Styling of the latest Toyota RAV4 carries sporty lines that lift it away from the somewhat conservative previous model

Styling of the latest Toyota RAV4 carries sporty lines that lift it away from the somewhat conservative previous model

When the Toyota RAV4 arrived in Australia 20 years ago it was a funky little two-door 4WD for the young and young at heart. But over the years it not only grew in size to became a four-door family wagon, but also lost the fun factor that had appealed to many.

When Akio Toyoda took the reigns of the giant Japanese auto maker in 2009 one of his first moves was to call for more interesting vehicles. He pointed out that just because a car was practical and reliable (features for which Toyota has been famed for decades) there was no reason why it couldn’t also be interesting. The Toyota 86 is a revelation, and the subject of this week’s road test, the latest Toyota RAV4, launched in Australia early in 2013, has received a healthy dose of style.

2013 Toyota RAV4 GX (optional alloy wheels shown)
Toyota RAV4 now has a semi-sporty appearance. While it’s certainly not as funky or cheeky as the 1980’s original, there’s a healthy touch of ‘look-at-me’ in this wagon’s shape.

Not only is Toyota RAV4 a big improvement in style, it is larger inside than before, particularly in the back seats. Yet, cleverly, it is smaller on the outside. There’s space for three fair-sized children across the rear seat and two adults back there will find themselves surprisingly comfortable.

2013 Toyota RAV4 GXL
The spare tyre is no longer mounted on the rear door as made sense during its 4WD days, but is now under the boot floor. To maximise luggage space there’s a slim space-saver spare wheel.

Very few RAV4 owners ever take their wagon off road, but those who do so can opt for a full-size spare wheel. This results in an ugly hump in the load area and the loss of about 70 litres of load volume.

The tailgate is top-hinged in what has become the convention in the crossover SUV class and we found it easy to load bulky items.

For the first time the Toyota RAV4 is offered with the option of a turbo-diesel engine in Australia. The 2.2-litre engine produces up to 110 kW of power. Torque is impressive, with 340 Nm between 2000 and 2800 revs. On paper that’s not a huge torque spread from a turbo engine, but our road testing proved it’s still pretty strong below and above these numbers. The diesel is only offered in RAV4s with all-wheel-drive.

You can choose between two petrol engines, but the powerplant is dictated by the model you want. A 2.0-litre unit (107 kW / 187 Nm) is used only in the front-wheel-drive entry level model RAV4, a 2.5-litre (132 kW / 233 Nm) is installed in the AWD as it’s a heavier vehicle.

On the road we found it capable enough in its handling, and certainly safe, but the word ‘sporting’ that we used when talking about RAV4’s styling doesn’t apply to the chassis dynamics. Comfort is pretty good, which is what most buyers in this class are looking for.

Thanks to Australian road and off-road testing in early days, Toyota RAV4’s Japanese and Aussie engineers have done an excellent job in noise and vibration suppression. On smooth sealed roads it travels in near silence. Rough sealed and gravel roads obviously result in increased in noise intrusion, but we have heard a lot worse.

We did try some mild to medium off-road tracks and are pleased to report that Toyota still remembers its 4WD roots in Australia. The RAV4 has good ground clearance and angles and the large wheels play their part as well. This family wagon handles bumps, dips and climbs with aplomb and never showed signs of losing traction.

Toyota RAV4 has been one of the leaders in its class for many years, this new generation’s combination of sporty looks and quiet comfortable travel should further enhance its sales.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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