Car reviews - Toyota - RAV4 - 2WD 5-dr wagon
Styling, handling, packaging, versatility, quality, ease, economy, smoothness, turning circle
Room for improvement
Firm ride, no auxiliary digital speedo, some crude lower-console detailing, low tailgate height, fiddly parcel shelf
25 Mar 2013
, Price and equipment
TOYOTA invented the compact SUV.
Well, sort of, if you overlook the 1977 Matra Rancho and the Suzuki Vitara that followed it a dozen years later.
So Toyota didn’t, then. But the original RAV4 – like a sort of outrageous motorised Madonna – appropriated the concept for itself in a most clever and sensational manner, combining contemporary Corolla, Camry and Celica bits to pleasingly jacked-up effect. Soon everyone was at it, too.
Refined and more sophisticated, the 2000-05 Mk2 RAV4 was better but the by-the-numbers, third-gen version lacked something. Freshness? Inspiration? Allure?
Not any longer. Welcome, then, to the 40-Series – a slightly lighter, stronger, roomier, and more affordable RAV4. It is certainly visually bolder, brandishing a road presence the old vanilla version lacked.
Here we test the $30,990 GX auto – a front-wheel drive (‘2WD’ in compact SUV-speak), 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine version with a new continuously variable automatic transmission.
While it costs exactly the same as the outgoing base auto, the engine is smaller by some 400cc, with correspondingly less power and torque than before.
On the other hand, there are a raft of betterments to behold, including improved stability control, a gearbox that contains either one (manual) or three (auto) extra forward ratios, larger yet thinner front seats for greater comfort and cabin space, slimmer A-pillars that – with the welcome abolition of the spare wheel from the tailgate door – really do enhance driver vision, and an increase in sound-deadening material.
Buyers also get more than before, such as daytime driving lights, Isofix child seat anchorage points, and hill-start assist, while reverse parking sensors, auto-on/off lights, a comprehensive trip computer, cruise control, Bluetooth telephony with audio streaming, a luggage area cover, roof rails, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel with remote audio controls are standard.
The RAV4 GX CVT is slightly cheaper than the Mitsubishi Outlander ES CVT and latest Subaru Forester, and equal to the Nissan X-Trail ST CVT, but it is costlier than most other rivals including the base Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, and Hyundai ix35.
If you like the sharp lines outside, chances are that the RAV4’s complete cabin overhaul will be equally refreshing.
Using horizontal surfaces, there’s an appealing – if somewhat austere – symmetry to the multi-level dashboard layout.
Simple square vents flank an all-in-one audio head unit and a trio of heater/air-con dials underneath though the most basic we’ve seen in a Toyota this size in decades, the instruments are brilliantly legible and the perfectly placed steering wheel is of a pleasing style and thickness.
Plenty of hard surfaces abound, and why must Toyota insist on black monochrome for so many of its vehicles? But the trim never feels cheap (just tough), and if you look carefully you’ll notice lots of interesting textures and patterns – from the stitched vinyl fascia covering to the faux-fibre door and console inserts.
We reckon families might struggle to fill all the available storage slots up front, while the rear seat area has a sufficient amount for children and their things.
But it’s not just the little ones who’ll appreciate the reclining split backrest, now with a lever just like you find in the front seats. As an all-in-one adjuster, it’s a wonder this was not implemented before.
Furthermore, entry and egress is easy via long doors, the windows wind all the way down, and a trio of Isofix latches are fitted.
Down the back, the floor is low and flat and the aperture wide for easy loading, while the top-hinged tailgate replaces the old swing door, massively improving rear vision. A temporary spare tyre is located underneath the carpet.
Clearly Toyota is trying harder with the latest RAV4.
So what’s not to like inside?
Taller front-seat passengers might find the new ‘dash shelf’ limits knee room the lack of a digital speed readout is disappointing considering how thorough the trip computer options are there are no rear air vents – though the uppermost dash outlets can reach the rear with fan assistance and the cargo cover is flimsy and rattly.
, Engine and transmission
, When the RAV4 arrived in 1994, it was a 2.0-litre (and all-wheel-drive) only proposition, and stayed that way until the larger 2.4L unit displaced it a decade ago.
But with the advent of the front-drive versions following more favourable taxation changes a few years ago, the smaller engine has returned.
Pumping out 107kW and 187Nm, and tied to a CVT transmission with seven pre-set ratios, it performs with conviction, revving manfully up to the 6500rpm.
