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Car reviews - Toyota - RAV4 - 2WD 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
We like: Interior space and comfort, smooth powertrain
Room for improvement
Room for improvement: Torque steer, interior finish, old school auto transmission

10 Sep 2010

FOR four-wheel-drivers, the rot set in 15 years ago when Toyota’s segment-defining compact SUV, the RAV4 five-door, arrived.

Real blokes and ladies sat around campfires masticating on blackened and bloodied steak and sucking on a stubby while ruminating on the poor state of 4WD affairs.

They feared the RAV4 signalled the end of real 4WDs with live axles, dual-range transmission and diff locks. To them, the RAV4 was like facing a life of vegetarian meals washed down with a spritzer. It signalled the end of civilisation as they knew it.

In a way, they were right. The market has moved on, realising that live axles are terrible to ride on, that dual-range transmission and diff locks are a complete waste, and even 4WD is unnecessary. Most SUV buyers, especially of the compacts, would think a transfer lever was something on which to hang shopping bags.

So two-wheel-drive SUVs make a lot of sense. Cars once had lots of ground clearance and two-wheel drives such as the Volkswagen Beetle were renowned for their traction on slippery surfaces before anyone except for the army, adventurers and farmers bought 4WDs.

Now cars are low and fragile, built to be suspended just above perfectly formed asphalt for the sake of clean aerodynamics and flat as a tack cornering. Gone are the days when you could climb a kerb – or even cross a driveway – without the sickening graunch of painted plastic on concrete.

So for many there is a market for tall, practical wagons that encapsulate the best of old school cars but do not waste their buyers’ money with unnecessary 4WD plumbing.

So, to the RAV4 2WD. Is this latest – and rather late – addition to the two-wheel-drive SUV compact set worth the wait?

The RAV4 has been on the market for four years, and against many new competitors since, is showing its age. The RAV4’s side-swinging tailgate with spare wheel bolted to it is a reminder of the RAV4’s one 4WD element now only shared with Prado and 70 series LandCruiser in the Toyota range.

It might look tough and allow a usefully tall and spacious cargo area (with the absence of an under-floor spare wheel), but the door is unwieldy to use in tight parking spaces and is beginning to look decidedly retro. It’s what used to be called ‘military style’ spare wheel placement, and military is so yesterday in the compact segment.

The cabin is roomy for both front and rear occupants and serves as a reminder of how the RAV4 has grown, and how vehicles like this so easily replace the traditional family sedan. The front seats are supportive and the rear a little flat, and three burly blokes might find shoulder room tight but otherwise there’s plenty of space.

There’s nothing exceptional about the dash layout except that in Toyota tradition all the controls are well marked and large so that the driver is not left fumbling for the right button. Vision out to the front and sides is good while the tailgate-mounted spare wheel inhibits rear vision.

The RAV4’s 2.4-litre engine is a smooth and responsive unit but thanks to the four-speed auto it feels like it misses a step when changing ratios. Many of its competitors have gone to five speeds.

Torque steer is the most evident symptom of the front-drive RAV4. It isn’t too bad but the gentle tug at the wheel is often noticeable on hard acceleration off the mark.

The official figures give the 2WD RAV4 a 0.5L/100km fuel consumption advantage – but in practice, it’s hard to see much difference. We achieved 10.8L/100km in an urban/country mix.

The dull dynamics of the 4WD RAV4 are carried over to the 2WD model it is a smooth-riding vehicle that goes where it is pointed with little fanfare or fuss – and little feel. There are better cars – or SUVs for that matter – if driving dynamics are important to you.

More than ever vehicles such as the RAV4 2WD make sense to a market that sees no value in an additional set of wheels putting power to the ground.

The RAV4 2WD’s main problem is that it has arrived too late to take advantage of the model’s freshness. There have been other new compacts that offer more sophistication, better features – and better value – than the RAV4 2WD.

This is a vehicle that addresses the true requirements of the typical compact SUV buyer – that is, as a city car – but whether that is enough to persuade such a buyer to buy an expensive SUV that has swiftly been overtaken by fresher product is another thing.

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