When the Toyota RAV4 first appeared in 1994, it was one of a very few number of small crossover SUVs. Back then, the Corolla-based RAV4 was meant to be a compromise between a hardcore off-roader and a small sedan. While it managed to strike a good balance between the two, there was no denying that it was made on a budget – carrying probably one of the least-inviting interiors of any car. However, fast-forward to 2013 and things have changed quite a bit. Not only is there a seemingly limitless choice for small crossover SUVs, but the new RAV4 feels like a completely different vehicle to its ancestor.
While the design of the new RAV4 isn’t revolutionary, nor does it leave people stunned by its beauty, the sharp angles are well-executed and give it a very contemporary look. Compared to the original RAV4 it’s also bigger in size too, which helps create extra space in the interior. While the car is bigger than its ancestor, it is still a small-sized SUV – it feels like a hatchback with a high driving position.
There are two engine options for the RAV4 in the Swiss market, a 2.0-litre Valvematic petrol and a 2.2-litre diesel engine. The petrol engine produces 151hp and 195Nm of torque, while the diesel unit produces 150hp and 340Nm of torque. All cars come with a six-speed manual transmission as standard, with the petrol engine having Multidrive S (Toyota’s continuously variable transmission) as its automated transmission option, while the diesel has a traditional six-speed automatic transmission as an option. Both cars are equipped with Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Control 4WD, as well as a locking centre differential and Downhill Assist. The all-wheel drive system normally sends drive to the front, but then sends torque to the rear when loss of traction is detected.
Speed and price
The test car for this review is equipped with the petrol engine and Multidrive S transmission, meaning it can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 10.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 185km/h. Toyota claims it will use 7.2l/100km on the combined cycle and emit 167g/km. The base price is CHF 33,100, but this car comes with the Sol Premium package and brings its total price to CHF 44,700. However, add some other options like metallic paint, lane departure warning, Toyota Touch navigation and an electric sunroof, and the price comes up to CHF 49,025.
The driving experience
The new RAV4 can be driven in either ECO, Normal, or Sport mode. In ECO mode the throttle response is reduced in order to maximize fuel efficiency, which is fine if you’re in no particular rush but it can feel a bit slow if you are. In Normal mode, the throttle response feels a bit more accurate to your inputs, allowing for smooth driving around town and reasonable pace when you get on the highway. Sport mode definitely makes the gas pedal more sensitive to your inputs, and the engine and transmission prefer staying at slightly higher revs compared to the other modes.
There is a surprisingly nice induction note when the car goes past 5000rpm. The note only lasts for an extra 500rpm or so, then it goes back to a sound that’s not particularly sporty. In fact the sound it makes most of the time made me more inclined to drive at a more mundane pace than a brisk one. The electric power steering felt the same in all three driving modes, being relatively light at driving speed. I personally wish that it would feel a little bit more accurate to my inputs, as it felt a little bit slow around certain corners.
The RAV4 is a small family SUV, so talking about induction notes and a slightly slow steering might seem irrelevant for its typical buyer. Having said this, they might be interested in the fact that it has a very good ride quality. The RAV4 is comfortable, absorbing bumps well over rough surfaces as well as being refined on the highway. When riding at low speeds the engine is reasonably quiet too, and as long as you’re in normal or Sport mode, there’s adequate power to make decent progress. You can “change gears” manually with the paddle shifters on the steering wheel or with the gear lever itself. Because CVTs don’t have gears in the traditional sense, it mimics smooth and fast gear changes, which can be entertaining. You never really have full control though, as it will change up and down on its own.
As for the handling, there’s a little bit of body roll but nothing too excessive. The way it goes around bends can be described as safe and steady. The RAV4 isn’t a car you want to throw around a corner and make the tyres squeal, partly due to the gearbox, and partly due to its safe and non-sporty setup. Speaking of safety, this new RAV4 has a five-star rating from Euro NCAP, so that should give you some peace of mind on your everyday commute.
The interior quality is light-years ahead of its 1994 ancestor. There is some pretty decent use of soft leather for the seats and dashboard, and the bits that use plastics don’t look as fragile and nasty as those in the old car. This car has grown a lot bigger in 19 years too, and it shows in the amount of interior space. There’s plenty of legroom in the back if you’re sat behind someone of my size (5’8”), but even tall drivers shouldn’t cut down legroom by much either. The rear seats also recline backwards too, making for a great relaxed seating position.
As mentioned before, this RAV4 has the Sol Premium package, giving you the following equipment: dual-zone climate control, rear tinted windows, keyless entry, push-button ignition, rear parking sensors, a reverse camera, heated front seats, xenon headlamps with washers, a leather-covered gear lever, cruise control, leather interior, 18-inch wheels, leather steering wheel with audio controls, electric tailgate, Bluetooth, a six-speaker system, Toyota Touch interface, an aux-in jack, and USB connectivity.
Pairing your phone to the car’s Bluetooth system is relatively easy, being intuitive to navigate through the process. Once paired, the system memorizes your settings and – as long as your phone’s Bluetooth is on – will automatically connect to your phone every time you enter the car. The sound system produces good quality sound, with good bass if you like a little thump with your music. The satellite navigation system has good graphics and is easy to use as well. The electric tailgate is a little bit slow to open and close, however you can stop it midway by pushing the open/close button.
The standout factor
If all you’re looking for is a competent daily driver, then the RAV4 won’t disappoint. It is very comfortable, spacious, and isn’t too thirsty for an SUV. It is a bit expensive when you have it equipped with all the options this press car has, but it has made huge progress in terms of build quality, providing interior space, and safety. And although you wouldn't want to take it on a mudding adventure, its all-wheel drive system should handle some snow-covered streets and mild off-road terrains well.
By Alex Kisiri