THE LATEST RAV4 MODELS ARE A CLASS ABOVE THEIR ROUGH AND READY FOREBEARS
Toyota helped pioneer the now booming medium-sized SUV sector with the RAV4, and more than 22 years later the model retains its popularity on New Zealand roads.
The latest RAVs dwarf the original crossover launched on the market in 1994, and in terms of equipment, handling and comfort, they bear little resemblance to their more rough and ready forebears.
The facelift models have been on sale for several months, and the exterior modifications from the previous model are few.
However they are a significant improvement on even the previous model, in terms of technical wizardry, handling and cabin comfort.
The exterior changes are mainly revisions at the front and rear of the vehicles, but the new models come with technology that not so long ago would only be found on much more expensive models.
Our test car was the mid-range petrol-driven GXL all-wheel-drive model, which comes fitted with dynamic radar cruise control, a lane departure alert function, a starter button and keyless entry, and headlights that not only light up automatically, but dim from high-beam when another vehicle approaches.
All of this comes at a current recommended sales price of $43,990 plus on-road costs, which is $1000 cheaper than the recommended retail price of the base-line AWD petrol GX model.
The new models have a new bumper, grill and light design at the front, and it is arguable whether the result is a better-looking vehicle. The frontal design especially is somewhat polarising but the overall appearance of the new RAV4 is pleasing.
The GXL has LED low/high beam projector headlamps, front bumper-mounted halogen fog lights and LED daytime running lights.
They are particularly effective during night-time driving, and the automatic dimming function proved particularly reliable during a lengthy pre-dawn drive on a surprisingly busy State Highway 1.
Some may scoff at the automatic functionality of lights (the RAV4 also has rain-sensing wipers) but once you becomes used to them functioning effectively without driver intervention they help reduce the stress of a long journey.
The owner’s manual for the RAV4 runs to a full 716 pages, which indicates the range of technology on board, but unlike many such manuals, it is well designed and illustrated, and the instructions are easy to follow.
The current RAV4 looks best in Blue Gem, the colour of our test car, and, judging by the number of other Blue Gem models on the roads, among the most popular colour choices.
On the road, the RAV4 AWD feels assured with plenty of feel in the steering.
There is an even more assured drive to be had when the Sport mode is engaged, however the Sport and ECO mode buttons are tucked beneath the dashboard to the left of the steering column, in a position that looks like something of an afterthought.
The GXL RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 132kW of power. With its six-speed automatic gearbox the RAV4 moves smoothly and strongly away through the gears.
The cabin is now a pleasant place to spend time – the front seats in particular are comfortable with just enough wrap-around to hold the driver and passenger in place around sharp bends.
After two long (two-and-half-hour) journeys there were no aches and pains to report.
The dashboard has a soft touch but tough instrument panel which pushes out into the cabin, which incorporates the air conditioning and other controls.
There are easy to use audio controls on the centre screen, a leather-like central arm-rest which slides forward, and a more than ample number of cup-holders and pockets to house phones and keys.
The way the dashboard bends out towards the cabin may give an initial impression of a lack of space but I found there was plenty of head, shoulder and leg room. The squarish shape of the RAV4 also helps ensure there is plenty of room for three adults to sit in the back seat.
The conventional SUV shape also helps ensure there is plenty of usable space in the back of the vehicle. With the rear seats up there is 577 litres of space, with the rear door folding up to provide easy access when loading or unloading.
There is a particularly useful adjustable net in the rear of the vehicle, which can be used as a shelf to hold parcels in place without them sliding across the floor.
The rear door is manually-operated on the GXL, although on the top-of-the-range Limited RAV4 the rear door raises itself at the press of the door release.
The RAV4 has a claimed fuel consumption of 8.5 litres/100kms, but I was anable to get close to this figure while driving it.
Instead I achieved an average of 9.8 litres/100kms during the test drive, which was mainly on main roads. But this is an all-wheel-drive model, and included periods in both ECO and Sport driving modes.
Overall the RAV4 is an appealing option in a hotly-contested and crowded sector of the market — and it is particularly well-priced at the moment.
The RAV4 also comes with an impressive reliability record, earned by successive models over more than two decades.