“The RAV4 is a solidly built and reliable family car with lots of space and decent off-road capability.”
Modern crossover vehicles like the Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Tiguan are family cars first and foremost, but still retain some of the looks and off-road capabilities of a 4x4. The Toyota RAV4 is the other way around; it's a 4x4 firstly, but Toyota has adapted it to compete with the popular breed of crossovers. Of the four versions available, only one doesn’t have four-wheel drive. The RAV4 feels a little dated, with neither the cabin flair nor on-road comfort of a car built with families in mind. However, it's well built, reliable, and running costs for the diesel model are good.
Whether picking the base level two-wheel-drive version, which has a manual gearbox, or a 4x4 version with its standard automatic, the RAV4 feels like it was built for muddy hills rather than smooth roads. There's a lot of body lean when turning into corners, and the steering doesn’t have the same level of accuracy you’d expect of a family hatchback or crossover. Because you sit high, though, visibility is good in every direction, and there's a commanding feeling of safety on the move. Only two engines are available, a 156bhp petrol and a 148bhp diesel, and it's the latter that suits the car best, because it has more low-rev pulling power.
The RAV4's tendency to lean around corners also applies when the car hits bumps and potholes, with the body wallowing over them rather than staying level and smoothing them out for passengers. There's also quite a lot of engine noise, whichever engine you choose, and at motorway speeds crosswinds generate a whistling sound in the cabin. Ultimately, while the RAV4 is very spacious front and back, it lags behind the best crossovers for quiet cruising ability.
There's a well-built feeling that apples to all the parts you touch - the gear lever, steering wheel and indicator stalks - giving a reassuring sense of quality. Some of the plastic trim on the dashboard is less convincing, but overall the RAV4 has consistently proven to be a reliable car, and Toyota's dealer service is known for excellence. Nine airbags are standard, and it scores four Euro NCAP stars for child and adult protection.
The rear seats slide back and forth to increase rear legroom or boot space, although the boot is large in any configuration - 410 litres is a lot roomier than a normal family hatchback. It extends to 1,469 litres with the seats folded flat, which is an easy operation. The only issue is with the side-hinged boot door, which needs lots of space to open fully.
Value for money
With only four models to choose from, buying a RAV4 is a simple affair. It's not cheap – it's priced on a par with the Ford Kuga and VW Tiguan - but each model boasts a high level of standard equipment. The range-topping SR comes with touch screen satellite navigation and leather seats as standard – these are normally cost options on similarly priced rivals.
The basic two-wheel-drive diesel RAV4 with a manual gearbox returns 49.6mpg combined, which isn’t too bad for a large family car. From a running costs perspective, the petrol model isn’t worth considering, as its 37.7mpg is way below the diesel's economy. Residual values are good, so the car will be easy to sell on for a decent price after a few years of ownership.