In 2013 sales of what the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders call Dual Purpose Vehicles, what we know as 4x4s, SUVs, Off-Roaders and Crossovers, reached an all-time high of 247,942 units.
They have become the third largest segment in the UK’s new car market overtaking the total of 208,449 sales for Upper Medium sized cars such as the Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia.
The UK’s largest selling sector remains Supermini models such as the Ford Fiesta with the sector recording 812,977 sales. The second largest sector is Lower Medium models such as the Ford Focus with a sector sales figure of 588,318.
Most Crossover models are now classified as Dual Purpose vehicles although some are only two wheel drive vehicles but they have the style of a 4x4 or SUV. However Nissan does not include their Qashqai or Juke Crossover models in the Dual Purpose segment because most of their sales are for two wheel drive versions. If they were included this would further boost Dual Purpose sector sales by around 80,000 units.
One manufacturer more than happy to include their 2WD and 4WD models with petrol and diesel engine options in the Dual Purpose sector is Toyota with their new RAV4 range. Sales of their new RAV4 increased by 78% in 2013 thanks in part to the introduction of an additional engine to the line-up, the new 2.0-litre D-4D 2WD turbodiesel. This attracted tax conscious fleet and business customers who increased their demand by148%. A 4WD version with the 2.0-litre D-4D diesel unit is due to be introduced soon and in due course Toyota GB expects it to become the best selling version of the RAV4 taking 40% of the vehicles overall UK sales.
The Toyota RAV4 achieved 7,129 UK sales in 2013 with 20% being 2WD versions. The latest RAV4 is the fourth generation of this C-segment mid-sized, five seat SUV covering 20 years and which is sold in over 150 countries worldwide.
And it is worldwide customer feedback that has created the more sociable RAV4, the latest generation is less of a hard-core rugged off-roader and offers more sophisticated styling, a more refined interior with a higher grade of materials, improved levels of specification, a more comfortable ride, sharper steering and handling, a more engaging drive and significantly more rear passenger legroom and luggage space.
Introduced to the latest RAV4 is a new 2.0-litre D-4D 122bhp diesel unit currently powering 2WD (front-wheel drive) versions but 4WD versions are on their way. Matched to a six-speed manual transmission and benefiting from Toyota Stop & Start technology, it takes CO2 emissions to a new low for the 2WD vehicle of 127g/km which qualifies it for zero road tax in the first year of ownership. Details of the 2.0-litre 4WD version are yet to be announced.
The engine range also offers Toyota’s 2.0-litre Valvematic 149bhp petrol unit with the Multidrive S CVT automatic system and a revised 2.2-litre D-4D 148bhp diesel that can be specified with six-speed manual or automatic transmission. There is the choice of Active, Icon and Invincible trim and equipment levels depending on the engine chosen. Prices range from £22,595 to £29,305.
My test model was the 2.2-litre D-4D 148bhp, 4-cylinder, DOHC turbodiesel manual 4WD with Icon specification priced at £26,500. Currently it is the most appropriate version for those who want an SUV to not only look like a 4x4 but to be one as well. Officially this version will return 49.6mpg in the Combined Cycle and on test my car returned an average of 40mpg. The CO2 emissions are 149g/km so VED road tax is £140 and Benefit-in-Kind tax for company car users is 24%. For a company car driver their likely choice will be the new 2.0-litre diesel with 2WD with the same Icon specification which costs £2,205 less to buy, VED road tax is free for the First Year rate and then £105 for year two onwards and BIK tax is reduced to 20%.
For me who lives in the countryside a proper SUV needs 4WD given the horrendous weather and worsening road surfaces. Because the modern 4x4 systems generally operate much of the time in 2WD mode there really are no drawbacks for all the year round use. The new RAV4 is a proper SUV, it might be more stylish, better equipped and sharper to drive bit it hasn’t gone soft and is as durable and capable as ever.
It looks much smarter having been given the latest Toyota design language with sharp styling lines mixed with shapely curves. Indeed it could be mistaken for a Lexus RX 4x4 as it looks far more of a premium SUV than the former 4x4 rugged workhorse. Inside there is a significant improvement in its design, quality, specification and most notable of all its compliant suspension with the rough suspension easily mopping up the worst of the impacts and bumps from the ever increasing number of potholes. The driving position has also been changed allowing for a lower seating position if required. The Icon and Invincible versions come as standard with sports front seats and they offer much improved support and comfort. The layout of the controls has been improved ergonomically and this also adds to the overall improvement in the driving experience with a premium look and feel about it, just what customers want.
Those passengers in the rear will also feel the benefit of the 100mm increase in the wheelbase length allowing for really impressive leg room. The 60/40 split folding rear seats have better cushioning to further improve comfort. As for load carrying the rear seats fold flat into the floor and the load area is larger in this new generation model. With the rear seats in position the boot space is 547-litres; with them folded this increases to an impressive 1,746-litres when loaded to the roof. The rear sill height has been lowered to 645mm and the width of the tailgate aperture has been increased to 1,158mm for easier loading. There is now a top hinged tailgate and for Icon and Invincible models this is power operated so it’s very user-friendly although the electronic operation is on the slow side.
As for specification the Icon version I tried, it will meet most needs with all the usual features from air conditioning to electrically operated windows and door mirrors, to automatic lights and wipers, to cruise control, DAB radio, lots of storage space and part leather trim. Exterior features include 18-inch alloys, front fog lights, privacy glass and LED daytime running lights. The test car had the optional Toyota Touch & Go Plus satellite navigation system with voice control and traffic information and this costs an extra £950. Acoustic parking sensors front and rear would have been beneficial but are not included in the Icon level of spec and cost £600 as an option. A review-view camera is included but it doesn’t really do the same job.
The new 4WD system is what Toyota calls their Integrated Dynamic Drive which incorporates dynamic torque control, in other words delivering the driving torque to the wheels with the most grip so in most cases driving on road only the front wheels are driving and the rear wheels come into play when more grip is needed. The torque distribution can vary from 100% to the front wheels to 50/50% front to rear. A new Sport mode is also incorporated in the system which sharpens up engine response and steering assistance but also brings torque transfer to the rear wheels to improve handling and cornering performance. Steering input by the driver also adjust front to rear torque distribution.
The 2.2-litre D-4D common-rail turbodiesel unit has peak power of 148bhp with a healthy 340Nm (250lb ft) available from 2,000rpm. This makes it responsive and despite its long sixth gear ratio it copes very well at low to medium speeds by delivering power without having to constantly change down a gear or two to get it into its happy zone. Top speed is 118mph and zero to 62mph takes 9.6 seconds.
Technically, visually and specification wise it is much improved offering and its significant increase in sales since its introduction proves that.
MILESTONES. Toyota RAV4 2.2 Icon manual 5-Door AWD. Price: £26,500. Engine/transmission: 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder, common-rail, DOHC, turbodiesel, 148bhp, 250lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, 6-speed manual, Integrated Dynamic AWD. Performance: 118mph, 0-62mph 9.6 seconds, 49.6mpg Combined Cycle (40mpg on test), CO2 149g/km, VED road tax £140, BIK company car tax 24%.Insurance group: 29E. Warranty: 5-years/100,000 miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,570mm, W 1,845mm, H 1,660, boot/load space 547 to 1,746-litres, braked towing weight 2,000kg. For: Vastly improved with more equipment, better ride comfort, sharper handling, premium brand styling, roomier for rear seat passengers and more load space. Against: Faces strong competition from cheaper Crossover look-alikes, sluggish electrically operated tailgate, fell well short of the official fuel economy figure, needs the extra cost parking sensors. Miles Better News Agency