Technology is such a huge part of our cars these days, so James takes a look at the tech that makes the RAV4 tick
There is always some method to the madness in the way we select our long-term fleet here at CarAdvice.
Part of the appeal of the 2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL over previous model year versions, is the inclusion of a range of technology features that until now had only been available on the top-specification Cruiser model.
For the '17 spec GXL, such near necessities like satellite navigation, DAB digital radio, keyless entry and even mobile-app connectivity are included in the $38,450 list price (a reminder to readers that our Glacier White RAV4 features the $2500 tech pack and $1000 Flex-tone pack for a total of $41,950 before on-road costs).
The RAV, now rocking its own lookalike Storm Trooper mascot, is about halfway through its tenure with the Melbourne team, and this update looks specifically at the infotainment, mobile and driver assistance tech on board.
Inclusion requires implementation, and the long list of cool gadgets sounds good in the brochure, but how do they all work in the real world?
Let’s start with the tech-pack, which sees a host of desirable safety and convenience technology added to the mid-grade RAV4.
Rear cross-traffic, forward collision, lane departure and blind spot alert systems used to be the realm of high-end European sedans, so it is refreshing to see these offered at this end of the market.
Front parking sensors and automatic high-beam headlamps are also included. The parking beepers are of the ‘proactive’ type, activating when you nose into a park rather than just being primed when the car is in reverse.
For the most part, these systems work well. The forward-collision alert has triggered with a number of ‘false positives’, usually when there are parked cars on the left and the road turns to the right, but this isn’t limited to the Toyota, and we’ll take a warning without consequence over the opposite every day of the week.
Lane departure works above 50km/h and will give you a warning and a minor correction to the steering wheel if you stray out of your lane. Don’t expect it to turn a corner for you though. It works in concert with the adaptive cruise control system that is another feature of the pack.
This too only works above 50km/h and will help maintain speed and distance to the car in front during sustained highway touring runs. On the freeway, both systems work well and are best utilised on longer drives.
In regular stop/start or queuing traffic, the cruise control system will shut off below 50km/h, meaning you must brake to a stop. Consider these very much a cruise assistant as opposed to an autopilot-like function we have seen in some other cars, and you’ll be fine.
Remember though, this is a mid-grade Toyota, so there isn’t really an expectation of best-of-breed functionality. For what they are and how they work, we think these functions are a very welcome addition to a car like the RAV4 and especially on the GXL model.
We do recommend adding this pack if you are in the market for a RAV, as these features are quite handy, and will be helpful to have when the time comes to sell your car.
All the driver assistance systems can be configured through the multi-information display in the instrument housing, which is controlled by a D-Pad on the RAV’s steering wheel. The layout is ergonomic and easy enough to use, with the functions related to this display on the right side of the wheel, and audio and telephony on the left.
The screen is susceptible to glare, even without a sunroof in the car, but it is generally clear and easy to read. There’s plenty of stuff to read as well, with fuel consumption and trip data offered from a ‘reset’ as well as a ‘last fill’ checkpoint. A cool AWD torque-split and g-force gauge are nice inclusions, as is a directional compass.
There’s no digital speedometer though, which would be very handy in Victoria where your precise speed is important to know. It’s silly too as when you scroll down through all the menu screens, there is a blank one, primed for a nice, clear digital speed read out…
The ECO display too makes no sense, offering just a bar chart with neither scale nor goal represented. You can view detailed consumption and economy data on the primary touch screen so this just feels a little superfluous.
What you do get though, is the strangely named ‘Sway Warning’ which just depicts a cup of coffee rather than any detailed information. This system is quite clever however, and will notice if your car moves around within a lane, a behaviour common to drowsy or inattentive drivers, and will suggest (with the coffee cup) that you pull over and take a break.
Audio, telephony and navigation data is also viewable here. You can answer and end phone calls from the wheel, as well as change volume, audio track and adjust your adaptive cruise control following distance with conveniently placed buttons.
The 6.1-inch central touch screen controls the bulk of other technology features, as well as displaying the image from the rear-view camera. It’s reasonably clear but not as high resolution as some other cars now offer, and the camera lens can become obstructed in the wet.
Navigation is via a bank of six buttons on the side of the screen, then contextually on the screen itself.
This means you must jump to APPS or HOME before getting to the NAV menu for example, but even then, the individual functions aren’t supremely intuitive.
For example, there are four pre-set panels on the home screen for contacts, rather than something useful like radio stations. You can’t just set a bank of pre-set stations for all tuners either, instead have to jump to the source menu from FM to AM to DAB and back again for each.
Screen reaction time isn’t fast, and neither, strangely, is the volume knob. There’s a noticeable reaction delay when turning it up or down, which goes against any natural expectation for a potentiometer dial, as learned in Mr Braithwaite’s Year-10 physics class.
