Trend-setting Toyota RAV4 still shines

By Steve WalkerIt's easy to forget what compact 4x4s were like before the Toyota RAV4 appeared. In short, they were crude and very little fun to drive.

By Steve Walker

It's easy to forget what compact 4x4s were like before the Toyota RAV4 appeared. In short, they were crude and very little fun to drive.

The RAV4 showed that this sort of vehicle could handle and be well finished. The latest models stretch further upmarket again.

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As far as the oily bits go, you have a choice of two powerplants, a 156bhp 2.0-litre VVT-i petrol unit and a 148bhp 2.2-litre D-4D engine. The engines aren't the sole choice that RAV4 buyers are faced with. The petrol option is available in two-wheel-drive form as a more affordable alternative to full 4x4 mechanicals. Here it uses a standard six-speed manual but it can also be specified with the Multidrive S CVT automatic gearbox and the full 4x4 transmission. The diesel is available only as a 4x4 but can come as a manual or with six-speed automatic transmission. Like the Multidrive S CVT, the auto 'box has steering-wheel paddle-shifters so owners can over-rule the shift programme if the fancy takes them and enjoy a sportier drive - but these are only present in plush SR trim.

Few people buy RAV4s to take them off-road. It'll manage a muddy lane at a pinch but if you're thinking of undertaking the Camel Trophy, you'll need to rearrange these words into a familiar phrase: tree up wrong the barking.

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This generation RAV4 runs in front-wheel drive mode most of the time but, when slippage is detected, the car instantly switches to four-wheel-drive mode. A switch can 'lock' the vehicle in all-wheel-drive and there's hill start as well as downhill assist controls but don't expect hardcore features like a low-range transfer box. Horses for courses and all that.

The latest facelifted cars tweak the front-end styling with changes to the bumper, grille and headlight design. There are also indicators integrated into the door mirrors and a redesigned tail light cluster.

The RAV4 remains at the more practical and family-orientated end of the compact 4x4 market. What it lacks in funky, urban styling it makes up for in capacity and user-friendliness.

The latest RAV4 is intent on combating the idea that 4x4 vehicles are bad for the environment and it has Toyota's Optimal Drive technology. The manufacturer is eager to promote the improvements it has made to its engines which bring greater efficiency and grouping all the arcane mechanical tinkering together under the Optimal Drive banner makes it easier for the public to get a handle on. All of the RAV4 engines and gearboxes benefit from Optimal Drive and they're very efficient as a result. The 2.2-litre diesel delivers 48.7mpg and 154g/km CO2 emissions. The 2.0-litre petrol, meanwhile achieves 37.7mpg and 177g/km with the Multidrive S gearbox.

The RAV4 was one of the first 4x4s to prioritise road-going performance but as it's become more substantial and practical, rival models have slotted in to fill the sporty 4x4 void.

Today, the Toyota still drives well but it's the family buyer prioritising costs, equipment and versatility that will find Toyota's effort most appealing.


PRICE: �19,690 to �25,990 on the road

ENGINE: 156bhp 2.0-litre VVT-i petrol or 148bhp 2.2-litre D-4D

PERFORMANCE: (2.2 D-4D) 0-60mph 10.1 seconds; top speed 118mph

MPG: (2.2 D-4D) combined 48.7mpg

EMISSIONS: 154 to 177g/km


WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE: Length 4,395mm; width 1,815mm; height 1720mm

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