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First drive: New RAV broadens Toyota’s SUV net

Super-sized: Toyota says its larger new RAV will appeal to a wider audience.

Bigger, stronger, safer MkIII RAV4 aims to extend Toyota’s Aussie SUV dominance

Toyota logo14 Feb 2006

IT MIGHT not have been the world’s first compact off-roader, but Toyota’s RAV4 was certainly one of the founding members of a vehicle segment that has become one of Australia’s most popular.

So it may surprise some to learn the third-generation RAV4 – on sale Down Under this week following its global debut at last October’s Tokyo motor show – has moved yet another step away from the concept made so popular by the three-door 1994 original.

Larger, stronger, safer and vastly more refined, Toyota claims the redesigned RAV will attract a larger and more diverse range of customers than its forebears and, in doing so, return Toyota to compact SUV market leadership.

There is no sign of a three-door version – which is unlikely to eventuate due to lack of demand and the likely emergence of a Toyota-badged Daihatsu micro-4WD – nor is there a V6-powered example, which is available in the US but was deemed too close for comfort in concept to Toyota’s mid-sized Kluger.

Instead, Australia’s most popular car brand claims the new model represents the most comprehensive (five-door) line-up ever by comprising three equipment grade levels and two transmissions.

Priced from $31,990 ($550 more than the current entry-level RAV4 and lineball with the retail pricing of its major rivals), the new RAV again opens with a five-speed manual CV variant.

Featuring a number of key features previously available only in the current top-shelf Cruiser variant, the 2006 CV matches its direct compact SUV rivals by offering as standard: twin front airbags, five three-point seatbelts and five head restraints, air-conditioning with rear heating ducts, cruise control, power windows/mirrors, a height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, exterior temperature gauge and auto headlights off.

Other standard items such as larger 17-inch steel wheels, projector-style low-beam headlights, electric power-assisted steering, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with steering wheel controls, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are said to provide the basic CV with an extra $2000 of value over its predecessor.

A safety pack option, comprising twin front side airbags and twin side curtain airbags, is available for the CV at $750.

Next up is the Cruiser, which for $37,490 (up $820) adds the extra safety of twin front side airbags and twin side curtain airbags, plus previously optional driving assistance systems like non-switchable traction control, non-switchable vehicle stability control, Hill-start Assist Control (similar to Forester’s Hill Holder feature) and Downhill Assist Control (auto only).

The Cruiser also features standard dual-zone climate-control, an MP3-compatible six-CD stacker, illuminated footwells, privacy glass, six-spoke alloy wheels, over-fender flares, roof-rails and a leather-clad steering wheel and gearshifter.

The Cruiser’s single option is a moonroof ($1800). Recognising the compact SUV market’s demand for $40,000-plus variants – which the company expects will comprise more than 5600 vehicles or eight per cent of the segment in 2006 – Toyota has added a Cruiser L version this time round, which it hopes will attract 20 per cent of the premium compact SUV sales and 15 per cent of RAV4 sales.

Priced from $41,990, the Cruiser L aims to attract customers trading across from medium or large sedans (a group said to comprise half of all compact 4WD buyers), by adding leather seat trim for the first time in a RAV, plus leather door inserts, power driver’s seat adjustment, heated front seats and a moonroof.

A four-speed auto is optional on all three grades, priced at $2000. The new RAV’s Camry-sourced 2.4-litre four-cylinder remains almost identical to the engine used in the RAV since October 2003.

Importantly, however, apart from an extra 5kW of peak power – thanks to a plastic inlet manifold, drive-by-wire throttle, reduced friction and increased breathing efficiency – the revised 2AZ-FE engine meets latest Euro IV emissions standards and offers slightly lower fuel consumption.

8 center imageNew vital statistics are 125kW at 6000rpm and an unchanged 224Nm of torque at 4000rpm (leaving the 132kW/245Nm 2.5-litre X-Trail as the most powerful in its class), while fuel economy is now 9.1L/100km (manual down 3.2 per cent) and 9.6L/100km (auto down one per cent).

But if the engine and general body shape are familiar, that is where the new RAV’s similarities end.

Built on an all-new monocoque chassis that is a substantial 76 per cent more rigid and features wider 1560mm wheel tracks and a 170mm-longer (2600mm) wheelbase, the new RAV is 130mm longer overall (now 4600mm – almost as big as the class-leading CR-V), 80mm wider (to be widest in its class) and has a 20 per cent larger interior that is 30mm wider, 10mm higher and 130mm longer.

Its aerodynamic efficiency improves from 0.35 to 0.34Cd, the turning circle remains the same at 10.6 metres despite larger wheels and the longest wheelbase in its class, there is now 1100mm (up 230mm) between rear wheel arches thanks to angled suspension struts, and the 35 per cent larger (540-litre) cargo area is complimented by 20 storage locations (including twin gloveboxes), a 60/40 split-fold rear seat and a 90-litre under-floor compartment (thanks to the continuation of RAV’s side-hinged tailgate-mounted spare wheel).

The stiffer body is claimed to bring improvements to safety, durability, NVH and the performance of RAV’s all-new trailing-type double wishbone independent rear suspension with diagonal dampers and the front MacPherson struts, which have been reinforced by a substantial front cross-member.

Other changes to the all-coil suspension include multi-leaf linear control damper valves at both ends and a 10mm-higher improved ground clearance of 200mm, while the electric power steering (a first for a Toyota 4WD) features new steering geometry.

At 1550kg in base guise, the new RAV is, on average, about 140kg heavier across the board, and heavier than direct rivals like the Forester (1380kg), CR-V (1470kg) and X-Trail (1435kg).

But perhaps the most controversial change is the 2006 RAV’s new part-time "Active" AWD system, which replaces the current model’s full-time system and employs an electro-magnetic centre differential to direct power to the rear wheels only when "a loss of traction is anticipated".

Like many compact SUVs, the system drives the front wheels in normal conditions and controls front/rear torque split based on longitudinal and lateral acceleration, steering wheel angle, throttle position, engine revs and relative wheel speeds.

As in the X-Trail, there is an AWD Lock button, which can be used to manually override the system at speeds under 40km/h.

Toyota says local RAV4 development included both chassis/drivetrain and full prototype assessment in Australia, and the company hopes RAV4 will become the top-selling compact SUV by attracting upwards of 1200 sales a month.

2006 RAV4 pricing:
CV $31,990
CV (a) $33,990
Cruiser $37,490
Cruiser (a) $39,490
Cruiser L $41,990
Cruiser L (a) $43,990

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