But its relatively meagre torque output and hefty kerb weight mean the GX never feels anything more than eager.
Around the ‘burbs it accelerates strongly enough to be considered sprightly, and pretty much performs to expectations.
But out on the open road, with a load of adults, the air-con on and some luggage aboard, there simply isn’t the oomph to power through an overtaking manoeuvre or tackling a hill without speed taking a big hit.
A smooth and unobtrusive operator, the CVT does its best to keep the engine in its torque zone, but when pressed hard, there is a lot of noise as the gearbox holds on to the 5500rpm mark.
In “Sport” mode (a button hidden down below in the nether regions of the lower console area), the transmission stays in the lower ratios for longer (and locks out seventh unless manually selected via the Tiptronic-style shifter), for measurably stronger responses, but the resulting ‘over revving’ is tiresome and feels somehow artificial.
Most competitors using CVTs suffer from the same malady.
Conversely, “Eco” mode immediately hunts for the lowest revs (and curtails air-con performance in the bargain), but at least the resulting performance slip is tempered by the sheer laid-back nature of the car.
Driven moderately, our indicated fuel use average hovered in the low 9s, rising to mid-10s during open-road performance testing.
, Ride and handling
The RAV4 exceeds our expectations here.
Around town, the turning circle is welcomingly tight, helping to reduce the bulk of the vehicle, and making it ideal for city commuting – an attribute that’s backed up by the high driving position and quite deep front and side windows.
Even though the steering feels light, artificial, and muted at all times, it sharpens up at speed, for surprisingly pin-point accuracy that’s free of rack rattle or looseness, on both regular and gravel roads. Just be wary that for some the helm might seem too darty.
There is a price to be paid for such dynamic prowess here, and that’s a ride that never feels sufficiently soft or supple enough. More suspension travel would be a benefit, for the springs or dampers seem to reach the limit of their compression too soon.
There’s also a bit of road noise intrusion coming from the Yokohama Geolander 225/65 R17 tyres.
If you want a soft and pliant-riding base-model compact SUV then check out the Mitsubishi Outlander ES instead – the comfort-focussed option in this class.
, Safety and servicing
Toyota offers a three-year/100,000km warranty – somewhat below the standard of Kia, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Renault – while its fixed price servicing of $170 maximum is for the first three years or 60,000km.
On the safety front the 40-Series RAV4 has been engineered to achieve a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating. Up-spec models such as the Cruiser include new-to-the-range enhancements such as a blind-spot warning monitor.
As one of the pioneers of compact SUVs, the RAV4 garners respect. But the last one never really deserved it.
This time around, even as a base 2.0L CVT 2WD, the smallest Toyota crossover currently available here is much closer to the class best (CX-5 Maxx) thanks to fine packaging, a sweet drivetrain, impressive handling and great looks.
But we reckon Toyota can definitely sharpen its value pencil, soften the at-times abrupt ride, and put a bit more feeling into that mute steering.
Furthermore, the RAV4 shouldn’t rest on any laurels either – Ford’s promising new Kuga is set to redraw class boundaries, while an all-new Volkswagen Tiguan isn’t far away.
Still, we’re very happy to recommend the new RAV4 again at last.
, 1. Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2.0 6AT 2WD, From $29,880 plus on-roads, Even if the base Maxx’s 2.0-litre engine needs a heavy right foot, it still represents excellent value, thanks to a dynamic chassis, sharp steering, high equipment levels and attractive looks.
2. Honda CR-V VTi 2.0 5AT 2WD, From $29,790 plus on-roads, Now better value than ever, Honda sales are finally recovering and the CR-V is leading the charge. Not for drivers, the base VTi package nevertheless prioritises comfort and versatility, in an appealing package.
, 3. Mitsubishi Outlander ES 2.0 CVT 2WD, From $31,240 plus on-roads, Forget the Care Bear styling and roly-poly handling – this is a base SUV after all – and instead enjoy the ultra comfy ride, solid interior, quality detailing, smooth drivetrain, and very practical and versatile seating.
MAKE/MODEL: TOYOTA RAV4 GX 2.0 CVT 2WD
ENGINE: 1987cc 4-cyl DOHC petrol
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 107kW @ 6200rpm
TORQUE: 187Nm @ 3600rpm
TRANSMISSION: CVT auto
0-100km: 11.0 (approx)
TOP SPEED: 180km/h (approx)
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Double wishbone
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $30,990 plus on-roads
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