Hybrid rules radical RAV4
25 years ago Toyota launched a sector that is now a popular choice for many buyers, but is the new RAV4 the ground-breaking SUV it once was? Russ Taylerson takes a look
QUIETLY, so quietly, the radical C-HR has taken to the nation’s streets in huge numbers, bettered only by Aygo and Yaris in Toyota’s line-up, so it should come as no surprise that the penmen at the company’s design centre in Japan should apply those sharp shapes to its long-standing mid market SUV – the RAV4.
Here is a car that, since pioneering the SUV market some 25 years ago, has come under unrelenting pressure from an ever-increasing barrage of competitors all after share of this desirable sector. So popular have SUVS proved to be among buyers, there are models available in pretty much every sector from supermini to large family cars and they now account for more than 22 per cent of all new cars sold across Europe.
So in a bid to gain a greater share of this burgeoning sector, the RAV4 has undergone a substantial makeover using the firm’s TNGA platform as the foundation. This flexible platform allows for a longer, wider car with reduced ride height, boosted cabin space and improved handling. Bold claims indeed and should Toyota wish to win a larger share of a saturated marketplace, they are claims that will need to be satisfied.
It would be remiss to begin anywhere other than the visual feast that is the redesigned shell. Despite its practicalities, the last model could never be described as attractive. The new model goes a long way to redressing the balance.
Chief engineer Yoshikazu Saeki said: “We needed to deliver a ‘wow’ factor to customers, inspire them with a vehicle that has exceptional presence.”
And by and large, they have succeeded. From nose to tail, the RAV4 is a distinctive car. Yes, there are hints of the competition from certain aspects but those similarities only serve to enhance what is an eye-catching car. The nose now bears a gaping grille with equally prominent lower section that is said to improve airflow beneath the car.
Head to the tail and without the badging, the RAV4 could be mistaken for a Lexus. And that’s a good thing. In its former incarnation, the RAV appeared more utilitarian, especially in the cabin.
But there is no such feel this time.
Climb aboard and you’re met with a well-presented interior dressed in quality materials and tactile contact points; from the soft foam used for the stepped dash to the rubber discreetly adorning the inside of the door grabs. Also check out the air con switches – a simple addition but one that makes a tangible difference to the feel of the cabin. A large colour screen dominates the upper centre of the dash and serves as home to a host of functions considered vital for the modern motorist – from sat nav and music to a eco readout to tell you just how well you’re performing as a greener motorist. This is another substantial change for the RAV4 over the model it replaces.
It was the last generation of the RAV4 that took its first bite of Toyota’s long-standing hybrid powertrain. Sales across the company’s range have finally, and with much determination on the manufacturer’s part, started to reap rewards with more buyers opting for the hybrid version of a model if available. Across the last three years of RAV4 sales, the figure has remained at about 8,000 but as each year has passed, a larger share has gone to the hybrid model. In 2018, close to 7,000 RAVS sold were hybrid propelled with fewer than 700 conventionally powered. So it makes sense that for the fifth generation model, Toyota has taken the leap into a hybrid-only offering for its mid-sized SUV. The sales figures reveal that buyers prefer the alternative drivetrain from Yaris to Auris (soon to be replaced by Corolla). As the hybrid has come online, the sales have switched.
The fourth-generation hybrid powertrain, a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol is married to a single electric motor in FWD guise and a further motor at the rear axle in AWD models. Expect around 50mpg if driven sensibly and an eight second sprint to 60mph if not. CO2 figures are down at an entirely acceptable 103g/km for the AWD model, meaning a £135 tax bill upon registration of the car and £130 in the second year. Performance is surprisingly good, even in the FWD model.
Power is plentiful and despite the RAV’S generous proportions, it’s no slouch. The TGNA platform, as I said earlier, has been employed to not only improve space but also the driving experience which it has achieved. At higher speeds, the RAV feels surefooted and positive in FWD model, so much so that a check of the literature was needed to make sure it was indeed just FWD.
Lexus announced some years ago how proud they were with the noise levels in the then new IS.
It seems the trickle-down tech is in effect here as the new RAV is a quiet car indeed, with road noise and wind blast kept to a minimum.
The FWD model is the opener in the range and in Icon grade is the only one that dips below the £30k mark. Prices top out at £36,640 for the Dynamic AWD-I model.
RAV4S rarely find their way away from tarmac-laden surfaces but Toyota is keen to press home the more adventurous side of the new model with the introduction of a Trail mode, one of four optional driving modes – Normal, Eco and Sport being the other three.
Trail mode is designed to ensure you keep moving in more challenging conditions by transferring more power to the wheels with the most grip. How challenging the terrain can be tackled by the RAV4 remains to be seen but it managed a tight mountain trail with relative ease. It’s a safe bet that the AWD-I system will be better employed towing caravans and battling the worst of the British winter. Unshackle it from these mundane tasks and switch to Sport mode, it won’t suddenly develop genuine sporting potential but there is a palpable improvement in steering weight as well as power distribution to improve performance. Four grades are offered; Icon, Design, Dynamic and Excel, which all benefit from generous levels of standard equipment and, more importantly, Toyota’s second-generation Safety Sense system. It features a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, intelligent adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist and automatic high beam. And, for the first time, it boasts a lane-tracing system which uses a camera to keep the car centred in it lane. What started life more than two decades ago as an alternative to the norm has gone on in this fifth generation to once again offer a competitive alternative to the host of SUVS available.
Well priced, well equipped, with generous levels of cabin space from front to back and striking looks, the RAV4 deserves to do well. Whether it does, well that’s down to you.
Climb aboard and you’re met with a well-presented interior dressed in quality materials... Russ Taylerson