Toyota RAV4 The first three generations of Toyotas RAV4 mid-sized models have been boxy shaped, tough, durable and go anywhere 4x4s.

The RAV4 first appeared in 1994 as a three door model launching the compact SUV sector. Since then the RAV4 has grown to five doors and sales have grown to 4.5 million worldwide with the UK accounting for close to 160,000 of those.

Today’s fourth generation, five-door RAV4 still retains, for most versions, the capable 4x4 qualities but the all-new design offers a more modern and sophisticated design, an upgraded interior, better comfort and more space for little or no more money. Prices start from £22,595 for the 2.0-litre diesel powered two-wheel drive Active version and rise to a lofty £29,305 for the all-wheel drive 2.2-litre diesel automatic Invincible variant.

The new range offers Active, the main selling Icon and luxury Invincible specification levels depending on the engine and drivetrain chosen. The 2.0-litre D-4D 124hp diesel engine powers 2WD versions, a 2.0-litre, 151hp V-matic petrol unit with Multidrive S CVT automatic transmission is available only with 4WD and the main selling 2.2-litre, D-4D 150hp diesel with 6-speed manual and auto transmission options with 4WD will take up the bulk of sales.

Toyota RAV4 The design of the latest RAV4 has been developed in response to evolving customer requirements targeting couples and families with active lifestyles who value more space and versatility rather than buyers who want a practical and durable ‘work-horse’. In the UK sales of SUVs, particularly lower CO2 tax efficient 2WD models, are now in demand from company car users who want more stylish, comfortable and better equipped models.

The new RAV4 is of course still a global vehicle so it really is a case of one size and style has to fit all market requirements. The latest RAV4 now follows the ‘softer’ coupe side profile design theme adopted for most five door compact SUVs ranging from the older Vauxhall Antara and Chevrolet Captiva models to the new Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-5 SUVs. The older ‘boxier’ design for mid-sized SUVs is still used for models like the Land Rover Freelander, Nissan X-Trail and Suzuki Vitara 5-door. It has been very usual to see RAV4s used as family cum workhorse transport in rural areas. The new softer approach is likely to see them being used more in urban environments and perhaps towing caravans and boats rather than stock trailers and horse boxes. Depending on the engine and transmission chosen braked towing weights range from 1,500kg for the petrol automatic and 1,600 to 2,000kg for the diesel powered models.

The latest version, in 4WD form still retains its high ground clearance and all terrain capabilities with its on demand all wheel drive system which varies the amount of drive to the wheels with most grip and it has 4WD lock and descent control facilities. It’s just now its new suit-of-clothes looks ‘posher’ and more sophisticated. The suspension has been re-tuned to give a more compliant controlled and comfortable ride with improved stability and the steering is sharper as well. There is now the choice of Normal, Sport or Eco driving modes in line with the fact that the latest RAV4 will spend much more time on motorways than it will on country lanes or off-roading.

Toyota RAV4 The new Toyota design face is used for the RAV4 with its smart grille and sleek headlights. The side profile has a coupe rising waistline and a roof line that slightly reduces to the rear. For the first time there is a top hinged tailgate rather than a side hinged rear loading door. The wide opening tailgate is flanked by prominent rear light clusters. The latest RAV4 actually looks larger and imposing than its 4,750mm body length implies. On the top specification Invincible version I tried the tailgate was electronically operated and frustratingly slow in operation. Unfortunately there is no spare wheel offered, or available as an option, so there is more storage space beneath the large load area floor but I’d rather have a spare wheel. The boot space with all five seats in position is a useful 547-litres but fold down the rear seats and this space increases to a huge 1,746-litres, just right for carrying sports activity equipment, family luggage or transport aids for the less mobile.

The interior has grown noticeably in space for the new model, it is very roomy and looks impressive. The seats are comfortable and elevated so the visibility is generally much improved although the rising waistline to the rear corners does restrict rear quarter vision. There is a predominance of black trim but the quality looks and feels more up-market especially the leather upholstery which is standard-fit for my Invincible my test model. The array of instruments is very comprehensive and well laid out and adds to the refinement offered by the new generation model.

Toyota RAV4 The Invincible specification is comprehensive, as it should be for the near £30k price tag. All the usual features such as electrically operated windows and door mirrors plus air conditioning apply to all versions but higher grade models get alloy wheels, roof rails, daytime running lights and front fog lights. Automatic lights and wipers, smart entry with push button start, cruise control, dual zone climate control, DAB radio, heated sports front seats, leather upholstery and leather trim for the steering wheel and part leather for the dashboard and door panels, 18-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, rear view camera and paddle shift controls for the Invincible automatic model are all included. Unfortunately the Touch & Go Plus navigation system with voice control and enhanced traffic information costs another £1,250 even on the top spec version taking my test model up to a costly £31,000. Going down one grade to the Icon variant with the same size engine and auto gearbox comes in at a more realistic £27,605 and this would be my choice.

The main power-house for the RAV4 is their 2.2-litre, four cylinder turbodiesel engine with 148bhp (150PS/HP) with maximum torque of 250lb ft (340Nm), available from 2,000rpm. Changes to this unit over previous versions include an aluminium cylinder block, revised balancer shafts to reduce noise and vibrations, friction reducing roller-bearing rocker arms and a resin cylinder head cover reduces fuel injector noise. All these changes have resulted in better fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions. In the case of my test model with the automatic gearbox the official fuel economy has gone from 39.8mpg to 42.2mpg and CO2 has been reduced from 186g/km to 176g/km which in turn has lowered road and company car tax charges. Road tax is now £335 for the first Year rate reducing to £220 for the second year onwards and BIK company car tax is 29%.

Toyota RAV4 Unfortunately my week long test drive covering motorway and local journeys and used only in the Eco mode only resulted in an average of 35.3mpg, acceptable but not outstanding. The engine and the six-speed auto gearbox actually worked well together offering good engine response, even in the Eco mode, and it was generally quiet and smooth. Top speed, not really relevant, is 115mph and the acceleration from standstill to 62mph is good enough at 10-seconds.

With vastly improved on-road driving ability, a much more compliant suspension giving better ride comfort and suppressed engine noise intrusion, the latest and more spacious RAV4 might have lost its rugged 4x4 appearance. It is now more in-tune with what the majority of customers want these days. Visually and ride wise its gone soft but underneath the fashionable skin the drivetrain, durable suspension and construction should maintain its hard-core off roader capabilities when needed.

MILESTONES. Toyota RAV4 Invincible 2.2 D-4D Auto 5-Door SUV. Price: £29,305 (plus options). Engine/transmission: 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder, DOHC ,direct injection turbodiesel, 148bhp, 250lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, 6-speed automatic, on demand all wheel drive with 4WD lock mode and downhill assist control. Performance: 115mph, 0-62mph 10-seconds, 42.2mpg (35.3mpg on test), CO2 176g/km, VED road tax £335 First Year rate then £220 for the second year onwards, BIK company car tax 29%. Insurance group: 26E. Warranty: 5-years/100,000 miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,570mm, W 1,845mm, H 1,660mm, 5-seats, boot/load space: 547 to 1,746-litres, braked towing weight 1,800kg. For: Enormous and improved quality interior, large load area, increased specification and well laid out controls, very comfortable, better handling. Against: Engine sets no new standards in this sector, real-life fuel economy didn’t match the official figure, no spare wheel or even the option for one, top version as tested looks expensive, ‘Invincible’ pretentious model name. Miles Better News Agency

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