THE SOFT PEDAL
ENRIGHT FINDS THAT HIS RAV HAS SPACE APLENTY
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