Many moons ago the Toyota Rav4 started life in a niche market, most people would have chuckled at the fact that it was only really a ‘half-way’ 4WD. Compare that to today and there are soft-roaders everywhere. They have evolved from being small and nearly useless off-road to much larger means of transport.
Sure, the Rav4 is certainly no rock-hopper but, it doesn’t mind getting its hands dirty. Under the bonnet you get a 4-cylinder, 2.4ltr engine that produces 125kW at 6000RPM and 224Nm of torque at 4000RPM. In my opinion, the engine doesn’t really suit the car. It lacks get-up-and-go and feels underprivileged when the car is full of people and luggage. The clutch is also a total disaster. I am yet to understand how the engineers could get into the car and move it off the line from a still start without being bothered by the operating dynamics of the clutch.
One upside with the new model is the extra space in the cabin. Our test vehicle (Rav4 Cruiser variant) had a host of features to keep people happy. You can expect to see a 6-stack in-dash MP3 capable CD player, dual-zone climate control, privacy glass, leather bound steering wheel and gear knob, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, power windows and mirrors, under floor storage compartments and a 5-speed manual transmission.
Outside, the Rav4 Cruiser is fitted with front fog lamps, 17” alloy wheels, roof rails and rear spoiler. The Rav4 is also loaded with safety features; the Cruiser comes standard with HAC (Hill-Start Assist Control), VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), TC (Traction Control), front and passenger SRS airbags, front and rear curtain shield airbags, front mounted side SRS airbags and ABS brakes. The Cruiser is valued at $37,490, so these features are a given considering the price.
Rear visibility isn’t too crash hot. Due to its new design, the rear C-pillar blocks a substantial amount of view when reversing or head checking. It’s also very difficult to reverse park the Rav4, the door line sits up very high at the rear of the car and on top of the privacy glass, it’s tricky to see what’s happening at the back end. The Rav4 could have easily benefited from reverse parking sensors considering its price.
On the road the Rav4 is very smooth and soaks up bumps on dodgy country roads. At highway cruising speeds the tyres emit a heap of road noise; they are very loud and intrude into the cabin unnecessarily, something that could probably be solved with road-going tyres, opposed to 4WD-spec tyres.
When you head off the beaten path the Rav4 displays its off-roading prowess. The 4WD system is no longer permanent. Toyota has opted for a part-time 4WD system. During normal operation, the Rav4 puts all the power through the front wheels, when there is slippage, a maximum of 45 percent of engine torque is sent to the rear wheels. There is also a button on the dashboard that allows the driver to enable a full 4WD mode at speeds of up to 40km/h.
I put the Rav4 to test on a steep inclined gradient. After enabling HAC (Hill-Start Assist Control) I loaded up the revs and let the clutch out. The car struggled to make it to the top of the hill, on one occasion it actually stalled due to insufficient power. That’s really where the Rav4 is at a loss. The power levels really don’t compliment its potential. The Yanks get a 3.5ltr V6 version of the Rav4. According to Toyota, they haven’t put the V6 engine in the Australian Rav4 due to the concern of it eating away at Kluger sales.
The VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) does a fantastic job of keeping the Rav4 straight and steady. Due to its height, the Rav4 carries a greater centre of gravity, making it prone to more body roll. Given the ability to test the VSC on a dirt road, it came into its element at the right moment and managed to straighten up the very sideways Rav4 in no time. In my opinion, programs such as ESP (Electronic Stability Program) or VSC (as Toyota like to refer to it as) should be standard on all cars. Although they shouldn’t be relied on entirely to keep driver’s safe, they are fantastic as a backup measure and are always alert and ready to go – unfortunately, unlike some other drivers on the road.
Fuel use averaged out to around 10L/100KM, which was slightly higher than the 9.1L/100KM quoted by Toyota.
A couple things that had me concerned were the whining noise that was being emitted from the driveline at low speeds; it was very intrusive and irritating. The other thing that had me baffled was a stone that managed to get lodged somewhere in the braking callipers. After some general dirt road driving, the noise became evident at any speed the car was travelling at. After jacking the car up and taking the tyre off, nothing was visible to the naked eye. Eventually the stone fell out and it was driving as usual.
In an ever increasing market, the Toyota Rav4 Cruiser is a real standout. It looks funky and has a host of features.
My concerns lie with the fact that the manual gearbox is rubbish and that it would only be worth buying the automatic version. Therein lies the problem though, the automatic version costs almost $40,000. That’s coming into the Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger playing field.
Although I admire the Toyota Rav4 for what it is, it lacks when being compared to bigger vehicles in its price range. Drop the V6 engine into the engine bay and we might have a different story all together.
CarAdvice rating (out of 5):
- by Paul Maric