In the mid-90s, Toyota responded to a new wave of car buyers who lived in the city or the suburbs, but dreamed of doing more with their car than just commuting to work during the week and the ‘Recreational Active Vehicle’ – the RAV4 – was born.
Even if they were left parked in the driveway on the weekend, the idea that they could hit the road at any time was enough to sell the dream to shoppers looking for their next car.
The RAV4 started life as a cutesy, three door, high-riding wagon with a constant 4X4 system that was actually helpful for the handful of owners who ventured onto beach tracks and muddy trails.
Subsequent models have recognised that fewer people wanted a car that could head off-road (hence the introduction of 2WD models) but still appreciated the space and tall driving position; until we get to the latest model – which has lost the three-door options, but remains one of the first names on the list of cars for buyers including young couples and families, as well as people looking for a bit more space or a different look than a sedan or wagon.
The new model has long dropped the rounded edges in vogue in the Toyota design room in 1995, and now carries itself with sharp styling that evokes flashes of its bigger Kluger sibling. Inside, the new RAV4 mixes impressive technology upgrades with traditional Toyota utilitarianism to create a ruggedly reliable SUV that can carry five in comfort and style.
There are three options of engine for the RAV4: two four-cylinder petrol motors (in either 2.0L or 2.5L guise) or a 2.2L diesel that can return impressive numbers at the fuel pump.
The 2.5L in our AWD GXL model puts a solid effort in on the road, able to get away from the line quickly and quietly. Running around town is breezy, and the six-speed auto rows up and down smoothly without holding onto gears.
Spirited driving is not the typical purview of the SUV, but the RAV4 can cope with a bit of a rush – especially with the more powerful petrol engine fitted. Acceleration comes quickly and cruising up a highway is easy, although there isn’t a struggle to keep it tamed in stop-start traffic.
At speed, the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are kept to a minimum, you can certainly conduct a conversation without having to raise your voice. A lot of this is down to improved sound deadening in the new model that enhances the comfort inside the cabin.
The suspension set up has been tuned to afford the RAV4 a pretty settled ride quality over a range of surfaces. Roads with patchy quality are no problem, bumps are soaked up fairly well and uneven, coarse chip tarmac doesn’t unsettle the quality of the drive in any way.
For anyone thinking about taking it seriously off-road, the RAV4 isn’t really equipped for it, even in AWD mode. Unsealed roads are one thing, but we wouldn’t choose it to pull a Landcruiser out of a bog in Cape York. Speaking of towing, the AWD 2.5L petrol models boast the largest towing numbers – capable of pulling up to a 1,500kg braked load, up from 1,200kg in the AWD diesels. All other models make do with an 800kg braked capacity.
The new RAV4 might have stepped away from its roots as a vehicle for weekend roadtrips and adventures, but as it’s matured, the RAV has transformed itself into a spacious family wagon that can also handle mild off-road situations away from sealed roads.
When Toyota’s new car for urbanites who wanted a bit more capability out of their car arrived, people suddenly found they liked having a vehicle that could carry a lot more things and go further than a regular sedan.
Space inside the RAV4 continues to be a standout, with impressive head and legroom across the rear seat and a practical, tech-filled cabin up front. Seats are generally supportive, and there are no bad seats to spend a road trip in. Storage in the boot remains at a healthy 577 litres, and there are cubbies around the cabin to make the most of the RAV4’s interior.
Speaking of maximising storage, there has been an irritating trend amongst carmakers – Toyota certainly isn’t alone – to ditch the full size spare tyre to save room and weight. It might have seemed inevitable for the RAV4 when the tyre jumped in to the boot from the heavier, side-hinged rear door of older models, but it’s still a pain when you have to ask for a wheel that’s much more practical when you’re on the side of the road and need to get home with a busted tyre.
Anyway, the RAV4 comes standard with a spacesaver tyre on all models except the GX, that can be optioned a full size wheel.
Other than that, the RAV4 remains as versatile as ever, proving why it stays at the top of the list of both new and used car buyers.
The RAV4 Range is available in three grades (GX, GXL and Cruiser) with 2WD and AWD models with a six-speed manual (on GX 2.0L petrol or diesels) or automatic transmission. Prices start from $28,550 for a 2WD GX Manual, through the variations to a flagship AWD Cruiser for $50,550.
All prices exclude on road costs including stamp duty, registration or dealer delivery.
Premium paint is available for additional cost, and includes everything outside of Glacier White.
Servicing costs are capped at $180 for the first six scheduled services thanks to Toyota’s Capped Price Service Advantage. Services are scheduled every six months or 10,000km.
From its beginning pretensions as a vehicle that can cruise up and down the beach, to its maturing into a sensible, spacious wagon, the RAV4 has come in leaps and bounds from the three-door, plastic clad models that are now approaching 20 (!!!) years old.
Always a dependable choice on the shopping list, thanks to its versatility and reliability, the RAV4 has solidified it’s place as an SUV for all lifestyles and budgets.
Test drive the RAV4 for yourself at Motorama Toyota in Moorooka and Browns Plains.