Toyota RAV4 in comfort zone

New Toyota RAV4 is a tough and capable lifestyle sport utility vehicle.

New Toyota RAV4 is a tough and capable lifestyle sport utility vehicle. - Credit: Toyota

Toyota's car-like, refined RAV4 sport utility vehicle is comfortable, capable and competent, says Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer.

The compact sports utility vehicle (SUV) market is a booming one. Far and away exceeding the expectations of the various manufacturers, cars like the Ford Kuga, Skoda Yeti, Volkswagen Tiguan and Nissan Qashqai have captured buyers' imagination.

And then there's Toyota's RAV4, the compact SUV credited by many for kick-starting this soft-roader revolution. Now in its fourth iteration, like its target buyers, the RAV4 has matured gently and boasts softer curves and a more relaxed driving experience. This latest RAV4 blends all the good bits from a conventional family hatchback and adds a pleasing lifestyle twist.

Styled to look less like an intimidating SUV and more like a regular premium family car, the high-rise fuss-free exterior is evidence the company is comfortable taking a low-key approach, while leaving brashly-styled rivals to chase after the youth vote.

This conservative theme is also obvious inside, where you're met by a plush, well-built and styled interior with all the usual Toyota mod-cons. There are traces of soft-touch surfaces and the dark, almost VW-like, cabin adds an appealing high-end ambience that's perfectly in tune with Toyota's other grown- up offerings such as the Avensis.


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Don't be fooled by the car's looks though. The general theme might be familiar but under the skin hides an intelligent transmission system, improved car-like handling and crash protection and increased refinement. It's also grown, as there's now a considerable amount of space for passengers in the backs.

The Active, Icon and Invincible trim levels offer the predictable sliding scale of kit. Even base Active is anything but spartan with air-con, Bluetooth plus jackpoint and USB audio inputs, remote locking, alloys and a neat folding mechanism for the rear seats. Icon adds leather for the steering wheel, climate control, larger alloy wheels, a touchscreen audio unit complete with DAB radio and reversing camera display, a powered tailgate and cruise control. Flagship Invincible gains leather seats, keyless ignition, parking sensors and roof rails.

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Options include Toyota's now-familiar Touch and Go sat-nav complete with Google Local Search plus lane departure and blind spot warning technology and the usual array of exterior scuff plates and guards befitting an SUV.

In contrast to the vast array of equipment, engine and drivetrain choice is modest but effective. The choice of two or four-wheel drive is available across all models, although choosing Toyota's continuously-variable automatic transmission limits you to the mid-spec Icon and the 2.0-litre petrol motor. But most interest is likely to be in diesel power with a choice of a low CO2 2.0-litre unit (127g/km) if you opt for front-wheel drive and a beefier 2.2-litre if you plump for all-wheel drive.

In all-wheel drive diesel trim – a combination expected to prove particularly popular – the RAV4 delivers a measured and confident driving experience. The car's weighty steering and well-damped suspension ensure there are no unpleasant surprises, while the motor proves to be a willing unit and pitch and roll – have been kept to a pleasing minimum.

As you'd expect the car copes well with gravel tracks and undulating surfaces. Ground clearance will never trump that of Land Rover's Defender but, if you're careful, the RAV4 can surprise you and the engine's 150 horsepower rating is plenty good enough. Opting for front-wheel drive reveals a car just as keen to please on Tarmac, although enthusiastic driving does highlight the extra security of four-wheel drive that you've sacrificed for slightly reduced running costs.

Think of this RAV4 as a high-rise family hatchback and it starts to make more sense, and you soon appreciate its mellow character and the urge to 'press on' becomes less important as you rack up the miles.

Toyota's latest RAV4 is a thoughtful and well-judged upmarket SUV. While styled to appeal to a broad church of buyers and tuned to deliver a refined, competent and relaxing driving experience, underneath the sheet metal remains a tough and capable lifestyle 4x4 ideal for anyone with the skills to exploit its talents.

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