Then there’s the lock out function which means if you are on a phone call, you can’t access any other function of the system. This frustration extends to the satellite navigation which won’t allow address entry when the car is in motion.
Get past this though, and there is a good amount functionality behind the scenes.
Pandora internet radio is standard (you need an account though), and the navigation software offers traffic information (see Volkswagen, it can be done!), route settings to avoid toll roads, even sunrise and sunset times, complete with a daylight map of earth.
You can also set up a route trace function to see where the little RAV has been when you aren’t in the car. Sneaky!
Navigation itself works well, but is quite basic. Other than the motion lockout frustration, there’s nothing to stop you from getting from point A to point B. The only gripe is that the buttons on the screen can be fiddly to hit on the move, but it’s a small issue and again not something isolated to the RAV.
And then there’s Toyota Link.
Toyota Link is a mobile application that enables the in-car infotainment to use your phone’s internet connection for extra functionality, as well as allowing some handy offline (well, off-car) functions.
Once you are signed in and everything is working, the system works well and is actually pretty cool. You can search for an address or point of interest location on your phone, from the comfort of your lounge room (or loo, amiright?) and send the details to the car to save as a favourite or activate navigation.
It works really well, and lets you know when new data has been sent to the car.
In the car, the connection, which requires the phone to be physically plugged in to the car via the sole USB point, offers live fuel price data and even weather with a rain radar. Arguably stuff you can get from your phone if there is a passenger in the car, but this can be handy to access from the infotainment screen while on the move.
But you know how they say that getting there is half the fun? Well ‘they’ have never gone through the sign-up process for Toyota Link.
Establishing an account for something like this should be a simple online form, completed within a few minutes, but for us it took over a month with several calls, emails and tweets to the Toyota Link support centre.
I will gloss over the fact that none of this worked on the mobile app, and that you have to initiate all sign-up processes from a web browser, so that you can use the mobile app. Yep.
The first hurdle is where the sign-up process asks for the car’s batch code. We know VIN numbers, engine numbers, serial numbers, but we’ve never heard of a batch code. We spoke to a Toyota dealer to ask where this was, and they couldn’t tell us.
Turns out the batch code is a Toyota specific serial number that is part of the vehicle’s pre-delivery check data, and was listed on a sheet of paper inside the RAV’s documentation folder. Even having this, the web application asks for the number then generates an error suggesting you need to add leading zeros to fill it out as a 10-digit field.
Get past this, and you are told the account needs to be approved. Five days later this arrived. Not five seconds, or even five minutes, but five whole days for an online form to be ‘approved’. Even then, this was just an intermediate step to confirm who owned the car. At this point our account would work on the web app but not the mobile app, which is not even a dedicated iOS application, and just the web forms in a mobile ‘wrapper’.
A call to Toyota Link support had the customer service representative ask us to register as a MyToyota user, another online system for customers. There was no mention of this secondary system in any error messages or at any point in the sign-up process. They then suggested the phone was the problem, yeah... no. Turns out that wasn’t even the issue, and our car had to again be manually approved to be added to the account.
Now, I’ll be kind and perhaps suggest that our vehicle wasn’t flagged the same as a privately purchased one in terms of who owns the car and whose account should be connected to it… but this is something that can be resolved in a single email on the same day as the account setup request. I’ll even give you four working days to do it. Four weeks though, that is just not good enough.
It’s 2017 now guys. Signing up to online services is a pretty standard thing for everyone to do. There are expectations as to how easy and fast this should be.
We’ve tried using Toyota Link a few times but the RAV4 was the first successful sign-up. Plus, each time we have a media vehicle with the capability to use it, it does a software update for the ‘first time’ use, which indicates that no other media outlet has ever gotten this far either.
It’s quite simply, stupid. The functionality is quite good when it works, and better than most other brands in market, so why make it such a challenge to get users on board? It is, without question, the worst online user experience I have had in years.
According to Toyota, most customers have their Toyota Link account set up by the dealer so don’t need to go through this pain… so we’re interested to know if any readers use it or have been able to sign in?
The tool is good, but the layers of ‘experience’ that surround it are very very poor. It’s not a slight on the RAV4, as the app is a separate system, but it is an area Toyota, and any other automotive manufacturer dabbling in technology, need to ensure works in a manner that your average user understands and expects.
So, with that off my chest, what next for the RAV4?
As you can see in the photos, we’re off on a medium-distance drive to Fun Fields theme park (help me) and with the bike carriers now installed, we're heading to the high country for a spot of mountain bike action.
The next update will look at how the 'Trooper deals with a longer journey in terms of economy, comfort and overall practicality.
As always, we welcome your questions about the RAV4 and would really love to hear from anyone who uses (or has tried to use) the Toyota Link application.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.
2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL