It packs a mag­num

The orig­i­nal compact SUV has bulked up con­sid­er­ably, mor­ph­ing into a sturdy, smooth and safe fam­ily wagon

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

YOU’RE look­ing at the best sell­ing SUV in Aus­tralia — ac­cord­ing to Toy­ota’s press blurb, that is.

Well, sorta kinda maybe. It’s true the RAV4 has just be­come the first SUV in Aus­tralia to hit 250,000 sales, though it hasn’t claimed top spot in the compact SUV sec­tor since 2007.

Mazda’s CX-5 has smoked the class since 2012 and the Toy­ota has lost out to Subaru’s Forester and the Nis­san X-Trail in some years as well. But hey, this is the car busi­ness, so let’s not quib­ble with facts. The orig­i­nal RAV4, launched in 1994 as a funky lit­tle fun­mo­bile for 20-some­things, can rightly claim to be the orig­i­nal compact SUV.

It’s since gone through four gen­er­a­tions and mor­phed into a fam­ily-sized freighter — you could al­most call it a Camry wagon — ideally suited to 30some­things with a cou­ple of young kids.

This model, in­tro­duced in 2013, gets sharper sheet metal for 2016, plus new cabin decor, up­dated in­fo­tain­ment and worth­while safety im­prove­ments. So how does Aus­tralia’s top-sell­ing (cough) SUV rate in 2016?

DE­SIGN

RAV’s new suit in­cludes a front end on steroids, LED lights all around, tauter pro­file and new wheels — the mid-spec GXL gains classy black 18-inch wheels with ma­chined spokes.

The RAV is hardly a sporty look­ing (or driv­ing) de­vice but 18-inch wheels (also stan­dard on the top-spec Cruiser, tested here) give it a pleas­ingly pro­por­tioned stance. The GX poverty pack still wears 17-inch steel wheels and looks all the more dumpy for it. In­side, the ugly, messy dash in­tro­duced in 2013 re­mains, still with a weirdly pro­trud­ing lead­ing edge that creates a cav­ernous black void be­neath, too many but­tons and switches placed with lit­tle thought as to their ease of use and, for some bizarre rea­son, three styles of air vents.

It looks like the prod­uct of an un­re­solved ar­gu­ment among sev­eral de­sign­ers. Or just lazi­ness.

The GXL and Cruiser gain a bright, in­for­ma­tive in­stru­ment panel, with a 4.2-inch TFT dis­play in the cen­tre. RAV’s 6.1inch in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen is sim­ple enough to op­er­ate, it’s also easy to pair your phone and the voice con­trol speaks your lan­guage most of the time. That said, the seven-inch tablet-style screen in­tro­duced on new HiLux and For­tuner would have been a use­ful upgrade here, too.

Cruiser’s power-ad­justable driver’s seat gives ex­cel­lent sup­port, though some will find the firm cush­ion bol­sters a tad squeezy on the thighs. Rear legroom is best in class and the long, firm bench, with an ad­justable back­rest, is well suited to child re­straints.

Cruiser’s power-op­er­ated tail­gate gives ac­cess a low, easy-to-load floor with a space-saver un­der­neath. You get 577L of cargo vol­ume with all seats oc­cu­pied, which is at the more ca­pa­cious end of the class.

Drop ei­ther side of the 60-40 split-fold rear seat for­ward and you get a flat 1.8m-long floor, so you can al­most move house with the RAV.

ABOUT TOWN

Toy­ota has di­alled a snappy launch feel into the ECU, so the RAV4 jumps away smartly at the lights and its drivetrain of 2.5-litre four-cyin­der and sixspeed au­to­matic is re­fined and re­spon­sive around town.

It’s also fru­gal. We recorded 9.0-10.0L/100km — not bad for a 1600kg AWD petrol wagon in Syd­ney traf­fic. Reg­u­lar un­leaded is rec­om­mended.

Toy­ota’s 2016 safety upgrade, stan­dard on the

Cruiser and a $2500 op­tion on the GXL au­to­matic, is tai­lor­made for city driv­ing. It in­cludes front park­ing sen­sors, for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing with au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross traf­fic alert, which warns you of po­ten­tial haz­ards when re­vers­ing out of a park­ing spot.

The only no­table is­sue around town is fairly heavy elec­tric steer­ing at shop­ping cen­tre carpark speeds.

ON THE ROAD

The RAV4 has no bad high­way habits but you can buy a lot more per­for­mance for less else­where and it’s also a long way from the best in class drive. That would in­volve a stoush with Subaru’s Forester, Mazda’s CX-5 and the Ford Kuga.

Toy­ota sets its SUVs up for com­fort rather than speed, so you get a smooth, con­trolled, quiet ride and se­cure road­hold­ing. En­gine, wind and road noise are low. Ex­pect about 7.0L/100km on the high­way.

The Cruiser’s all-wheel drive pays div­i­dends in the wet and on dirt, where a lock­able cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial and hill de­scent con­trol are also use­ful.

This year’s safety up­date in­cludes sev­eral hi-tech high­way helpers, in­clud­ing trailer sway con­trol, radar cruise con­trol, au­to­matic high­beam switch­ing and lane de­par­ture warn­ing. The lat­ter also has a self-steer­ing func­tion, which can gen­tly nudge you back into your lane if your wheels touch the white lines.

VER­DICT ★★★

The RAV4 Cruiser is now kiss­ing $50K and that’s an am­bi­tious ask, es­pe­cially given the mod­est per­for­mance.

How­ever, it’s a Toy­ota — so com­pe­tence is a given, own­er­ship will be cheap and grief-free, you are pro­tected by a for­mi­da­ble hi-tech safety net and the practicality-spacee­quip­ment tri­fecta is spot-on in the fam­ily wagon con­text.

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