan Qashqai – not just its premium rivals.
The boot on the standard front-drive diesel is generous, with 547-litres of luggage space
Just how practical your RAV4 is will depend largely on which model you choose, but all of them get the basics right, with a wide cabin providing decent shoulder- and elbow-room for those sitting across the rear bench. There’s just about enough space to seat three adults in relative comfort, although the middle seat is raised and a little narrow. Up front, there’s a big storage bin under the central armrest for all your odds and sods, deep pockets in each of the doors, and a couple of trays with grippy rubber mats to chuck your phone into. The boot on the standard front-drive diesel is generous, with 547 litres of luggage space with the seat backs in place, and 1,735 litres (up to the roof) with them folded. Those rear seats don’t lie flat when folded or slide forward to give you any added flexibility, though, and the batteries in the Hybrid model reduce the carrying capacity by 46 litres. The RAV4 does come with a usefully large hidden compartment under the boot floor, though, and a storage net for carrying loose items that’s slung between the wheelarches.
Ride and handling
First and foremost, family SUVs need to feel secure and comfortable over long distances; and, the latest RAV4 performs better on that second score than previous versions did. Yes, the ride is a little on the firm side at lower speeds and around town, but once you’re on the motorway, you and your passengers will have little to complain about. The handling is capable without offering much – if any – excitement, with remote steering and a fair amount of body roll in tighter corners. Meanwhile, the hybrid model is rather hampered by the extra 175kg of weight it carries, and you can feel the tyres losing grip and pushing wide at anything above modest speeds. The hybrid RAV4 sends all of its power to the front wheels most of the time, but the AWD version has a second electric motor (powered by the engine) which kicks in to stabilize the car when it senses a loss of grip. This solution helps to save weight and cost, but it means the RAV4 is not quite as sure-footed as more conventional 4x4s when the going gets tough. In other words, if you want to regularly venture off-road, this might not be the right choice.
The hybrid comes in at a whopping 175kg heavier than the diesel model
There are three engines available in the RAV4, but the petrol/electric hybrid version (which comes in both two- and four-wheel drive configurations) is expected to make up the vast majority of UK sales, with the revised 2.0-litre, 141bhp diesel accounting for almost all the rest. With a combined 195bhp, this is actually the most powerful conventional Toyota hybrid yet, with a respectable 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds. However, it rarely – if ever – feels that fast out on the road, and its weight is an issue. Put the hybrid and diesel models alongside each other on the scales and the hybrid comes in at a whopping 175kgs heavier; so, any time you try and accelerate, you have to wait for the hybrid RAV4 to drag its hefty mass forward. The CVT automatic gearbox is very sensitive, too, so if you press the throttle too hard when overtaking or joining the motorway, the revs surge and the engine drones loudly. The diesel engine, too, is rather noisy, but at least you don’t have to work it too hard too often, because it produces its peak pulling power at less than 2000rpm. In fact, it goes about its business perfectly happily: not fast, admittedly, but certainly fast enough for everyday use. The final option – a 2.5-litre petrol engine – is severely down on torque, with just 151lb ft available (and only at high revs), so it’ll struggle to keep up with a modern diesel.
A refreshed engine range has helped to boost the RAV4’s green credentials – and make it that bit more attractive to company car users in the process. The new 2.0-litre diesel is front-wheel drive only, emits a respectable 124g/km, and returns an official 60.1mpg. Those stats are competitive without being class-leading, but the Hybrid model is a little better: you won’t find too many four-wheel drive, automatic SUVs that can beat 118g/km. The one exception is plug-in hybrid 4x4s, and the popular Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (after the government discount has been applied) costs the same as the Toyota, but has a far longer EV range, and sits in the lowest tax brackets for road tax and Benefit-in-kind tax. However, Toyota argues that the RAV4 hybrid uses proven (and therefore reliable) battery technology, and the reduced number of mechanical parts should also reduce maintenance costs over the life of the car. Insurance groups are relatively low, but despite costing as much as premium rivals like the BMW X1, the RAV4 is unlikely to match that car’s strong residual values, and will lose more of its initial value at the end of a three-year ownership period.
the vast majority of those who bought the previous RAV4 swore by its toughness
As we mentioned above, the RAV4 hybrid uses a well-proven set of technologies that Toyota has been working on and improving since the very first Prius. That means that, while it may not boast the same headline-grabbing CO2 figures as some rivals, it’s very durable. On top of that, the company has an excellent reputation for reliability, and the vast majority of those who bought the previous RAV4 swore by its mechanical toughness. It also comes with a five-year warranty that covers you for up to 100,000 miles of motoring – far longer cover than you’ll get from most brands – if anything does go wrong. The dealers have a growing reputation as straight-talking and easy to deal with, too, if anything does go awry, and best of all, the cost of any fixes or replacement parts should be very manageable, too.
Just like Toyota’s latest Auris and Avensis models, almost every version of the RAV4 comes fully loaded with cutting-edge safety tech, courtesy of Toyota’s Safety Sense package. This modestly priced optional extra includes adaptive, radar-guided cruise control, as well as autonomous braking that can sense an oncoming pedestrian (not just other cars) and warn the driver before slowing the car to prevent a collision. Other handy goodies include lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, high-beam headlights that dip automatically if they sense another car coming, and even a system that works with the traction control to counteract the sway from a trailer if it suddenly swings out of control when towing. All that means, of course, that the RAV4 received a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP, but along with these fancy systems, it also has everything you’d normally expect, including seven airbags, traction and stability control, and hill start assist.
Business Edition Plus cars get a reversing camera, nav system and DAB
Toyota has a slightly odd approach to equipment in the RAV4, having aimed the three engines on offer at very different customers. The front-wheel drive diesel and hybrid models are aimed at business buyers and those who pick cars from a list, needing as much standard equipment as possible. That means that, on the Business Edition (diesel) and Business Edition Plus (hybrid), you get a reversing camera, navigation system, DAB radio, cruise control, Bluetooth, dual-zone air-conditioning, and front fog lights. The Plus adds LED headlights, a powered tailgate, and keyless entry and start. Spend more on Icon trim, though, and you lose satellite-navigation (it’s still available as an option) but gain leather and Alcantara upholstery, electric seat adjustment for the driver, and heated front seats. Only the top – and rather expensive – Excel gets leather upholstery, parking sensors and a sunroof, and you can’t add these things to a lower version. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, then, so the RAV4 is generous in some areas, but many rivals have trim structures that are easier to understand.
If you are looking for a dependable, practical SUV with a decent amount of standard kit, but have no need to drive it off-road regularly, or want a car that’s a hoot to drive, then the RAV4 ticks a lot of boxes. This version is comfier and quieter than before, but the limited engine options and a rather drab interior prevent it challenging for top honours.