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Car reviews - Toyota - RAV4 - Cruiser diesel

Our Opinion

We like
Feels more premium and cohesive than before, unflustered ride and handling, thoughtful touches, practicality
Room for improvement
Tractor-like engine note, rear bench a bit narrow and unyielding, annoying adaptive cruise control

Gallery

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Toyota logo19 Apr 2016

Price and equipment

TOYOTA asks $49,490 plus on-road costs for the top-spec RAV4 Cruiser diesel tested here. For similar money you could have a Hyundai Santa Fe Elite from the next size up – with seven seats.

Having said that, Hyundai also gets close to $50K with its mid-sized RAV4-rivalling Tucson Highlander diesel, at $45,490 plus on-roads. Nissan tops the X-Trail range with the $46,580 TL AWD and let’s not forget that Mazda breaches 50 large with the $50,610 CX-5 Akera diesel.

So it could be said Toyota is on the money with the top-spec RAV4, in return for which buyers get a heap of new safety technology comprising pre-collision warning with automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front parking sensors and adaptive cruise control.

Also new is a two-dial instrument cluster with 4.2-inch colour multi-function trip computers and a number of colour options for the ‘leather accented’ interior trim, corresponding to the exterior paint colour.

Other standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, an 11-speaker JBL premium audio system, a reversing camera and parking sensors, 10-way electric driver’s seat adjustment, heated front seats, an electric tilt/slide glass sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, automatic high beam, keyless entry and start, electric folding door mirrors and a self-dimming interior mirror.

Cosmetic touches include LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels (with space-saver spare), roof rails, rear privacy glass, chrome interior door handles and a premium steering wheel and gear selector knob.

Premium paint finishes cost $550, with new hues for the facelift including Hazel, Blue Gem and Deep Red.

Interior

The RAV4 Cruiser has seriously stepped up in terms of showroom appeal, with a much classier-feeling cabin and bold contrasting upholstery colours that combine with new dashboard trim textures and finishes to scream ‘premium’.

It feels more like 50 grand’s worth in here now, until you slide the gear selector through its cheap-feeling staggered gate. The central screen is a bit small too, and surrounded by buttons that make it look a bit dated, especially as we know what Toyota can do with touchscreens these days.

There’s still that designed-by-committee feel and switchgear is seemingly scattered at random, but somehow the subtle changes help it all hang together that bit more cohesively.

New-found brightness further enhances what was already an airy cabin, compared with some competitors that go for fashion over function with a slim window-line. Unlike some other rivals, the RAV4 somehow achieves big windows without looking externally frumpy too.

Practical, thoughtful RAV4 touches are present and correct, supplemented by a flap in one of the centre console cupholders that enables it to accommodate a mug, for those mornings when you blearily bundle out of the house, steaming tea still in hand.

Plenty of seat and steering column adjustment meant we were comfortable in seconds, that comfort remaining on long journeys due to the supportive seats.

Those in the back, however, found the cushions a bit hard and the backrest recliner controls robbed bench width, making it a squeeze for three adults or two adults and a child seat. No complaints about head or legroom though, with the almost flat rear floor a big plus point to counteract the lack of air-conditioning vents back there.

While segment leaders such as the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5 can suffer with intrusive road noise, Toyota has taken a leaf out of Lexus’ book and addressed this with the RAV4, counteracting the presence of big wheels and a body shape of unfortunate acoustics with efficient sound-deadening insulation.

Apart from never fully masking the presence of a rattly old diesel engine under the bonnet, it works. Once on the move, the RAV4 settles down into a peaceful cruise and we never found ourselves wincing on coarse-chip bitumen surfaces.

What’s more, the JBL stereo really rocks.

While we can commend the majority of active safety systems now fitted to the RAV4 Cruiser, we found the adaptive cruise control as frustrating as we have on other Toyota and Lexus products, not least because it continually hijacks the multi-function trip computer display, itself poorly designed in terms of the information it can – or rather cannot – display simultaneously or in a logical order.

Better news comes from the LED headlights, which do a fantastic job in terms of beam pattern and the daylight-like quality of light they emit. They really are a night-time confidence booster.

