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IN OVER two decades on sale, Toy­ota’s RAV compact soft­road­ing SUV has evolved and changed quite a lot. It launch, it was the spor­ti­est car of its kind and in more re­cent times has in­tro­duced the con­cept of 2WD into this mar­ket seg­ment.

The fourth gen­er­a­tion ver­sion though, first in­tro­duced in 2013, hasn’t sold as strongly as Toy­ota hoped it might, hence the com­pre­hen­sive range re­fresh that has brought us the op­tion of petrol/ elec­tric hy­brid power.

Un­like some of its ri­vals, Toy­ota has cho­sen not to match this with fu­tur­is­tic Plug-in

tech­nol­ogy, but the brand does have in­dus­try-lead­ing hy­brid ex­per­tise. Let’s see if that comes across with this smarter, safer, more ef­fi­cient RAV4. Toy­ota is of­fer­ing this car’s 2.5-litre four cylin­der hy­brid pow­er­train mated ei­ther to two or four-wheel drive - and ei­ther case, it puts out 197bhp thanks to a boost from two elec­tric mo­tors, a 105kW one on the front axle and a 50kW one on the rear axle.

As usual, such a hy­brid en­gine must be mated to au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and as ever with the brand’s petrol/ elec­tric sys­tems, there’s an ‘EV’ but­ton that al­lows you to pro­ceed in pure elec­tric mode for up to a cou­ple of miles.

In town, this, theamost eco­log­i­cal and pow­er­ful RAV4 ever,agoes smoothly and of­fers un­ex­pected agility in traf­fic.

At a cruise, the at­mos­phere is hushed and, even at high­way speeds, it’s pos­si­ble to chat with rear pas­sen­gers with­out hav­ing to raise your voice.

On sec­ondary roads, the RAV4 feels re­mark­ably ag­ile for an SUV.

If you are in a hurry, just press the ‘Sport’ but­ton, crush the pedal to the metal and be sur­prised by the re­ward­ing re­sponse of the power unit which makes 62mph from rest in 8.4s en route to 112mph.

The spa­cious cock­pit is one of the win­ning virtue­saof the fourth gen­er­a­tion of the RAV4.

The at­mos­phere is airy, not only at the front but also in the rear, where pas­sen­gers have many cen­time­ters for legs and head and can even ad­just the back­rest an­gle.

The back seat doesn’t slide back and forth as it did on pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion RAV4s, but in re­turn for that sac­ri­fice,

this cur­rent

model de­liv­ers a big boot. It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore Toy­ota added hy­brid tech­nol­ogy to its RAV4 compact SUV.

The en­gine suits the car and will be of great in­ter­est to this soft road­ers tra­di­tional band of loyal buy­ers. Will it have wider ap­peal than that though?

Not many cars of this size can so stylishly man­age over 55mpg and 113g/km of CO2 while still mak­ing 62mph from rest in un­der nine sec­onds.

It’ll also help that this re­vised RAV4 model looks smarter than be­fore. Toy­ota’s prob­lem though, is that there are some very strong al­ter­na­tives in this seg­ment sell­ing at much the same kind of money, with ei­ther po­tent diesel tech­nol­ogy or even Plugin Hy­brid power read­ily avail­able for compact SUV buy­ers at this price point.

For all that, this RAV4 Hy­brid is a wel­come ar­rival in this seg­ment. It’s cer­tainly a car you’d very hap­pily live with.

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