– Good interior space
– Comfortable cruiser
– Handles well enough
– Hard interior plastics
– Cheap stereo system
– Limited off-road ability
The original Toyota RAV-4 was arguably the first little 4WD to start the trend of sticking tall wagon bodies onto car platforms, thereby inventing the soft-roader genre. The latest model continues that trend, but the RAV-4 has now grown large enough to rival midsize 4WDs.
The new RAV-4 certainly looks longer on the outside. That’s because the inside is designed to fit a V6 motor and a third-row seat. The Middle East market won’t get either option, so the only upgrade that local buyers will notice is a longer luggage area. Of course, there is also the all-new exterior design that is familiar, and yet different, but in a good way.
Stepping into the cabin is easy, thanks to its car-like ride height, and we were met with a funky dashboard design, blue floor lighting and a sharply sloping windshield. Our tester seemed to be a mid-range model, because we got a fair bit of equipment but we still had manually-operated cloth seats. Legroom is excellent all-round, easily beating larger truck-based vehicles such as the Nissan Pathfinder and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Headroom is good too, although it is hard to take advantage of the overhead space since the seats and steering wheel, at their highest comfortable setting, still forced us to take a relatively low driving position for a 4WD. Luggage room is great, with spaces under the rear flooring too, although we are not too enthusiastic about the side-hinged rear door, necessitated by the door-mounted spare tyre. The split-folding rear seats also flip down flat with the simple pull of a lever. Pretty much all touchable surfaces are hard, broken only by cloth door trim that simply covers more hard plastic underneath. All this hard plastic is a cost-cutting measure, but it all still manages to look like quality materials. Build quality is still excellent as always.
Besides the cool floor lighting, the feature set includes common items such as power windows, mirrors and locks, as well as keyless entry and cruise control. Our car also had dual-zone climate control with an excellent a/c, although without rear vents. And while the CD/MP3 stereo had good speaker placements and buttons on the wheel, the deck was a bargain-basement item ready to be swapped out with an aftermarket piece. There are cup-holders and bottle-holders for four passengers, a central storage console under the armrest, and two glove-boxes in the dash, with the upper one featuring a fancy sliding door. Ergonomics are great, except for the hazard button weirdly mounted on the passenger side. Dual front airbags are standard, but side and curtain bags come only in the top model.
Beating under the hood is the same refined 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that powers the Camry, with slightly more juice at 168 hp and 223 Nm of torque. We’re not too sure why this engine felt perky and useful in this application, when it felt stressed in the Camry. And although the Camry is supposed to be slightly quicker, we instead got a slightly better 0-100 kph time of 10.27 seconds with the RAV-4. Alternatively, using a button on the dash to lock the all-wheel-drive system at a 50/50 front-rear torque split, we worsened our times by almost 2 seconds, and this off-road feature automatically switched itself off at higher speeds . The four-speed automatic gearbox is very smooth, but it is missing a tiptronic function as well as an extra gear compared to the Camry. Oddly enough, even though the RAV-4 is more expensive than the Camry, it does not come with a trip computer, so we had to estimate a fuel consumption number of 15.0 litres per 100 km. Although a very rough estimate, it is safe to say that the RAV-4 burns fairly more petrol than the Camry, due to its all-wheel-drive system and slightly heavier weight.
On the highway, the RAV-4 is quiet enough to pass as a luxury car, with the only noticeable noise intrusions being the engine under throttle and the sound of passing cars. All-round visibility is pretty good thanks to the decent mirrors. The ride quality is also smooth, with small bumps taken care of well enough, and deeper potholes never unsettling the vehicle. In fact, we found the ride to be better than that of the bouncy standard Camry.
What really is great about the RAV-4 is its body control. Riding on 225/65 tyres with 17-inch rims, the balanced suspension keeps the body from rolling too much in turns, and quick side-to-side moves do not leave the car a jiggling mess. The RAV-4 can almost pass for a sporty wagon in everyday driving, except at the not-so-high limit when the tyres start squealing due to understeer. In fact, we’d say we found the handling of the tall RAV-4 to be better than the standard Camry. Contrary to this crossover’s sporty feel, the power steering is soft and has no feedback. But braking performance from the ABS-assisted four-wheel discs is strong enough in daily driving.
There isn’t much off-road capability to speak of, other than being adequate for driving on trails. We had to floor it through lumpy beach sand, even with the 50/50 torque-split function turned on, as the vehicle felt like it was struggling to get through the mild torture. The ground clearance is only slightly better than a car, which doesn’t help matters.
The RAV-4 is an excellent replacement for a car, if we ever came across one. The truck-based Toyota Fortuner may be cannibalising sales, but only because it is cheaper. The Thai-built Fortuner is too crude, tipsy and cramped to be a decent family vehicle. While we may still not approve of 4WDs with little off-road capability, we found the RAV-4 to be a better on-road cruiser than even the Camry in every way.