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Keeping little people amused during the school holidays is a constant challenge for parents the world over. And while modern life offers many distractions and devices to help little minds stay seen and not heard, there’s often no substitute for a good old-fashioned road trip.
Sure, the promise of many hours in the car may not have the same tangible appeal as yet another marathon Minecraft session, but the lure of an interesting destination can still hold court as being something worthy of the pain.
So in this update, we send our 2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL long-termer away from the big smoke to see if it handles the promise of adventure with the same level of enthusiasm as one tired, greying, father of a stimulation-holic seven-year-old, not even half-way through the 80,000 minutes that constitute the summer break.
Before we get too much further, let’s take a look at the story so far. So in the words of your favourite TV show…
Previously, in our long-term updates:
Our first look at the Toyota Stormtrooper noted that our car is the mid-spec GXL and is fitted with both the technology and Flextone pack, which gives us loads of gadgets, silver cladding and a black headliner.
The Glacier White RAV4 rolled off the lot with a retail price of $41,950, with these options but before on-road costs.
We then took note of how the RAV behaved around town, where the 132kW/233Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic gearbox returned an average consumption of 10.6L/100km.
A third instalment concentrated on the infotainment, mobile device and driver assistance technology that have been rolled into the 2017 update of the Toyota SUV.
Which leads us to where we are right now, a coarse-chip B-road on the outskirts of Melbourne, heading to Fun Fields leisure park in Whittlesea. School holidays, the gift that keeps on giving.
My mind can't escape the thought that I have become a Simpsons moment. "Will you take us to Mount Splashmore. Will you take us to Mount Splashmore. Will you take us to Mount Splashmore. Will you take us to Mount Splashmore. Will you take us to Mount Splashmore..."
But I digress. This day trip, more about the destination than the drive, included a good chunk of the freeway as well as some pleasant tarmac, north of the city.
And while it’s no symbiotic GT, the RAV is actually a reasonably entertaining tourer. The 55 profile Dunlop Grandtrek tyres deal with the changing surfaces and undulating curves very well.
It’s not the quietest cabin out there, coming in at 76 dB on the freeway at 100km/h, but with the latest Disney musical soundtrack on infinite repeat, it wasn’t the booming echo chamber of tyre roar that we’ve seen from lesser insulated cars.
The interior cabin size works well, even on a short run like this, and we had ample space for bags and snacks, as well as the ‘hammock’ in the boot for storing wet towels and bathers.
But a 150km loop does not a long distance road trip make, so a few weeks later the little Toyota was rigged for a more solid adventure.
At a three-hour drive, each way, Mount Buller is the closest downhill ski resort to Melbourne. To keep the alpine village alive during the ‘off season’ Buller becomes a mountain-bike destination over the summer months.
Since the last report, we fitted the Toyota genuine roof-rack cross bars and a pair of our own Thule pro-rack bike carriers to the top of the RAV’s standard roof rails.
With the seats down, the RAV4 is big enough inside to fit a full-size bike easily, but with two bikes and all the other bits and bobs, we felt it better to stick the pedal power on top.
The 1715mm height of the RAV4 becomes apparent when lifting a full-size mountain bike onto the roof, even for someone as tall as me, so perhaps consider a towbar mounted carrier if you are thinking of doing this on a regular basis and don’t quite tip over the six-foot mark.
Bike racks are notorious for creating a loud whistle in the wind, but we didn’t notice much difference either way. You can hear them, but it isn't intrusive. Before the car goes back, we’ll do a quick comparison for noise and fuel consumption with and without the racks in place.
The 500km round trip is most enjoyable along the Melba Highway from Yarra Glen and then up through Yea and Mansfield to the mountain summit. Again, on this relaxed and winding tour, the RAV proved itself to be quietly enjoyable.
Once up and running, the Toyota is a very easy car to settle into. The early-morning start had Miss Seven stretching out in the back, with a heap of room and requisite pillows and stuffed animal friends along for the jaunt.
I’ve become a big fan of cloth seats over the years, and the RAV is no exception. They insulate well even on a warm day, and the cabin, while definitely dark and bland, is very comfortable.
The cup and bottle holders are conveniently placed, both front and rear and the centre armrest in the back made a nice iPad resting place.
The touring assistant tech we detailed in the last update all worked as intended, and the longer run behind the wheel even triggered the rest alert in a timely manner. We used the adaptive cruise control on the open sections of the drive, and found both it and the lane-departure assistant, to be unobtrusive and easy to manage on the longer run.
On higher speed sections, and for overtaking, the four-cylinder worked well, kicking down to pass and revving up to almost 6000rpm to ensure as swift a movement as possible.
It doesn’t make a great noise, but it isn’t as raspy or strained as we were expecting.
Tighter radius turns had the 'Trooper turn in with accuracy and composure, and it felt quite well balanced even on the run up the hill. Here too, activating the Sport driving mode, the ascent was quite good fun, especially given the lack of other traffic, although little-person did need to remind me of the bikes on the roof when things got a little more enthusiastic.
There are no fees or restrictions on where you can go during the summer months, so we parked at the summit and rode down to the village to explore.
The downhill mountain-bike runs are geared toward intermediate and advanced riders, but the scenery is stunning even if just having a look around. It is a mountain still, so be prepared for plenty of low-gear climbing, but you can ride back down to the base of the mountain at Mirimbah and catch a ride back up with a shuttle bus, or just hit the Northside Express chairlift for some more relaxed wombat spotting if that is more your speed.
But while the RAV was a great machine for a fun day of fresh mountain air, it wasn’t all roses on the longer run.
On the freeway, the fuel consumption sat under the 10L/100km mark, but as soon as you changed from a ‘cruise’ to a ‘drive’, things climbed again. Our average for the run was a disappointing 11L/100km.
More to the point, the 60-litre fuel tank on the Toyota only offers a range of around 500km in total, which meant with the tank down about a quarter when we left, we need a refill in Mansfield on the drive up, then back again in Melbourne after the drive home.
In a market where many diesel SUVs can easily run 1000km between fills on a touring drive, the range of the RAV4 just feels compromised for a car that has an ‘outdoorsy’ lifestyle focus.
It’s a pity, as the Toyota is comfortable and competent on a long distance run. On the bright side, at least the limited range forces you to get out and take a break!
For our next update, the RAV will leave the black stuff behind altogether and head bush for some light off-roading.
As always, if you have any questions, please let us know in the comments below.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.
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: 6649km
- KM since last update: 2567km
- Fuel economy since last update: 10.2/100km