2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL review: Long-term report five

Rating: 7.0
$24,510 $29,150 Dealer
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Part five of our 2017 Toyota RAV4 long-term report sees the little SUV stepping out of its comfort zone and into the bush.
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For a country where 80 per cent of the roads are unpaved and more than one-third of all cars sold last year come with the inherent SUV 'promise of adventure', it's a wonder we aren't a more adventurous nation.

Oh sure, we look the part.

Black cladding here, pass time roof racks there. We talk sea change and tree change but as a majority, we rarely stray too far from sealed roads and 4G coverage.

But let's say you decide that today is the day, and like 172,193 other Australians, you bought a medium-sized SUV last year, just how far would you get?

Such is the question posed by the fifth instalment of our 2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL long-termer ownership report.

The Glacier White RAV4 GXL, with its silver Flex Tone pack ($1000 option), joined the Melbourne team in October last year. We've spent time with it around town, and out on longer drives. We've also paid specific attention to the technology and features that are included as standard, plus the extras that come with the $2500 Tech pack. We even threw on a set of roof-mounted bike racks to help complete the adventure picture.

Our car, which rolled out of the showroom for $41,950 (before on-road costs), is now some 8000km into its life, and hasn't skipped a beat. Not really surprising given we are still shy, in both time and distance, of the first 10,000km (or six-month) service interval, which is capped at $222.90.

Under the bonnet is a 132kW/233Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which powers all four wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox.

Yep, our soft-roading RAV is all-wheel drive.

What's more, it is fitted with a central differential lock which will distribute an even split of torque to the front and rear wheels, plus there's a (very familiar by now) hill descent control function to help manage steeper terrain.

For those missing the in-joke, the HDC switch is positioned very close to the start/stop ignition button, and both are hidden behind the steering wheel, resulting in more than a few accidental hill-descent activations when attempting to start the car.

Sort that out though, and the hardware, in the brochure at least, seems up to the task for a bit of a countryside quest.

Our destination? Toolangi State Forest about an hour east of Melbourne. It's one of our favourite locations, both for the tall-tree scenery and the variety of trails.

The tarmac vanishes almost as soon as you turn into the forest, and the graded, but still quite rough access roads pose no problem for the RAV.

Cabin noise increases, and you can see the car distributing torque to the rear wheels on the LCD gauge in the centre of the instrument binnacle, especially around corners.

At speeds of up to 80km/h the little Toyota maintains composure, with a sense of stability, but that's not really putting things to the test.

As Bear Gryls says, "adventure should be 80 per cent 'I think this is manageable,' but it's good to have that last 20 per cent where you're right outside your comfort zone," and he should know, he drinks his own wee.

So we turned to a rougher trail and got about 100 metres before rethinking our decision. A rutted and muddy puddle blocked the path.

To set a level of expectation, we drove through in our other long-term car, a Holden Colorado. The big pick-up, in high-range four-wheel drive bounced and splashed its way through the bog, but conveniently left a scrape mark along the centre of the muddy track, where one of the extremities of the underbody bash plate signified the limit of the 215mm ground clearance.

Now, CarAdvice isn't MENSA, but given we know the RAV4 has just a 160mm clearance to the lowest point, the under-slung exhaust front pipe, it took all of about three seconds to determine that an attempted crossing would end badly for the RAV and sought to turn around.

Here then, we discovered another shortcoming of the soft-roading SUV, suspension articulation.

The independent trailing arm suspension at the rear is great for dealing with mild imperfections in the road surface, but on the trail, even a slight dip down to the front right has the RAV cocking its rear left in the air.

Backing the car up to do a three-point u-turn quickly highlights another issue, grip.

The Dunlop Grandtrek tyres are an all-terrain format, but on the slick and sticky surface, the channels quickly clog with mud, and with the car on a slightly tilted attitude, drive is forced to the freer-spinning front left and rear right tyres. A little back and forth rocking, with the traction control system off, finally secures a more grip-friendly surface, and we're back on our way.

So mud is no friend of the RAV, how does it deal with a rocky climb?

Deeper into Toolangi, and the main trails start to get a bit rougher. Potholes on the route need to be taken with care, so that the car doesn't thump too far down too quickly, which can risk damaging wheels, or knocking that low front pipe. Worth noting too, that the differential lock only works at speeds under 50km/h, so if you want the added balance of 50:50 torque split, keep the speed down.

While it won't scale a 40-degree slope, and as long as the path is reasonably flat so as to minimise articulation, the RAV4, with its centre differential lock engaged, is actually a competent little climber. The hill descent system works well on the way down too, keeping your speed and roll-risk managed so as to make control of the vehicle very easy.

Manage your route though, you don't want to get to a point where you can't ascend any further and need to reverse down a steep slope. Never try and turn around here, activate the descent control and ask your passenger (you'd never do this alone, right?) to help guide you back down.

So will the 2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL get you to that great adventure you've been planning?

If the path is muddy, rutted or just that little bit too far from flat, then perhaps you're best to leave the RAV in the carpark and continue on the mountain bike you probably have strapped to the roof.

But if it's an un-graded, unsealed road, and you are taking due care, the little Toyota will manage just fine.

As with all our long-term updates, let us know in the comments below if there is anything you would like to know or have us investigate.

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: 8281 km
  • KM since last update: 1632 km
  • Fuel economy since last update: 10.1/100km