Would the compact SUV segment even exist if Toyota didn't introduce its RAV4 in the Nineties? Although some of its competitors are flashier, the RAV4, which recently received a facelift, remains a top-seller. We tested the updated model for 4 000 km to sample its improvements.
Summary of the new bits
The RAV4 has received a few exterior upgrades, including roof rails and new wheel designs. At the front, there are LED headlights and a reshaped bumper, while at the rear, the edge of the bumper has a deeper recess (to accommodate a longer tailgate and effectively lower the loading height) and there are new LED taillights. The interior underwent the biggest facelift, however. The materials have been improved and the infotainment system is more user-friendly.
The unit on test was the 2.2-litre turbodiesel model that produces 110 kW and a more-than-adequate output of torque (340 Nm). As a result, even when fully loaded with four adult occupants plus luggage, the RAV4 still performed impressively on the open road. The high torque figure facilitates easy overtaking manoeuvres, while the manual gearbox is easily one of the smoothest and lightest-shifting on the market. Most impressive was the fuel economy return which, after 4 000 km of mixed use, was 7.3L/100km. That's excellent for an SUV and, in the hands of a more frugally-minded driver, it could drop into the sixes over the long term. The turbodiesel model is only available in all-wheel drive; it uses an electronic system to send torque to the wheels that require grip. The system works on- and off-road, but you will hardly notice it working on tarmac unless the roads are slippery.
The RAV4's cabin is very spacious... Rear passengers have plenty of legroom and the 60:40 split seatback has a reclining feature (for extra comfort on long drives). The boot opening is wide and almost completely square, and the access to the luggage area is (now) flat.
Standard loading space (480 litres) is on par for the segment and the rear seats fold down easily at the push of a button, freeing up a loading area large enough to accommodate a 29-inch mountain bike without needing to remove its wheels. There was a neat cargo net installed in our RAV4 that hooks in underneath the parcel shelf. The net was useful for securing glass bottles so they didn’t roll around in the boot.
Toyota has made it clear that the facelifted RAV4 features more soft-touch materials in a bid to raise its premium feel. The centre-facia (surrounding the climate controls) is ensconced in leather, but you don’t have to look too far to find bits of rugged black plastic trim. Nonetheless, the Toyota feels supremely well put together with tight shut-lines and a strong sense of rigidity. The infotainment system uses a 7-inch touchscreen to control audio, Bluetooth and USB functionality.
There are a few other additions to the system that allow you to track energy consumption as well as the fuel economy history. The introduction of a 4.2-inch screen between the speedometer and rev counter dials is a modern touch, making it much easier to see and scroll through the trip computer. The lack of cruise control on the GX model is a bit disappointing, but it is available on the higher-spec VX models.
Out on the road
The RAV4 combines a comfortable cabin and supple suspension and, as a result, the ride quality is its best feature. Competitors such as the Nissan X-Trail lean towards the soft and comfy side of things, whereas the Mazda CX-5 toes the sporty line with a firmer suspension. The RAV4 feels perfectly set in the middle: on long journeys the ride remains comfortable and round town it will handle every kind of road obstacle you’d expect to traverse without jolting or leaning over considerably.
The RAV4 received five stars in a EuroNCAP crash test and comes replete with seven airbags as standard. It’s also good to see all models feature stability control, traction control and ABS with brake assist.
The facelifted Toyota RAV4 is a pleasant, spacious and reliable choice for a mid-size SUV. Those seeking more space might look towards a Nissan X-Trail, but that product's smaller diesel engine can feel laboured under high load. The RAV4 strikes an excellent balance between ride comfort and sporty handling, making it a great choice for both long journeys as well as the school run. The interior certainly looks more modern although the infotainment system could offer more in terms of Smartphone connectivity and apps. The Toyota makes a solid case for itself, but it doesn't stand out above its rivals in any particular area. Still, it remains a solid, mid-range compact SUV.
The RAV4 2.2D GX is priced at R418 100 and comes standard with a 3-year/100 00 km warranty and a 5-year/90 000km service plan.
"Having driven the Toyota RAV4 from Cape Town to Durban, I was very impressed with its open-road refinement and load space. Those reclining rear seats won much praise from my passengers. A very underrated and capable product from Toyota". - David Taylor
We like: Improved styling - inside and out, frugal diesel, spacious layout and ride quality
We don’t like: No cruise control on GX models, not much else
Also consider: Nissan X-Trail, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, upcoming Hyundai Tucson and Renault Kadjar