Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
For those of us with long memories, it’s not much of a stretch to remember a time when Toyota was the motoring equivalent of a cardigan – comfortable, reliable and familiar. Understandably, these are all qualities we humans are drawn to when determining the best way to spend our hard-earned.
While Toyota still offers the aforementioned characteristics across its portfolio, the brand is now doing things differently. A new platform, combined with a greater focus on driver engagement, design and technology has widened Toyota’s appeal.
Take the latest Camry and Corolla, both are considerably better to drive and to look at when compared to their respective predecessors. Fashionistas are catered for with the CH-R while flying the flag for the enthusiast is the new GR Supra which will soon be joined by the GR Yaris hot hatch. The brand no longer needs to rely solely on its reputation for reliability.
All of this leads us nicely to the new RAV4, since its release last year, the latest incarnation of the SUV has been enjoying a renaissance. To put it mildly, Toyota has another hit on its hands.
Stoking demand for the new RAV4 is the market’s thirst for technology and lower fuel consumption. The vast majority of RAV4 buyers are opting for hybrid models which have led to longer than usual wait times. When it comes to the volume-selling GXL and Cruiser variants, the hybrid tech gives the Toyota a genuine point of difference in a crowded segment. We’ve driven the Cruiser hybrid and you can read the review here.
For buyers without the luxury of being able to manage the long wait or those required to exercise more fiscal restraint, there are other options in the RAV4 range.
In an unexpected turn of events, our tester is the entry-level GX manual priced from $30,640 plus on-roads. It’s become something of a pleasant novelty to drive a base model, getting access to the most affordable variants is becoming increasingly rare.
Even in base GX trim the level of standard equipment is strong and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, front fog lamps, heated and folding exterior mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, a 4.2-inch driver information display in the instrument cluster, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It’s also worth mentioning the GX gets an extensive safety package that features autonomous emergency braking with day/night pedestrian and day cyclist detection, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, lane trace assist with steering assist and lane centring function, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beam, road sign assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert and a rear-view camera.
The 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine is good for 127kW and 203Nm which is enough to do the job without being spectacular.
Of more interest is the manual gearbox, this is the first stick-shift SUV we have driven, ever. It sounds like a better idea than it is. There is still a place for a manual but a family SUV such as this isn't one of them. The clutch is light and perfectly positioned, but as a consequence of tall gearing, the shifting action is far from engaging.
Yes, yes, we know it’s automotive blasphemy to criticise a manual, even more so in an era where the manual option is becoming harder to come by. The issue here is the powertrain doesn’t deliver the driving experience that warrants the absence of the CVT. The engine has a predictable nature that won't get the heart racing enough to chase the sweetest shifts.
This is a powertrain combo that does the job, but it feels out of place and unnecessary in this application. As lovers of three pedals, we never want the romance of a manual transmission to disappear, however, as crazy as it sounds, save a bit longer and spend the extra $2000 and get the automatic.
Transmission aside, like other RAV4 variants, the GX is nice to drive, the suspension is all about comfort and it works perfectly with the sensibly sized 17-inch wheels and thick rubber.
It’s practical too thanks to a large boot (580L), excellent visibility and light steering that makes easy work of navigating tight streets and car parks.
Perhaps most impressive is just how well insulated the cabin is, very little noise infiltrates the interior, even at higher speeds.
At the end of this drive, we were reminded of how far removed the new RAV4 is from its predecessor. This is most evident in the cabin. In the process of bringing the tech up to date, the design has matured and the packaging has improved.
There are very few visual and tactile reminders of the GX’s base model status, the materials and presentation are brilliantly executed.
As a popular family model, the RAV4’s packaging gives it an edge over the popular Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage. The Toyota’s boxy proportions translate to a generous amount of rear leg and head room which is sure to alleviate the moaning of moody teenagers, at least for a few precious moments.
Our test covered 621 kilometres of mixed driving and returned a consumption figure of 7.9L/100km. We’d expect the CVT to better this figure.
Ownership credentials are excellent with the GX requiring maintenance every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first. Under Toyota’s capped-price service program the first five trips back to the dealer cost $215 each.
Toyota Australia backs the RAV4 with a standard five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. The warranty coverage extends to seven years for the engine and transmission if cars “undergo scheduled log-book servicing.”
After spending plenty of time sampling the models that make up the latest RAV4 range, it’s easy to see why it’s finding a fresh audience. When viewed through the lens of practicality it’s an excellent choice, that’s further boosted as a result of a comfortable and quiet ride. It’s an SUV that makes sense, though not with a manual transmission.
While there’s something reassuring about having the option of a manual, to be honest, it’s surprising Toyota Australia bothered. Our advice for those shopping at the entry point of the RAV4 range is to spend the extra cash and get the automatic. The CVT only adds to the RAV4’s appeal. Yeah, we did just say that…. we’re as shocked as you are.
2020 Toyota RAV4 GX Specifications
Price from $30,640 plus on-road costs Powertrain 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol Power 127kW @ 6600rpm Torque 203Nm 4400-4900rpm Transmission six-speed manual Combined Fuel Consumption 6.8L/100km Tank Capacity 55L Length 4615mm Width 1865mm Height 1690mm Wheelbase 2690mm Kerb Weight 1515kg Ground Clearance 190mm Turning Circle 11m Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty five year/unlimited kilometre