I remember the first time I went in a Toyota RAV4. It was the mid-90s, the car was new on our market and a friend’s dad had it on loan at the time. It was quite a revelation in the automotive world, especially the original three-door version – a compact, funky, go-almost-anywhere “cross-over”. The perfect accessory to match your peroxided hair, baggy shorts and Oakley sunglasses…
Fast-forward to 2013 and the fourth-generation RAV4 is now available to local buyers. And, much like the original back in the 90s, the new model brings with it some fresh, kinda funky styling in line with Toyota’s new corporate design philosophy. However, the competition – the likes of the Kia Sportage (just refreshed), Hyundai ix35, Subaru Forrester, Honda CR-V and others – has flourished in recent years, so more than some fresh styling will be required.
Nonetheless, that styling makes an impact. The new RAV4 continues Toyota’s newfound enthusiasm for designing more visually engaging vehicles than it has in, erm, a long while. Up front, it’s characterised by Toyota’s now familiar “Keen Look”, or “feline-eyed” headlamps, incorporating LED Daytime Running Lights (DRLs). It’s a rather attractive-looking package from most angles.
Although it’s 25 mm lower than the previous model, the new RAV4 (I drove the 2,2 GX AWD) is a big vehicle. The wheelbase has been stretched by 100 mm and it is 30 mm wider – and this shows in passenger space. Toyota has further capitalised on this by making good use of available space and designing an innovative dashboard. This “centrepiece” houses a central touch screen for the infotainment system and three rotary dials for the aircon system on a horizontal “ledge” below.
The result is lots of storage space and a generally classy impression. However, Toyota has seemingly employed too many cooks for the interior, as there is a disappointing mix of far too many surface finishes; varying in quality from goosebump-inducingly smooth quasi-leather to cheap-and-nasty carbon-fibre-patterned plastic (as seen on the far less glamorous Avanza). The interior is also let down by harsh glares on the infotainment screen and instrument cluster.
The seats, however, are uber large and comfy, the removable rear bench also able to fold and recline … The ride is also exceptionally well damped and the diesel engine whisper quiet, all resulting in a really relaxing drive.
That 2,2-litre engine does its bit to enhance the experience, too. Driving through a smooth six-speed gearbox and permanent all-wheel drive, it produces 110 kW at 3 600 r/min and 360 Nm torque between 2 000 and 2 800 r/min. As the figures suggest, the engine pulls strongly and is also smooth in its power delivery. It’s clean, too, emitting a scant 149 g of CO2 per kilometre. Toyota also claims the 2,2 diesel will consume 5,6 l/100 km on the combined cycle, though I managed around 8,0 l/100 km in mixed driving conditions according to the on-board computer.
Costing R365 300, you would expect it to come with some decent features as well. That infotainment unit offers Bluetooth connectivity with auxiliary and USB input as well as a comprehensive, trip-by-trip fuel consumption display linked to the on-board computer. You also get a shift indicator to help you save fuel – it really can turn into a game of “beat the numbers”.
The luggage compartment is fitted with a handy sling and retractable cover, but the fitment of a full-size spare wheel raises the floor above the sill. Rear park distance control is fitted but, at the price, it’s strange that cruise control is only offered on the top, VX model.
Safety features include Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Six airbags and Isofix child seat mountings are fitted.
A three-year/100 000 km warranty, five-year/90 000 km service plan as well as the 24-hour ToyotaCare Roadside Assistance Programme are all offered for further peace of mind.
The new RAV4 left me pleasantly surprised. It’s grown-up a lot, and, while the opportunity to test its all-wheel drive escaped me, on-road it is a really nice, quiet, comfortable vehicle to drive. Unfortunately, with the likes of the Subaru Forrester and Honda CR-V around, it hasn’t reinvented the segment it blessed us with.