Car reviews - Toyota - RAV4 - range
Aggressive looks, standard safety kit, spacious second row, hybrid performance, solid petrol transmissions, comfortable urban ride, balanced steering, great body control, grippy tyres
Room for improvement
Hard door plastics in lower-specification variants, petrol performance, wooden hybrid brake pedal, limited off-road capabilities despite what new positioning suggests, not much else…
Toyota adds much-needed dynamic sparkle to RAV4 in fifth-generation form
17 May 2019
IF YOU are not a fan of ‘soft’ SUVs, you can probably blame the Toyota RAV4. Since its inception in 1994, it has sold like hotcakes – to the tune of more than 8.5 million units globally. Now that is a serious result come 2019!
Its popularity has now reached the point that it is world’s best-selling SUV, with more than 800,000 examples sold last year. Mazda’s CX-5 might rule the roost in Australia, but the RAV4 has things on its own terms on a much larger scale.
Needless to say, when a new-generation RAV4 launches, it’s a big deal. And with the mid-sizer shifting to Toyota’s highly regarded TNGA platform, it can only mean good things are in store, right?
We’ve put it to test to make sure.
The Corolla small hatch and Camry mid-size sedan are the two latest Toyota models to shift to the TNGA platform … until now. Yes, the RAV4 has also made the move, but why is this so significant?
Well, the Corolla and Camry have proven to be dynamic revelations for a brand that has long been widely (and, some would argue, unfairly) regarded for producing ‘whitegoods on wheels’.
Logic therefore dictates it must be a similar story with the RAV4. And, thankfully, it is.
In fact, the RAV4 is better than before in so many regards, it feels like its most significant generational change yet.
For one, just look at the thing! It is boldly styled, having adopted blockier sheetmetal that gives it serious on-road presence.
Four grades are available, with the returning GX, GXL and Cruiser forming the core range, while the “adventure-focused” Edge is a new variant that assumes flagship responsibilities and makes its intentions known with an even more aggressive, unique look.
Each grade is available with a long list of advanced driver-assist system as standard, which is excellent. Autonomous emergency braking? Check. Lane-keep assist? Check. Adaptive cruise control? Check. Blind-spot monitoring? Check. You name it, the RAV4 has probably got it.
While entry-level pricing is up $1190, buyers are arguably getting a better deal than before, and that’s before you consider that this is the first RAV4 in Australia to be offered with a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain.
It costs just $2500 extra over the range-opening 127kW/203Nm 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, making it a no-brainer for superior performance and fuel efficiency.
Combining a 131kW/221Nm 2.5-litre engine with an 88kW/202Nm front electric motor, the full-hybrid system churns out a fairly impressive combined power output of 160kW.
Both of these powertrains send their output exclusively to the front wheels, and given that the new RAV4’s chief engineer says the model has more of a ‘go anywhere’ attitude than before, you’d be hoping for some all-paw traction … and you’re in luck.
For an extra $3000, buyers can specify an electric all-wheel-drive system with the hybrid variants, which adds a 40kW/121Nm rear electric motor that only boosts the combined output by a negligible 3kW but has its advantages.
Apart from a distinct wooden pedal feel that regenerative braking creates, this is an excellent set-up. We haven’t had the chance yet to test the FWD version of the hybrid but can safely say the AWD is seamless in its transitions between power sources and wheels driven.
Performance is surprisingly punchy, with the RAV4 AWD hybrid able to climb hills with great confidence. In many ways, it’s an unsurprising effort from Toyota, which continues to reap the benefits of getting into the hybrid game at such an early stage.
Conversely, the 2.0-litre engine is only adequate around town. Head out to a country road and it is quickly exposed. It doesn’t matter if you opt for the sweet-shifting six-speed manual transmission or the surprisingly good continuously variable transmission (CVT).
But it isn’t the only atmo powertrain on offer; there’s also a new 152kW/243Nm 2.5-litre unit that’s punchier than the 2.0-litre on paper but doesn’t really feel like it in reality, even if throttle response is noticeably sharper – maybe too sharp in this application.
Exclusive to the Edge, this unit doesn’t have enough torque down low to compensate for the weight penalty over the 2.0-litre engine, which is also brought upon by the addition of a mechanical AWD system.
There is no 2WD version with the 2.5-litre engine, and this is the only non-hybrid variant with AWD.
What it also brings is a sight for sore eyes – an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. Yes, there is no CVT to be seen here!
Its calibration is almost flawless, ensuring the prevailing driving style is well catered for. We just wish that the kickdowns weren’t stubbornly refused with such consistency.
As good as all of the above is, the main area where the new RAV4 is leaps and bounds ahead of its uninspiring predecessor is with vehicle dynamics.
Its electromechanical power steering is brilliant, proving to be well-weighted and relatively direct, but it particularly excels with the level of feedback it offers. Needless to say, the driver is kept well across the front wheels’ movements at any given time.
Remarkably, this is combined with equally brilliant suspension. The independent MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear axles are very, very good at strutting their stuff around town, where lumps, bumps and uneven surfaces are ironed out with ease.
Head into the country and unsealed and corrugated roads do little to unsettle things, with the RAV4 maintaining its composure. And despite this ‘soft’ set-up, handling is in no way compromised. In fact, a brilliant balance between sportiness and comfort is struck.
Body control is very impressive for an SUV, especially one with more ground clearance than before, and understeer is only a threat when navigating sweeping bends at speed.
As mentioned, despite its monocoque chassis, extra R&D was put into making the RAV4 a more capable off-roader. And while good, the inclusion of a Trail mode (aka an electronic limited-slip differential) for hybrid AWD variants doesn’t change the fact that the RAV4 is still a soft-roader every day of the week.
Yes, it can deal with dirt and gravel roads with ease – most vehicles can – but after driving it off the beaten track in light conditions, we’re not confident it’ll contend with anything more than small rocks.
So, as before, the RAV4’s natural habitat is suburbia, and with the level of practicality its cabin offers, it’s an area it handles really well.
The second row is excellent, with about three and four inches of headroom and legroom available behind our 184cm driving position respectively. To make matters even better, it can accommodate three adults abreast, partially thanks to the small transmission tunnel.
Toyota claims that cargo capacity behind the 60/40 split-fold rear bench is class-leading, at 580L, while storage options around the cabin are numerous. For example, the two cut-outs in the dashboard (above the glovebox and to the right of the steering wheel) are very neat.
The rest of the cabin is also a big step up, as seen with a stitched leather-accented insert bisecting the soft-touch dashboard and the redesigned centre stack.
Unfortunately, the GX and GXL grades have very cheap-looking hard door plastics that are a departure from the premium push, but the Cruiser and Edge variants right this wrong by covering the door shoulders in leather-accented upholstery.
Oh, and the GX also scores a plastic steering wheel. At least the rubberised knobs and door grips – found on each grade – feel and look cool.
What doesn’t look cool, though, is the RAV4’s new 8.0-inch touchscreen, which just comes across as an afterthought bolt-on. The infotainment system powering it isn’t that crash-hot, either, but at least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support is coming later this year…
At the end of the day, the RAV4 will probably still sell like hotcakes – a testament to the power of the Toyota brand – and how good this new model actually is will have no impact on that.
That said, those that do buy it are no longer getting the wrong end of the stick. This fifth generation is up there with the class leaders.
Model release date: 1 May 2019
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