"The Toyota RAV4 offers loads of practical features and a decent choice of engines and equipment, but it's not among the sharpest in its class to drive."
The Toyota RAV4 helped establish the SUV segment when it arrived back in 1994. But while the RAV4 had no real opposition when it debuted, things have moved on substantially, and carmakers are tripping over themselves to get new SUVs to market. The RAV4 now has to contend with competition such as the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Ford Kuga and Volkwagen Tiguan. The latest model is bigger than ever before, and offers excellent levels of interior space for passengers and their luggage. Two diesel and a petrol model are offered, and all cars come well equipped, even in base Active spec. The RAV4 features Toyota's latest dynamic design theme, but it's not the sharpest car to look at, nor is it the best in class to drive.
Toyota claims that the RAV4 should be a sporty drive. You even get a Sport mode on four-wheel drive models that increases the weight of the steering and sends more power to the rear wheels to help improve grip when cornering at speed. However, it can’t match the Ford Kuga or even Honda CR-V when it comes to driving dynamics, as it has too much body roll in the corners. The steering is vague, too, but it is a comfortable cruiser. The diesel engines are powerful but quite rattly, although the RAV4 is quiet at the motorway limit.
The RAV4 has a high driving position that makes it easy to see out. What's more, as you can see quite a bit of the bonnet - and Icon spec cars and above get a reversing camera - it's easy to park for a relatively big car. Icon models also get comfy sports seats, while the extra space inside for passengers and their luggage takes some of the tedium out of long journeys. The ride is soft, but that can make things uncomfortable, with too much body roll in corners. Engine noise from either of the diesels is quite intrusive a low speeds.
The fact that the Toyota RAV4 has been around since 1994 means that the firm has had plenty of time to get the reliability right. The latest model hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP yet, but a full five-star score is expected, thanks to standard-fit stability control and seven airbags. The engines are proven in other Toyota models, and the RAV4 feels very solidly built, inside and out. All cars come with a five-year/100,000-mile warranty that's transferrable to a new owner, should you decide to sell your car within that time frame.
The RAV4 has grown with each successive generation. The fourth generation model is the biggest yet, and features lots of space inside. The driver and front-seat passenger benefit from a high, comfortable seating position, with a good view out. There are big cupholders and there's space for storing phones and keys in various spots on the dash. Rear-seat passengers get lots of leg and headroom. The boot space is 547 litres, with 100 litres of that under the boot floor, where the spare wheel should be. The rear seats fold flat easily with the pull of a lever and split 60:40. The boot also features a luggage net that can hold loose items weighing up to 10kg, but it doesn’t have a 12V power socket.
Value for money
The RAV4 is quite expensive to buy, but equipments levels are high. The entry level Active trim features 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth and front foglights as standard. We’d recommend the mid-spec Icon trim level though, which adds a powered tailgate, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers and the Toyota touchscreen infotainment system with includes DAB radio and a rear-view camera. Top-spec Invincible models get leather upholstery and heated front seats.
There are two diesel and one petrol engines available in the RAV4 range. The entry-level 2.0-litre diesel is the best choice if running costs are a concern. It's only available with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, but returns a claimed average of 57.6mpg and emits 127g/km of CO2 thanks to its stop-start system. There is a 149bhp 2.0-litre petrol option, but that only comes with a CVT gearbox and four-wheel drive, and thus would be more expensive to run. If you are buying the RAV4 as a tow car, the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel with four-wheel drive and a manual gearbox is your best bet, as it can tow up to 2,000kg trailers. A six-speed automatic is an option on the 2.2-litre diesel.