First drive: Toyota RAV4 2013 in the UAE
Toyota is very proud of the fact that the RAV4 started the “crossover” segment back in 1994, before these jacked-up cars were even known as “crossovers”. It took us the better part of a decade to accept these as legitimate options for consumers, considering their too-tall-to-handle and too-low-to-offroad market positioning, but several of these crossovers have actually moved on to become quite competent in their on-road dynamics, with useful all-weather capability to boot. The RAV4 has always been one of the better options in the market, but the older model had a few shortcomings which the new 2013 model addresses rather well.
Launched at an overly-elaborate event that had us being chauffeured to Abu Dhabi first, we laid eyes on the all-new RAV4 at the Yas Marina press conference. Gone is the daft side-opening tailgate, and along with it the door-mounted spare wheel, replaced with a distinctive “stepped” tailgate that opens upwards. We did notice that the boot floor is awkwardly raised to fit the spare tyre underneath, although Toyota does claim that the RAV4 now has class-leading cargo volume with the second row folded down. The dashboard gets a nice padded leatherette strip along the middle, matching the cushy armrests and door inserts, something to offset the ample hard plastics, some of it patterned to look like fake carbon-fibre. All in all, the good-looking RAV4 now has a more premium cabin than the top-dog Honda CR-V.
From there, we were chauffeured to an executive airport, where we boarded a charter flight to Ras Al Khaimah, eventually transported to the Al Badia Beach Resort where we got boat rides and private villas, hung out overnight and partied. It’s only the next morning that we finally got into the cars for some drive-time.
The new RAV4 is spacious enough inside for most people, with good headroom and legroom all-round. The comfort continues with good suspension tuning that isn’t floaty at all, but still maintains a smooth ride on most surfaces. Even the electric steering is overly light, designed specifically for relaxed city-driving. However, the wind noise can get very noticeable at highway speeds, drowning out whatever mild road noise there might be.
We didn’t push it too hard, but on whatever corners we took, the RAV4 felt like a smaller car, with minimal body roll and no bouncy rebounds. There is actually some steering feel, but it is overly light, as is the brake-pedal feel. We can’t comment on the engine power because it felt overly slow, obviously because our shared test car was loaded up with me and my portly passenger, our luggage, and the free camping gear each of us received as gifts from Toyota.
Our convoy then took a detour into some mountainous areas of Ras Al Khaimah, along gravel tracks that occasionally popped up a challenge with tall sharp rocks and steep lumpy inclines. The RAV4 did rather well, as long as it’s kept in 50:50 lock mode with the traction control off and the tiptronic slipped into the lower gears. The ground clearance isn’t much, but it’s still a whole lot better than any crossover from, say, Chevrolet. If you’re brave enough, you could theoretically attempt far more offroading.
The Toyota RAV4 is as complete as a crossover can get in this cluttered segment, although it is still a few steps shy of becoming the best crossover ever. Something as simple as its lack of rear a/c vents could send buyers towards the Honda CR-V, while there is no way it will steal the hearts of those accustomed to the turbo power of a VW Tiguan. And then there is the steep price for the all-wheel-drive model, which makes the Hyundai Santa Fe appear as a comparative bargain. Still, it looks like Toyota has succeeded in what they’d set out to do, and that’s to build a better RAV4.