Toyota RAV4

Three distinct flavours aim to deliver a mid-size SUV to suit all tastes

PETER ROBINSON

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

SUZUKI and Daihatsu might have beaten Toyota to be first in Australia with an SUV crossover, but since its 1994 launch, Toyota’s RAV4 took ownership of the idea. The SUV revolution redefined the market and now, 300,000-plus RAV4s later, Toyota brings a hybrid powertrain to the party as the “standout” version of the new fifth-generation model.

Model Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Engine 2487cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, hybrid

Max system power 155kW @ 5700rpm

Max system torque 221Nm @ 3600-5200rpm

Transmission CVT

Weight 1682kg

0-100km/h 10.0sec (estimated)

Fuel economy 6.0L/100km (estimated)

Price $38,000 (estimated)

On sale Q2 2019

BMW X5 30

MERCEDES-BENZ GLE 32

Toyota is migrating almost its entire line-up to four architectures within the TNGA philosophy – the exceptions are the 86 and new Supra, both jointly developed models. The RAV4 is the latest to switch; using the so-called K-platform that also underpins the Camry, the next generation Kluger, and Sienna MPV (that’s not for Australia).

Wheel time in the new RAV4 instantly confirms the benefits to handling, comfort and refinement of the TNGA philosophy of a lower centre of gravity, lower engine for a lower bonnet, wider tracks and quicker steering.

Yet this latest version takes this further still. Instead of the previous single RAV4 personality, chief engineer Yoshikazu Saeki developed the new model in three distinct streams; conventional on-road (essentially replacing the old RAV4), sports on-road, and off-road oriented.

Different chassis tunes and equipment levels across the front- and all-wheel-drive variants produce subtle, but noticeable, differences in driving character, most notably with the new Adventure version that aims to increase the RAV4’s off-road capability.

Toyota is playing coy with what variants Australians can expect, and how much emphasis it intends to place on the three pillars philosophy, except to reveal that the three-grade Australian range will include front-drive 2.0-litre petrol, front-or all-wheel-drive 2.5-litre hybrid, and the AWD 2.5-litre petrol.

The RAV4’s styling takes a monumental leap forward … if you like the truck influence of that robust front-end. The look is more refined around the tapered rear end, however, and in between, the body’s many creases and protrusions don’t quite match the ugly complication of the Lexus NX.

The RAV4 gains optional 19in wheels, new two-tone paint schemes (apparently not for Australia) and door mounted, pedestal-style side mirrors to greatly improve outward visibility. Styling varies by trim, with the American Limited displaying a more elegant grille and headlight design, while the Adventure has a more masculine look punctuated by wheelarch and lower body cladding.

Developed using the Camry as an engineering basis with newly revised front struts, the RAV4 gets what Toyota calls a trailing wishbone, multi-link rear suspension in place of the Camry’s double wishbones.

A quick, linear steering ratio delivers 2.7 turns lock-to-lock while the electric motor is now mounted on the rack, rather than the steering column, for more precision. An Aisin eight speed gearbox is standard with the 2.5-litre petrol engines. The base 2.0-litre gets either a six-speed manual or the CVT that’s shared with the hybrid. A sports chassis tune is available along with hill-descent control, while AWD models get three multi-terrain modes. Based on the American models we drove, there’s an almost infinite choice of specifications and equipment. Toyota Australia’s product planners face a nightmare.

Space; handling; interior quality; safety; visibility, polarising styling

PLUS & MINUS

Raucous hybrid engine; low rear-seat cushion; polarising styling

This is a RAV4 to be enjoyed, with dramatically diminished understeer

Predictably, given the array of TNGA chassis technology, Toyota claims the new RAV4 both handles better on the road and is more capable off-road, especially in the Adventure model grade, that is expected to come to Australia.

After experiencing the RAV4 Hybrid on a modest off-road course, as well as on some twisty mountain two-lanes, we won’t dispute the claim. More relevant are the RAV4’s road manners, which seriously improve over the old model. Slack steering is replaced by a system that’s more direct and responsive, especially in the first movements off centre.

A vague feeling of aloofness is still there, but this is a RAV4 to be enjoyed, with its increased grip and dramatically diminished understeer. However, the hybrid is slightly heavier on its feet than the 2.5-litre petrol, and its brake feel is less convincing. Tyre noise is sensitive to road-surface changes, but the ride quality, while difficult to accurately assess on California’s smooth roads, appears to deliver real chassis refinement and comfort.

The powertrain is less cultured. The hybrid powertrain offers 155kW/221Nm (slightly more than the 152kW 2.5-litre petrol) and the performance is appropriate to the class (as usual, no acceleration numbers from Toyota). Efficiency of the hybrid is a highlight with a combined cycle figure of 6.0L/100km. However, some coarseness at high revs, where the engine spends considerable time if you are climbing, accelerating or passing another vehicle, detracts from the hybrid’s refinement.

Aside from the strains of the hybrid, the RAV4 is extremely quiet and its structure solid. The more polished 2.5 petrol achieves 8.1L/100km.

Every modern car is as much about electronics as dynamics, especially when it’s a family SUV. The 2019 RAV4 features Toyota’s Entune 3.0 software viewed through a 7.0-inch colour display. An 8.0-inch screen with satellite radio and navigation is optional, as is an 800-watt JBL audio system, Qi wireless charging and up to five USB ports. Even the most basic RAV4 includes wi-fi connectivity. Sorry Apple users, Toyota Australia is still not happy with the CarPlay system and is testing alternatives, including Android Auto.

If it seems that Toyota has a RAV4 for everyone, that is certainly the intention. With its impressive array of mechanical and technological advances, the new RAV4 makes a convincing case that this is the most accomplished Toyota SUV yet.

PETER ROBINSON

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Inside info

Impressive interior delivers a choice of two instrument panels: 4.2- or 7.0-inch on premium models, both with customised settings, including a digital speedo. A large centremounted infotainment screen contains controls for the radio and HVAC, while a calming blue glow emanates from all the switchgear. Excellent bucket seats provide decent lateral and thigh support and, with a fourway adjustable steering wheel and brilliant driving position. Lower dashboard top, deep windscreen and large exterior mirrors ensure terrific driver visibility. Automatic electronic parking brake frees up space in centre console.