Toyota RAV4 review


What is?

This is Toyota’s eponymous flagship hybrid, a large family SUV that launched (in somewhat slimmer form, it must be said) in 1994 and is now in its fifth generation.

The hybrid option was new to the fourth-generation car, but what this latest RAV4 brings to the party is a plug-in hybrid option for the first time, with up to 46 miles of officially claimed range.

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It looks better than before, right?

The first generation of the RAV4, especially as a three-door, was pioneering and not original. Then things went downhill. The outgoing fourth-generation car was a visual assault and dynamic misery, even though it was at one point the world’s best-selling SUV.

The latest RAV4 has better proportions than before: longer in the wheelbase but shorter overall. Not only does this mean it looks less gangly, it also falls in line with the big midsize family crossovers. Think of the inevitable Nissan Qashqai, Honda CR-V, VW Tiguan, Ford Kuga and Peugeot 3008, but now with increased competition from the Kia Sportage offering hybrid options.

It’s much more of an SUV than a crossover though: It’s boxy and roomy and you don’t think it’s still a car. It even comes with the four-wheel drive option, though that’s limited to getting you out of trouble rather than driving off-road tracks. Don’t trust the button on the center console that activates Trail mode…

Are there only hybrid engines available for this?

This time, yes: SUVs like the RAV4 became too heavy for a petrol-only setup, and the goal of Toyota’s hybrid system was to provide an alternative to the relentless running of the diesel engine. Looks like they had the last laugh.

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The 2.5-liter petrol engine was new to the fifth-generation RAV4 and is non-turbocharged, but uses the Atkinson-cycle valve timing that Toyota likes for its hybrid cars. It also has the usual infinitesimal epicyclic power split motor/generator transmission, with electric rear-wheel drive if you checked the AWD box. But all of those components have been modified to reduce weight and friction, and the rear motor is powerful enough to produce most of the car’s torque at low speeds.

Overall system output is now 215 hp, or 219 hp for all-wheel drive. Both hit 62 mph at the top of eight seconds.

Are the levels of the kits respectable?

All versions of the RAV4 get a full bank of driver assistance and a safety kit. This includes radar and camera warning and braking for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. There’s also traffic sign recognition, radar cruise control, and steering assistance for lane centering and LED headlights. But the blind-spot and cross-traffic warnings only appear at half range.

All cars are equipped with dual-zone climate control, parking sensors and a rear view camera, as well as automatic windshield wipers and headlights. More gadgets and devices are added as you go down the model line.

Our choice of the range.

Toyota RAV4 front three quarters
2.5 VVT-i Hybrid Excel 5-Door CVT 2WD

What’s the verdict?

Definitely the sensible choice, but you’ll be laughing all the way to the gas station.

The Toyota RAV4 really does its thing: if the hybrid powertrain and straightforward styling don’t appeal to you, you’re better off looking elsewhere. Likewise, it’s not for control freaks who like their manual transmissions and working on an engine.

The RAV4 is practical, smart and puts Toyota’s years of work at the forefront of this technology. As a wagon, it’s attractive, and as a financial and fuel-economy option, it’s a real struggle.

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Toyota RAV4 front three quartersToyota RAV4 rear three quarterToyota RAV4 static side view

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