2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL review: Long-term report two - comfort and the urban grind

$31,820 $37,840 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    8.5L
  • Engine Power
    132kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    198g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

For our second instalment on the RAV4 ownership, we concentrate on urban living and how the little Toyota deals with day-to-day life.

As we roll into our second update with the 2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD, the cheery little Toyota has started to make friends among the CarAdvice Melbourne team, but hasn't quite found a niche as a BFF yet.

Oh, it’s been driven, over 2500km since the last update, but it just seems to fade into the background, finding neither favour nor foe when the keys are popped back in the safe every morning.

For this update, we’ll concentrate on the cabin and urban abilities of the Toyota Stormtrooper, hoping that once the chance comes to hit the open road, the RAV will have a chance to come out of its shell.

To recap, our Glacier White GXL is fitted with the optional safety pack as well as the Flex-Tone trim options that makes the roof-lining darker and the exterior trims lighter. This gives it a list price of $41,950, including options and before on-road costs.

As noted, we think the styling of the mid-size SUV makes it look like a Star Wars Stormtrooper, particularly in white, but we’ll mix our sci-fi references and suggest the inside is more like the Tardis, given the amount of available usable space.

Starting at the rear, the tailgate itself isn’t powered, but it isn’t that heavy and hasn’t caused any complaints or problems. There are two soft-touch buttons under the rear lip though, one which unlocks and one which locks the car.

After spending some time with the RAV it isn’t hard to remember which one, but I often have other people opening the boot and they will occasionally un-do what needs to be done, by pressing the wrong one, which can cause a bit of frustration.

It’s not a big deal though, and probably more of an issue for me, who jumps around different cars all the time, rather than an owner.

Once open though, the boot is huge.

At 577 litres, the space is one of the biggest in the class. It’s bigger than CR-V (556L), X-Trail (550L), Forester (505L), Tucson (488L), Sportage (466L), Escape (406L), CX-5 (403L), but just a bit smaller than the new Volkswagen Tiguan at 615L.

There are four tie-down points, a pair of luggage hooks and under floor storage for the space-saver spare and tool kits. I’ve been known to use the wheel well of the spare to hold wet towels after little-person swimming lessons too.

Plus, in true Hank Scorpio style, there is a handy 'cargo hammock' that sits above the floor. It's really handy for carrying 'movable' items like fruit and vegetable shopping, and makes life easier when dealing with slightly delicate or fragile items.

The light could be brighter though, as with the Flex-Tone pack, all the interior trim, including the roof lining, is black – so the RAV is a bit of a black-hole inside.

For rear passengers, the theme of space continues, with great knee and excellent head room. Toe space is a little bit tight, and the bench is reasonably low to the floor which means anyone with longer legs, like me, will find their thighs sit up a bit higher off the seat.

While on the bench, it’s not especially comfortable or supportive, but that hasn’t caused any of my rear-seat passengers any issues around town. The seats recline for some extra comfort if you need it too.

Our RAV has cloth upholstery, which makes the rear cabin feel quite snug and cozy. The centre arm rest with its cupholders is a good addition too. Although there are no rear air vents, or USB points, there are map-pockets, bottle bins in the doors and a single 12-volt outlet.

The black theme continues though, and in low light it really can feel quite gloomy in the back.

Up front, the seats are much more comfortable and reasonably supportive. No power adjustment, or fancy heating, just good, honest seats. Space here is also good, with plenty of head and shoulder room available. It’s worth noting that despite the dark cabin, you never feel short on space.

From an ergonomic standpoint though, the RAV4 is a bit of a mixed bag.

The central cubby has a multi-level tray which is easy enough to use, and there’s a big cupholder in front, and one behind the transmission lever. But the lever itself, despite having a definitive movement ‘gate’ doesn’t always make it clear as to which gear you are in, with it easy to stop one ‘notch’ before engaging reverse to leave the car in neutral.

Button placement too, is a bit haphazard. The air conditioning controls in the middle of the dash are clear and simple to use, but the drive mode selection buttons are effectively hidden under the right-side on the centre stack.

Over to the right of the steering wheel, the push button start is obscured and very close to the hill-descent control button. I will regularly hit the latter before the former, which leaves the HDC system activated for when you start the car.

