The Toyota RAV4 is one of the most popular SUVs on the market, but it falls short of its rivals on value.
The Toyota RAV4 celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2014 and the ‘recreational activity vehicle’ continues to be one of the most popular nameplates in the mid-sized-SUV segment.
Toyota’s fourth-generation RAV4 was released in 2013 with a markedly different look to its predecessors, with a more rounded shape and a tailgate that not only opened upwards rather than sideways but was also devoid of the trademark spare wheel housing on the tail-gate.
Inevitably, the Toyota RAV4 is faced with a significantly larger amount of competitors than it was two decades ago – and crucially it has a two-wheel-drive variant that allows pricing to start below $30,000 like many of its rivals.
You can spend more than $50,000 on Toyota’s smallest SUV with the RAV4 Cruiser diesel we’ve reviewed separately; here we test the RAV4 GXL AWD that sits in the middle of the range priced from $38,190.
On paper that already looks a relatively high sticker price against most rival mid-spec mid-sized SUVs, and the value equation doesn’t improve when you weigh up the RAV4 GXL’s standard features.
While it rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and features a 6.1-inch touchscreen, reverse-view camera, rear sensors, rain sensors and hill start assist and descent control, the GXL doesn’t offer anything of note over cheaper rivals and misses out on satellite navigation. Read the RAV4 range specifications here.
The LCD display is quite fiddly with its tiny touch ‘buttons’, though phone pairing is a simple process. The audio’s quality is only average, with the sound starting to become distorted before the volume gets much of a chance to ramp up (though I’ll admit I gave up trying to find the bass adjustment after multiple attempts).
The display is a focal point of a slab-looking dash that is part inoffensive, part uninspiring.
Combine the slightly drab design with the coarse roof lining and plenty of hard plastics and the cabin looks disappointing compared with the interiors found in the Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail and Jeep Cherokee.
The Toyota RAV4, however, plays a much stronger card on cabin space and practicality.
Rear legroom is among the most generous in this class, and headroom is equally excellent. Bottleholders are incorporated into the doors, there are (square-shaped!) cupholders in the centre armrest, and rubber floor mats are great for the inevitable spillages.
The rear bench is firm and a touch on the flat side, though, and there are no air vents.
At the back of the RAV, the roof-hinged tailgate is more practical than the old side-hinged version. And when raised, there’s a conveniently low loading lip and a spacious boot complete with clever, almost-hammock-like cargo net system.
A full-size spare wheel disappeared along with the external housing, so now it’s just a space-saver (though GX and GXL buyers can order a full-size wheel for $300).
The Toyota RAV4 AWD weighs 110 kilograms more than the front-drive variant (tipping the scales at 1630kg in this trim) though offsets that with more power, replacing the base model’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder and CVT auto combination with a 2.5-litre four with conventional six-speed auto pairing.
The 2.5-litre produces 132kW of power at 6000rpm and 233Nm of torque at 4100rpm.
An important note for buyers wanting to tow is that the 2.5-litre petrol has the highest braked capacity – 1500kg versus the 1000kg of the 2.2 diesel and 800kg of the 2.0 petrol. That’s a little strange when you consider the fact that most people who tow often opt for a diesel engine over petrol.
The all-paw RAV is nominally front-wheel drive in normal driving, for the sake of fuel efficiency, but brings the rear wheels into play as the situation requires. Drivers can depress a centre diff lock button to enforce an AWD mode for trickier conditions, though this operates up to 40km/h only.
There’s also a downhill speed control system to further aid light-duty off-roading.
On the bitumen, the engine performs well, even if throttle response is a bit doughy even if the Sport button is chosen that prompts the auto for quicker, more responsive downshifts.
The Toyota RAV4 may look a bit like a Corolla on stilts, though apart from the obvious different in seating height its road manners also lack the politeness of the hatch’s. The chief culprit here is the generally choppy ride, with suspension comfort further reduced by the RAV’s tendency to thump over larger urban bumps.
Rear-seat testers also found the RAV noisy over such bumps.
The steering isn’t bad, either, with good weighting and response, though there’s fuzziness around the centre position that makes the Toyota less accurate to point down a straight road such as a freeway.
For buyers who have a keen eye on running costs, the RAV4’s fuel economy is among the best-in-class, returning a 9.0 litres per 100km tested average (against an official figure of 8.5L/100km) that was second only to the Subaru Forester in CarAdvice’s mid-sized SUV comparison test.
Servicing costs are also among the lowest in the segment – just $1020 over three years/60,000km – and running costs are a clear positive for the Toyota.
So at least the Toyota RAV4 is fairly cheap to run even if not to buy, and along with that spacious and practical cabin will be enough of a deal-maker for some showroom hunters.
However, for this vehicle celebrating its 20th birthday it could do with a lot more icing on the cake in terms of interior design, ride comfort and what it offers for the money.