THE SOFT PEDAL

EN­RIGHT FINDS THAT HIS RAV HAS SPACE APLENTY

Wheels (Australia) - - GARAGE - ANDY EN­RIGHT

IS 580 LITRES a lot? What might once have been a stretch­ing beer con­sump­tion tar­get for David Boon on a long-haul flight takes on a very dif­fer­ent mean­ing when con­verted to the amount of lug­gage space in your SUV. Nev­er­the­less, that’s what you can carry in a RAV4 Hy­brid be­fore you start fold­ing the rear seats down.

And it is, in­deed, a big num­ber. Com­pare that to the Range Rover Ve­lar I was run­ning, os­ten­si­bly a car from a class or two up, and the RAV4 beats the Rangie by 22 litres with the seats in place. Drop the seats and you have 1690 litres to play with.

This is key be­cause it means I can throw a moun­tain bike into the back of the car with­out hav­ing to re­move the front wheel or drop the seat post. I couldn’t do that in the Ve­lar, and given that my res­o­lu­tion for 2020 is to get out more of­ten on the treader, I can now keep the trusty Lapierre in the back of the car and hop out for a cou­ple of laps of Lys­ter­field’s Com­mon­wealth Games MTB course on my way back from work. Now’s prob­a­bly the time to make an ad­mis­sion. There are a cou­ple of par­cel shelves in the Wheels garage, and iden­ti­fy­ing which cars they once be­longed to is a level of car nerdery be­yond my pay scale, but it’s un­likely there will be any such issue with the RAV4.

Un­fas­ten­ing the roller blind is a one-handed job and it then stows in its own clip-in hous­ing atop the space­saver spare below the ar­ti­fi­cial boot floor. That way you don’t have to worry about it tak­ing up res­i­dence in the garage nor bounc­ing around the rear footwell get­ting dirty and dam­aged. It’s ex­actly this kind of con­sid­er­a­tion that makes the RAV4’s such an easy ev­ery­day propo­si­tion.

It’s not per­fect, though. There are a few mi­nor gripes. One is how slow the in­fo­tain­ment screen can be to boot up and re­spond to but­ton presses.

The small screen be­tween the two main di­als is also pretty hard to read in di­rect sun­light, and the adap­tive cruise can run away when go­ing down­hill. The pas­sen­ger seat isn’t height-ad­justable and sits too high. Also, on hot days it can take a lit­tle while for the RAV4 to fig­ure out it needs to run the en­gine to charge the AC com­pres­sor, mak­ing the first minute or so a sweaty ex­pe­ri­ence.

These are just quirks that will likely be ironed out by Toy­ota with the first facelift of the RAV4, and they do lit­tle to de­tract from an ex­cel­lent fam­ily SUV. I’m start­ing to won­der how I’m go­ing to re­place it, and whether its even­tual suc­ces­sor will be so small that it’ll put the ky­bosh on the best-laid res­o­lu­tions. Un­til then, I’m ped­alling.

DING! Text mes­sage: “Bloody hell this A35 is nice!” Ding! “The right bal­ance of fun per­for­mance and daily sen­si­bil­i­ties.” Ding!

“It’s al­most a per­fect long-ter­mer…” So read the ex­cited texts from Wheels on­line editor Cameron Kirby; a man clearly stoked that he’d man­aged to pry the AMG key fob from my grasp for his first proper steer in the A35.

They say shar­ing is car­ing, but un­til now, I’d man­aged to suc­cess­fully dodge that most cliched of sen­ti­ments. Ev­ery one of the A35’s 3000 or so kilo­me­tres as part of the Wheels garage had been at my hand, but that changed this month.

On top of Kirby’s stint, the A35 also spent time in the care of Trent Giunco who’d suc­cess­fully ar­gued that in or­der to de­liver an ac­cu­rate and con­sid­ered ver­dict in his A35 vs BMW M135i com­par­i­son on p94, he needed to spend some qual­ity time in the AMG.

“It’s much closer to the old A45 than I thought it would be,” he said after a few days, re­in­forc­ing the no­tion that this is a proper AMG prod­uct and not just a lightly warmed-over A250. And that, more than any­thing, is likely to dic­tate whether the A35 is for you.

It’s stee­l­ier in its fo­cus com­pared to a Golf R, and much more overt in its per­for­mance in­tent than the BMW M135i. It’s also not as com­fort­able or as re­fined as ei­ther of those ri­vals. The ride is firmer (though never harsh), sur­face changes and im­per­fec­tions are trans­mit­ted into the cabin with greater clar­ity, the bucket seats have less pad­ding, and the tyre roar from the (ex­cel­lent) Miche­lin Pilot Sport 4S

rub­ber is more in­tru­sive. Those are the com­pro­mises.

The pos­i­tives are that this is eas­ily the more en­gag­ing per­for­mance car. Throw all three up a chal­leng­ing road and the A35 won’t only be quicker, but it’ll de­liver a level of con­nec­tion and con­fi­dence that the oth­ers can’t match.

Trent’s com­par­i­son test has al­ready de­liv­ered a de­tailed de­scrip­tion of the A35’s dy­nam­ics, so I won’t dou­ble up here, but the key take­away is that this is an easy car to drive quickly. On dry tar­mac the A35 is ag­ile and tac­tile, with a neu­tral bal­ance that seems to place the driver smack-bang be­tween the axles. Slip an­gles are kept to a min­i­mum, which only serves to boost your con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially in the wet. And the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is a will­ing com­pan­ion at en­thu­si­as­tic speeds, thanks to crisp up­shifts and a suit­ably ad­dic­tive level of pops and bangs on the over­run when you down­shift.

It’s less gra­cious around town, where the usual DCT grem­lins of jerk­i­ness and frus­trat­ing mo­ments of hes­i­ta­tion can rear their heads, but on bal­ance, the A35’s com­pro­mises in ev­ery­day driv­ing are nicely judged. Is it, as Cameron sug­gests, “a per­fect longter­mer”? For me, it gets pretty close.

The cabin isn’t for ev­ery­one (see panel above right), and why doesn’t it have a head-up dis­play when the lesser A250 does? The big­gest ques­tion mark, how­ever, sur­rounds its value propo­si­tion. Is it re­ally worth $20K more than a Golf R? It cer­tainly feels more special and has a greater depth of dy­namic tal­ent, though there’s no es­cap­ing the fact that the A35 suf­fers from the law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns.

I have a month left to pon­der whether this means it rep­re­sents poor value, but in terms of de­liv­er­ing on its core prom­ise – ie, be­ing an ex­cit­ing hot hatch that you can use ev­ery day – the A35 rarely puts a foot wrong.

Above right: Glitzy dash and com­plex­ity of con­trols haven’t won unan­i­mous ac­claim, and nor has the rear-seat pack­ag­ing, but oth­er­wise the po­tent-but-pricey A35 is find­ing fans

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