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

Gloucestershire Echo - - TEST DRIVE -

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

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