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Car reviews - Toyota - RAV4 - 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Zippy, comfortable, fun and economical 4WD with city-friendly proportions and a handily versatile cabin
Room for improvement
Slightly rough around the edges, wagon's awkward rear styling

23 Jul 2003

TOYOTA launched its RAV4 sports-utility vehicle in July, 1994, pioneering a new segment that is now awash with imitators like the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Land Rover Freelander.

The RAV4 was the first to combine off-road looks with real car- like dynamics, comfort and four-wheel drive (4WD) security.

Toyota created the RAV4 by raiding its parts bin. The old Celica GT4 donated its full-time four-wheel drive system and independent suspension while the gutsy twin cam, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine is Camry derived.

In mid-1995 the hugely successful three-door was joined by the larger, family-orientated five-door wagon, which addressed buyer resistance to the three-door's limited interior space.

The extra doors aid entry while the luggage space, due to a stretched wheelbase and a longer rear overhang, is more than just a token gesture. It holds 409 litres of luggage, which is comparable to a regular hatchback.

The rear bench will seat three people whereas the three-door only caters for two, although they may not necessarily be all that comfortable.

The low-set seat means taller passengers' knees tend to be jack- knifed into a tiring position.

Age has not withered the RAV4's impressive road manners, even against the newer sport-utility pretenders.

Performance losses against the lighter three-door RAV are almost undetectable. The powerful engine hustles the lightweight RAV4 along nicely while being commendably economical.

Although rough roads can unsettle the three-door RAV4, the five-door's longer wheelbase also adds stability. Its independent suspension absorbs bumps with ease while providing a suppleness to the firm ride.

Combined with 4WD, the RAV4 is a tidy and secure handler. It corners with agility and grip, staying composed at speeds higher than the shrunken-LandCruiser looks may suggest.

Despite those looks, the RAV4 cannot traverse rivers or climb mountains. Sand, paddocks and unmade roads are about it.

There is some tyre roar and drivetrain noise entering the cabin. In this regard the Toyota shows its age against, say, a Subaru Forester.

The interior may seem a little dated but it is typically Toyota. This means sound ergonomics, light controls and good build quality. There is an appealing utilitarian mini-LandCruiser look about the architecture.

Comfort is good for front passengers - who enjoy excellent all-round visibility - but those in the rear will notice the lack of space and a too low cushion.

The lack of a luggage cover is a serious omission.

The RAV4 is quite a basic vehicle with only central locking, power steering and a radio/cassette player as standard.

The popular "Cruiser pack" adds a sunroof, alloy wheels, power windows and mirrors, CD player, locking centre differential - which assists with traction in slippery conditions - Torsen limited-slip rear differential and alloy wheels.

Air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes and a driver airbag cost extra.

Each year there has been a limited edition, well equipped RAV4. In 1996 a Winter model appeared, 1997 saw the Oasis, the soccer- inspired World Cup came out in 1998 and in 1999 it was the Max.

Reliability and durability are RAV4 strengths as it uses so many tried and tested Toyota mechanicals. Nevertheless, buyers should look for signs of off-road abuse such as undercarriage and body damage.

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