It took me a while the first time to realise why the RAV was trying to crawl down the driveway…

As far as the cabin implementation goes though, it feels as if the basic driving functions were dealt with, then all the other features were just added where there was some space, rather than being thought out as a complete package.

The infotainment too, falls into the same category of ergonomic frustration. Most of the features work well (we’ve having some issues with the DAB digital tuner) and the iPod integration, although simple and fiddly, works more reliably than in many other cars. But things like motion lockout on the navigation input and the sometimes confusing menu structure can make even a well-featured system difficult to use.

We’ll go through this and the car’s other technology functions in detail in the next update.

On the move around town though, the RAV is a pretty good little operator.

There’s no standout point in the performance or dynamic stakes, it’s just very light and easy to drive. Running on the usual daily errands, the RAV4 just does its job, without complaint or fuss, but also without any real feeling or character. It’s the old case of doing nothing wrong doesn’t mean you do everything right.

The 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine feels zippy enough and gets up to suburban speeds with minimal fuss. You can engage the Sport setting for a bit more of a responsive feeling, but it doesn’t change the torque or power delivery curves.

The sound is typical of a buzzy four-cylinder, and the six-speed automatic seems to choose gears quite well – especially in Sport mode – but it just doesn’t do anything beyond its textbook behaviour.

Roll on response, in non-linear traffic, can be a bit hit and miss when in the standard drive mode, as it can be easy to catch the RAV in the wrong gear for a quick manoeuvre. Leave it in Sport and this is much more manageable, as the gear selection and throttle response seems much more suited for the quick-or-the-dead nature of commuting.

Peak power, 132kW, only comes at the 6000rpm redline, and peak torque, 233Nm, isn’t far behind at 4100rpm. This means that extracting the most out of the little RAV will see higher rev driving and a more vivacious fuel consumption.

Toyota claims a mixed cycle of 8.8L/100km and an urban only thirst of 11.4L/100km. Our average is sitting at 10.6L/100km but we’ve seen mid-to-high ’teens on regular occasion on quick urban runs.

Click in the ECO button and, well, nothing changes. Response is just a little bit softer, but the unleaded diminishes at basically the same rate. We’re keen to get the Stormtrooper out on the highway to see how this all settles down for a sustained longer cruise.

The ride though, is possibly a little too firm for an urban runner. Compression over speed humps and other smoother obstacles is fine, but there is the constant knowledge of the suspension working away, over every single surface change.

Sharper bumps can be quite jarring and there’s just a bit too much thumping about for what is not a sport-focussed SUV. It’s easy and light enough to place on the road, and the suspension movement does keep the car where you want it, but where a Hyundai Tucson can essentially glide over cobbles and speed humps, the RAV4 just feels like it needs more work.

Again, I am being quite critical. On an island, the RAV4 is a simple, easy to live with, turn-key solution to being a solid medium-sized SUV. It’s just that we know others are doing things just a bit better and really wish Toyota would get with the program too.

Around the CarAdvice office, no one specifically loves or hates the little RAV. It’s just a car, that does a job. It’s easy to drive, has plenty of space but just doesn’t seem to form any connection with the person behind the wheel.

Perhaps the Stormtrooper design is there as a subtle hint to the RAV being a by-the-numbers clone. No real character or emotion, it has a job to do and does it, no more, no less. But, no one has really spent a good deal of time with the car over a prolonged period to form a closer bond. Some longer distance drives should set things right.

There have been no problems or costs with our ‘ownership’ so far, but we will have to pop past our friendly Toyota dealer to have the DAB antenna looked at and a set of cross-bars fitted before the next update.

Again, please let us know if you have any questions or queries and we’ll do our best to answer.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.

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2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL

Price: $38,450 (before options and on-road costs)
Options: Tech pack ($2500), Flex Tone pack ($1000)
Colour: Glacier White
Engine: 132kW/233Nm 2.5-litre petrol
Gearbox: six-speed automatic, AWD

Date acquired: October 2016
ODO: 3710km
KM since last update: 2741km
Fuel economy since last update: 10.6L/100km

Read: 2016 Toyota RAV4 GXL Long-term report one