Engine and transmission

We are not convinced that the RAV4’s diesel engine is worth the extra $4500 over the capable 2.5-litre petrol, especially as it is not the most refined unit and reduces the vehicle’s braked towing capacity by 300 kilograms, to 1200kg.

Our on-test fuel consumption result of 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres (official combined: 6.7L/100km) bettered the high nines we would expect from running a petrol model in the same conditions, but it would take a lot of driving to offset the price difference, unpleasant refuelling experience, lack of refinement, vibrations at idle and doughy round-town throttle response.

Perhaps that’s the point. The diesel is aimed at high-milers in rural areas where the diesel’s effortless mid-range urge makes light work of hilly roads and zippy low-speed responses are less relevant than the ability of longer stints between fuel stops.

Toyota’s slick six-speed automatic never caused us any gripes with its smooth, unobtrusive and intuitive shifts for most types of driving, but we wish Toyota would drop the old-fashioned staggered shift gate.

Ride and handling

Toyota says it has increased the rigidity of the RAV4’s rear body shell and revised the shock absorbers and springs “to give a flatter, more comfortable ride and to enhance straight-line stability”.

We found a respectable base had been built on well and the tuned chassis combined beautifully with the quieter cabin to bestow a more expensive, even European feel to the RAV4 as a driving experience.

The CX-5 still steers more sweetly and provides more fun at the wheel on twisty roads, while the Tucson’s silken ride continues to outgun the Toyota, but the changes mean the RAV4 is by no means trailing the pack in terms of comfort and dynamics and has held onto its position in or around the top-three contenders.

What Toyota has done best here is to make the RAV4 feel much more controlled, which improves the experience for passengers. Like the Tucson, we found we could traverse a twisty road without worrying about inflicting motion sickness on our travelling companions.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP testing scored the RAV4 13.56 out of 16 for the frontal offset test, 16 out of 16 in the side impact test, 2 out of 2 in the pole test and rated its whiplash protection as ‘good’. Pedestrian protection was ‘acceptable’ and overall it got 34.56 out of 37. It was awarded five stars overall.

Dual front airbags, a driver’s knee bag, side chest and curtain airbags are standard, as are electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, hill descent control and hill-start assist.

Service intervals are six months or 10,000 kilometres. At the time of writing, Toyota’s capped-price servicing website quoted $180 for each of the first six scheduled maintenance visit during the first three years or 60,000km.

Toyota offers a three-year/100,000km warranty, which compares poorly against Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Kia, which respectively last five, five and seven years.

Verdict

Toyota has done a great job of compiling several tweaks into the RAV4 update that make a meaningful difference to the level of driving enjoyment.

It was never a dynamic dud, but the new suspension settings have taken the edge off some of the pre-facelift version’s foibles while providing a much more European-feeling mix of comfort and control to go with the classier interior.

We also enjoyed the additional on-board serenity courtesy of improved insulation – it really made a difference, as did the higher level of active safety tech, which was mostly unobtrusive.

Toyota’s thoughtful touches were apparent in the original 40 Series RAV4 but the facelift takes those even further – how often have you wished for a mug-holder in your car? The RAV4 has one. Genius.

We wouldn’t say the changes have put the RAV4 to the top of our mid-size SUV shopping list, but nor could we blame anyone for buying one over our current favourites, the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5.

Rivals

Hyundai Tucson Highlander diesel from $45,490 plus on-road costs
If the RAV4 Cruiser now feels like a Lexus-lite on the inside, the smooth-as-silk Tucson feels like one to drive. The South Korean brand really is going from strength to strength and this delightfully fluid-driving SUV shows just what a force Hyundai has become. Interior blandness aside, it’s a winner.

Mazda CX-5 Akera diesel from $50,610 plus on-road costs
With its classy interior, excellent drivetrains and fun handling, the CX-5 is by far the best-selling medium-sized SUV in Australia for good reason. It combines a feel-good factor and resolved chassis that would pass for a European luxury brand in a blind taste-test – were it not for the uncomfortable front seats and road noise.

Nissan X-Trail TL AWD from $46,580 plus on-road costs
As third most popular medium SUV in Australia, the X-Trail’s move from utilitarian box-on-wheels to modern and funky does not seem to have diminished its appeal. Spacious and affordable with a decent drivetrain, but while dynamics have moved on in leaps and bounds they remain far from class-leading.

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