Road Test: The new Toyota Rav is no great beauty, but it is a fine beast

The fourth generation of Toyota’s small SUV makes up in price and performance what it lacks in head-turning looks

Make: Toyota

Model: RAV4

Year: 2013

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: May 28, 2013

Tue, May 28, 2013, 18:09

   

It has been more than 18 years since Toyota brought its diminutive SUV model to market, and in that time we’ve witnessed the boom and bust of the SUV market. With the Rav4’s arrival the Japanese car giant proved its market foresight, something that has driven it to the top of the global car market over the past two decades.

Yet for all its early move advantage, it was the likes of the Nissan Qashqai that stole the show in recent years. Unlike some rivals that had the SUV styling but little off-road ability, the Rav4 tried to retain some of the traits people expected of a “utility vehicle”. That’s understandable, given that the Rav carried the same family badge as the legendary Land Cruiser. The problem was that while the added technology made it a much better buy for those who actually needed some rough-and-tumble ability in their motoring life, the real sales growth was in show over substance. Urban buyers wanted the looks but cared not a jot for the technology, and were lured by lower prices.

Thankfully, Toyota didn’t flinch from its basic principles and in this, the fourth generation of the Rav4 range, there is a seemingly very impressive four-wheel-drive system on offer, with features such as starting control, that manages the torque to ensure ideal take-off power is applied on muddy or slippery surfaces, and a lock mode that ensures a 50:50 power split between axles.

Suburban SUV sales may have plummeted, but these vehicles still make sense for many rural buyers who can’t afford the Land Cruiser or Land Rover they may desire, but still need some off-road ability. That’s where the Rav4 fills the niche. And this latest version does so with aplomb.

The looks are not radically different, with slightly more angled lines and creases, but even the most cursory glance will confirm that it’s bloodline. That’s fine for what it is, but it certainly doesn’t have the head-turning looks of the Kia Sportage, which is a real shame. Toyota is trying to revive some passion in the brand – with the GT86 being the halo model for this new strategy – but it’s still quite weak in terms of design, particularly when you compare it to what’s coming to market from Korean rivals.


Improved space
Inside, the space has been improved once more, particularly in the boot, which can easily swallow. Cabin materials are rather hit-and-miss, with some signs of real quality but others that indicate cost controls were never far from the top of the agenda. It feels solid and there are smart storage areas littered throughout. The test car had the mid-level Luna specification that comes with Toyota’s touchscreen entertainment system, and while it’s a step up from the traditional audio/CD, the graphics already look dated in the age of the iPhone. The Japanese brand should urgently revise the format. Car firms are used to lifespans of seven years for car models, so are struggling with typical technology lifecycles of less than nine months. The reality is that tech lifecycles aren’t going to change, so the car firms will have to adapt.

The Rav4 interior is smart and practical, if not as good as that in the latest Ford Kuga.

Up front there’s a choice of two diesel engines and a petrol powertrain. The test car was the entry-level 2-litre diesel, and it performs competently, even if it doesn’t sparkle on motorway runs. Given the size of the car and the engine, we would have thought it would pack a stronger punch, particularly given that most of its rivals are powered by smaller 1.7-litre units, or even a 1.5-litre diesel in the Nissan Qashqai. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely that anyone in the market for these models is really expecting a performance car. Fuel consumption, however, is up with the best in the segment, as are emissions of just 127g/km.

Ride and handling are similarly along the lines you might expect, although the latest Rav4 is noticeably more refined when it comes to soaking up the bumps and in keeping out engine noise. It might not have the pinpoint sharpness of its sibling the GT86, but the steering is much better than the wishy-washy feel you get from Korean rivals such as the Sportage and Hyundai iX35, if not quite on a par with the Ford Kuga.


Good value compared to rivals
The biggest boon, however, comes in the price. There is a perception that brands such as Toyota – and Volkswagen – carry a premium-like price. The reality in this case is that the Rav4 is right up there in terms of value when compared to rivals. Starting at €27,995 for the entry model, it’s not the lowest-priced small SUV, but the Toyota badge and the reputation the Rav4 has garnered over the last 18 years is likely to ensure stronger residuals when it comes time to trade-in, so there is real value in the deal. The test car was the mid-level Luna, priced at €29,995; most similarly equipped rivals would have reached above the €30,000 mark.

To fully appreciate the ability of the Rav4, rural buyers may need to spend €32,125 for the 2.2-litre 150bhp four-wheel-drive version, but that’s
still very good value when compared to rivals.

Toyota needs to work on its styling if it’s to get full marks, but in terms of product and price, the brand delivers a real statement of intent with the new Rav4.

The lowdown: Toyota Rav4 2.0 D-4D/Luna 2WD

ENGINE
1998cc four-cylinder diesel putting out 124bhp @ 3,600rpm and 310Nm of torque @ 1,600rpm


PERFORMANCE
0-100km /h: 10.5 secs; Max speed: 180km/h


EMISSIONS
(Motor tax) 127g/km (
€270)


SPECIFICATIONS
Features include: 17in
alloy; LED daytime running lights; air-conditioning; Bluetooth; radio/CD with 4 speakers; seven airbags; stability control; traction control; hill-start assist. Luna adds: Toyota’s touch multimedia system with 6.1in touchscreen, rear-view camera and two extra speakers; roof rails; dualzone climate control; cruise control; leather steering-wheel and panelling


RIVALS
Nissan Qashqai 1.5d Executive €31,945; Kia Sportage 1.7 Ex €27,790; Hyundai iX35 Executive
€27,745; Ford Kuga 140ps Zetec 433,450


PRICE
€29,995 (entry-level Aura begins at
€27,995)


OUR VERDICT A smart little SUV that’s competitively priced