It’s often hard to determine just how much influence Toyota has had over the automotive world. This is simply because the brand is often talked down as a manufacturer that only offers the motoring equivalent of the lowest common denominator. Yet despite all the ‘white goods on wheels’ jibes, Toyota has had its fair share of game-changers.
Take the RAV4, I would argue no car is more directly responsible for the SUV craze. From its debut in production form at the 1993 Tokyo motor show and its release the following year, the RAV4 was instrumental in popularising the SUV. In reality, this was the car that kicked off the lifestyle vehicle segment. The promise of outdoor adventure and practicality along with the higher seating position hit the right note with buyers, the rest is history.
The RAV4 is now in its fourth-generation and finds itself in one of the most popular and therefore competitive segments of the new car market.
Recreational Activity Vehicle Four-wheel drive, this is what the RAV4 nameplate stands for. Which brings us to the model we are reviewing, a 2018 RAV4 GXL AWD. We feel this is the model that best represents the name and sticks closely to the ideals of the original. It has a list price of $38,450 before on-road costs.
So why consider a RAV4 over the seemingly endless list of other SUVs in the midsize segment?
Toyota SUV owners are a slightly different breed, the majority of them are happy for a bit of mud to get under the arches. Exploration by way of off-roading is integrated into Toyota’s DNA. With these factors in mind, we decided to focus on the recreational aspect of the RAV4’s heritage and get it amongst the great outdoors to see where its place in the market currently sits.
In our tester GXL, power comes from a 2.5-litre petrol engine, it can deliver 132kW of power and 233Nm of torque. It’s a well-proven engine that has been used in the locally made Camry.
Like the majority of all-wheel drive midsize SUVs, the RAV4 uses a torque-on-demand system. Effectively, under normal driving conditions power is sent to the front wheels, the benefit of this is greater fuel efficiency. When conditions deteriorate, such as a drive on a slippery track, the system used in the RAV4 can split torque 50:50 between the front and rear wheels.
After my Kluger review, a reader was kind enough to remind me that when an all-wheel-drive SUV wears a Toyota badge it needs to have some degree of competency off the blacktop.
It’s pleasing to report, the RAV4 can easily negotiate difficult country tracks. We exposed the car to some extremely muddy trails which it conquered in typical Toyota fashion. At no stage did the car feel out of its depth, it just went about its business. We weren’t expecting such a level of off-road proficiency from a soft-roader.
Now the majority of buyers are unlikely to attempt a drive such as this, but it is one of the most compelling factors that differentiate the RAV4 from the herd. For adventure seekers, the AWD RAV4 is more capable than its rivals from Mazda and Hyundai, neither of which we would expose to conditions such as these. The reassuring feel of Toyota’s build quality will give drivers the confidence to be a little more courageous on weekend escapes.
Back on the bitumen, where the RAV4 will spend the overwhelming majority of its time, the driving experience doesn't disappoint.
The AWD RAV4 isn’t just for Bear Grylls fans, it improves the on-road handling of the car. The AWD GXL uses Dynamic Torque Control, it’s a relatively new system designed to enhance vehicle control through improved cornering stability.
Dynamic Torque Control achieves a better feel in the bends by using a pre-torque system that provides a 90:10 front/rear torque split as soon as the steering wheel is turned. The system does the job and makes the car feel much sharper while eliminating some of the body roll. This technology helps the RAV4 disguise its height.
The RAV4 is a comfortable car to get around town in. There’s a high degree of mechanical refinement with a supple suspension tune.
Shifts are smooth and decisive, the GXL AWD comes with the traditional torque converter automatic. Front-wheel drive RAV4s have made the move to CVT automatics.
After using the RAV4 as a family transporter for the week we were able to match the claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 8.5L/100km. While it’s always great to get close to the number on the spec sheet, the Toyota plays off the back foot in this regard, Japanese and German rivals are thriftier.
It’s the design where the RAV4 has changed considerably. Over our test week, a few fans of the nameplate criticised the exterior of the fourth-generation, they argue the move to a top-hinged tailgate and the subsequent loss of the rear mounted spare wheel has robbed the car of some character. They make a fair point, never let it be said Toyota buyers lack passion for their cars.
The Peacock black exterior paint is an interesting thing, depending on the brightness and angle of the sunlight, the car can look green, blue or black. It makes a bold statement, however, it might be a bridge too far for some owners.
By changing the exterior design the RAV4’s practicality has improved. There’s plenty of space in the front and rear of the cabin.
On the inside, occupants are met by a functional layout, but some of the attention to detail is lacking.
Some luxury features fall under the heading of standard equipment in the GXL, push-button start, automatic dual-zone climate control and satellite navigation are all there.
There’s a nice mixture of soft and hard materials that cover the dash and centre console. Lovely matte finishes are used on all regularly touched surfaces.
What is really impressive is the cloth trim that covers the seats, it has a decidedly premium feel to it.
Little things like the position of the front cup holders and the gated gear selector don’t appear to be as well thought out as they could have been.
The 6.1-inch touchscreen feels too small in this application. It would be great if Toyota could find a few extra inches, but hey, we’ve all been there.
For a car that is seeking family buyers, safety is covered. The RAV4 is a 5-star ANCAP car. However, owners can put some extra cream on the GXL cake by optioning the Advanced Safety Pack. Ticking this box brings a forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure with steering control, active cruise control, front sensors, automatic high beam and a sway warning system. This safety pack is the primary reason to ignore the entry-level GX variants, it will add $2500 to the final cost, nevertheless, it’s money well spent.
Frustratingly short service intervals of 6 months/10,000km remain the status quo for the 2017 RAV4. Capped pricing is available under the Toyota Service Advantage program, this covers the first six visits to the workshop with each costing a very reasonable $180.
Our cousins in the North Atlantic enjoy their RAV4s with the support of a five-year warranty, while we down here in the colony continue to be stranded on three. Over to you, Toyota.
The RAV4 GLX AWD maintains the versatile nature offered by the original. If the RAV4 is the car for you, why not have one that draws on the heritage of the game-changing first-generation?
Whether you are driving on the road or seeking fun off it, the RAV4 with AWD continues to be a capable choice. It’s far more usable in a wider set of circumstances than many SUVs in the class while maintaining plenty of practicality. The RAV4 has a few shortcomings, but they aren’t deal breakers. Nor are they likely to deter the faithful chasing the famous Toyota build quality and hassle-free ownership.
2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD Specifications
Price from $38,450, plus on-road costs Engine 2.5L four-cylinder petrol Power 132kW @ 6,000rpm Torque 233Nm @ 4,100rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 8.5L/100km Tank Capacity 60L Length 4,605mm Width 1,845mm Height 1,715mm Wheelbase 2,660mm Kerb Weight 1,600kg Ground Clearance 176mm Turning Circle 10.6m Service Intervals 6-months or 10,000km Warranty three year/100,000 kilometre
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