When Toyota launched its first RAV4, sport utility vehicles were a relatively new thing, but over the past 20 years the market for SUVs and crossovers has grown and matured considerably – and so has the RAV4. This latest version is a petrol-electric hybrid.
The introduction of the hybrid is all part of the Japanese carmaker’s grand plan to offer this powertrain option across all of its models – and it coincided with a revamp of the RAV4 range as a whole, which included exterior design tweaks, an updated cabin and more equipment and safety kit.
The fourth generation RAV4's styling is in keeping with Toyota's latest design language with crisp features and subtle curves that relieve the overall boxy wedge-shape and give it a distinctly grown-up feel. Revisions to the front end include full LED headlights for the first time while at the rear, the tail lights and bumper have been redesigned in an effort to improve the SUV’s stance – and I think that box has been ticked.
Turning to the interior of our Excel trim test car, I’d describe it as solid, smart and functional although some of the plastic switches feel a little cheap to the touch. The angularity of the design has what I perceive to be a Japanese flavour and while it won’t be to everybody’s taste, I like it.
The heated front seats are supportive and comfortable – a full day’s driving left me completely free of any twinges whatsoever – and they’re smartly trimmed in what feels like a very durable leather, along with the steering wheel, gearknob and most of the rest of the cabin. Standard equipment includes Dual-zone climate control, a Rear-view camera and Front and rear parking sensors but our car was also fitted with the optional 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation and advanced Bluetooth.
Passenger space is plentiful both in terms of leg and headroom and you can even adjust the rear seat back rests so you can either get more lounging room - or more bootspace. With the rear seats up, you have a whisker over 500 litres (501 to be precise) to play with but that more than triples to 1,633 litres when you fold them flat and the loadspace is easily accessible, thanks to the powered tailgate fitted as standard.
The RAV4, particularly in automatic hybrid guise, is a doddle to drive, and it rides and steers reasonably well, but it's around 175kg heavier than the standard petrol version and its SUV rivals have been upping their game of late, so dynamically, it really falls way short of the best in class.
That said, it’s no slouch, with 0-62 coming in 8.4 seconds on the way to a top speed of 112mph. In fact the hybrid is the most powerful version of the RAV4 we've seen in the UK, with a total of 194 bhp coming from its 2.5-litre petrol engine coupled with an electric motor – plus an additional motor driving the rear wheels. The penalty for this extra oomph is running costs that are good rather than outstanding with combined fuel consumption of 55.4 mpg and CO2 emissions of 118 g/km.
The RAV4 doesn't feel as quick off the mark as the performance figures suggest, and you’re put off from even attempting to get near them by the unpleasant racket generated by the combination of the high-revving petrol engine and the CVT transmission, as you accelerate hard. Toyota says the cabin is quieter than before but there’s definitely still work to be done.
Few will be choosing it for its sporty drive and if you take it steady with the loud pedal, you can build up speed gradually without making your ears bleed. Once you hit cruising speed, an air of calm is restored and you’ll find you can comfortably carry out conversations without raising your voice.
All models bar the entry-level Active now come equipped with ‘Toyota Safety Sense’ – a package of active safety systems designed to help you either avoid accidents altogether, or at least minimise the severity of them – so you can feel secure in the knowledge that you and your family will be well-protected at all times.
With 1.5 million RAV4s finding customers in Europe since its launch in 1997 and 90% of these still on the road, you can see how Toyota’s SUV has built up a loyal following thanks to its rugged, no-nonsense attitude and hard-earned reputation for reliability. Devotees will probably see past the flaws in this latest hybrid version, but for me, it lacks refinement and a certain something that would make me really want to love it rather than merely respect it.