Toyota RAV4

More of the same for genre-setting SUV

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

LIKE a black hole forever sucking in buyers of sedans and wagons, the medium SUV is an insatiable beast.

At its heart sits the Toyota RAV4 – the first of the breed 22 years ago, spawner of scores of imitators since, and a key player in the plummeting fortunes of the homegrown Commodore and Falcon. This is what Australia’s modern family car looks like.

However, a quarter of a million units on, things aren’t all peachy for the pioneering crossover.

Today’s 40-series, launched in 2013, has been overshadowed by the (older) Mazda CX-5, making it seem tired and old hat.

In conspicuously atypical response, Toyota has ushered in a bigger-than-usual midlife facelift, consisting of an appealingly fresh nose, tail tuck and welcome interior improvements, building on existing plusses of space, packaging, and practicality.

These include classier instrumentation, an updated central screen, better storage and a rear-seat 12V outlet. But where are the back-row air vents?

While the rear-seat backrest reclining (and folding) mechanism remains a top idea, the lack of a remote release lever from the capacious cargo area is a hassle – right alongside an infuriatingly fiddly parcel shelf.

At least the senses aren’t being so badly assaulted as before, thanks to a raft of changes that are invisible to the eye but easier on the ears and backsides.

For starters, there’s more sound-deadening, cutting down excessive mechanical and tyre noise. In the flagship Cruiser AWD tested here, everything feels newly muffled... until the smooth roads run out.

Toyota says a more rigid rear bodyshell and revised spring and damper tunes make for better stability and ride yet, while the RAV4’s faithful handling and composed cornering capabilities remain, the Cruiser’s steering is dispiritingly inconsistent.

Measured and linear at highway speeds, at lower ones it is totally devoid of connection and feel.

Even more frustrating is a lack of ride suppleness (at least with these Dunlop GrandTrek 18-inch tyres), with the struts and wishbone suspension jolting and jarring tiresomely over rougher surfaces. More finesse is needed.

The 2.5’s performance is eager at low speeds, aided by the effortless smoothness of its six-speed automatic. Only when extended to the red does the engine sound too vocal.

Ultimately, this 2016 update, while easier on the eye and ear, leaves other senses wanting. But with the right badge and image, most buyers will dive into the RAV4 vortex regardless. he

PLUS & MINUS

Dull steering; bumpy ride; no rear air vents; scattered switchgear Perky and punchy; ease of driving; improved dash; roomy; practical

RAV’s four-pot choices

All front-wheel-drive RAV4s are powered by a 107kW/187Nm 2.0-litre linked to a six-speed manual (from $27,990 GX) or seven-step CVT (for an extra $2000). The all-wheel-drive versions use either a 132kW/233Nm 2.5-litre petrol (from $32,990 for GX auto) or a 110kW/340Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel (GX manual from $35,990). Both AWD engine types switch to a sixspeed torque-converter auto.