2018 Toyota RAV4 GX AWD review

The $36K Toyota RAV4 GX AWD now comes with a greater array of active safety and infotainment features as it nears the runout phase. A good example of basic, trouble-free crossover motoring that will do the job without fuss.

Industry followers will have noted that a new-generation Toyota RAV4 mid-size crossover arrives in Australia early next year, which may cause some to ask why we’re reviewing the current – soon to be outgoing – iteration.

Well, Toyota Australia has pulled the familiar move of adding more value to a product at the tail end of its life cycle, to ensure it stays in the hunt against fellow top-sellers the Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander.

Indeed, if you’re not a car enthusiast who needs the very latest, buying a car near its replacement date can be a good way to snare a cracking deal.

Here we’re testing what might be the ‘sweet spot’ in an eight-variant range, the five-seat RAV4 GX entry model with all-wheel drive and the bigger petrol engine option, priced at $34,490 before on-road costs (currently on campaign for $35,990 drive-away).

As part of the final, MY18 upgrades, Toyota claims to have added $3800 worth of new equipment for only $840. Of course, the company’s sums are malleable, but there’s no doubt the new all-paw range-opener is appreciably better value than before.

This extra equipment – not available on the GX grade previously, necessitating a step up to pricier GXL or Cruiser variants – includes satellite navigation, Toyota Link, digital radio (DAB+), dusk-sensing headlights and a 4.2-inch digital trip computer display.

But perhaps more interestingly, in particular to fleet buyers looking to reduce their premiums, there’s a new suite of camera- and radar-based active safety features including: pre-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure alert chime, active cruise control and auto high-beam.

The active safety suite does not extend to blind-spot monitoring (standard on the Mazda CX-5 range) and reverse cross-traffic alert unless you fork out for the GXL, but it’s still a comprehensive offering, up there with any newer competitor.

Toyota claims its studies in Japan have shown the now-standard active safety technologies have reduced nose-to-tail accidents by 50 per cent compared with vehicles not equipped with these features. Subaru has released similar data regarding its EyeSight suite.

Buyers who sit on highways/freeways will be glad to see active cruise control, which mirrors the traffic speed, while AEB is a clear benefit. The auto high-beam switches on when sensors determine no other cars are about, and our drive in the Victorian country at night proved the system’s effectiveness.

The RAV4’s interior is classic old-school Toyota – everything is built to last, the ergonomics are without flaw, there are clever storage spots scattered about, and the design is... Dull.

The fascia comprises a relatively small 6.1-inch touchscreen, but the sat-nav display is a welcome addition, as is DAB+. We’d prefer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto to be fitted over Toyota Link, and more than just the one USB point. The Bluetooth re-paired rapidly.

Keep in mind, the T32 II X-Trail ST AWD doesn’t get a touchscreen at all, so the aged RAV4 is by no means at the bottom of the class from an infotainment perspective.

Under the screen are large rubberised AC dials, and the lack of climate control is to be expected. The digital screen between the dials shows lots of interesting trips information, but we’d like Toyota to add a digital speedo on the next version.

Materials used throughout are hard-wearing and largely immune to ageing badly or dating, since it’s all so conventional. Don’t expect a lot of colour or interesting trim patterns, though.

Cabin storage areas include deep bottle holders in the doors, a sizeable console, roof-fitted padded sunglasses holder, and a big glovebox complemented by an open area above it ahead of the passenger seat. Plenty.

Standard equipment beyond that mentioned includes undoubtedly hard-wearing cloth seats, a reversing camera, parking sensors front and rear, buttons on the steering wheel and dual-front, front-side, and rear head-protecting airbags.

In some ways, the GX feels like the entry model it remains. For instance, the steering column may have ample reach/rake adjustment, but the wheel is trimmed in cheap-o urethane. There’s also no proximity door key, and no push-button start.

The back seats have excellent levels of head room and decent outward visibility, plus plenty of leg room and an almost-flat floor hardly marred by the driveshaft, making the middle-rear seat more useable than the class average.

The ISOFIX child seat anchor points are also very simple to find, though under-seat foot-space is tight.

There aren’t many amenities – no rear air vents, weak halogen roof lights, and no rear USB points (though there’s a 12V socket). There are, however, decent door bins and a flip-down armrest with cupholders. The back seats can also recline slightly.

Unlike the CR-V, X-Trail and Outlander, the RAV4 is not available with a third row of seats for small kids.

Toyota claims cargo capacity of 577L, placing it above the Mazda CX-5. The storage area measures 950mm from the back seat to the tailgate, about 1090mm between the wheel arches, and 860mm floor-to-roof.

Flip-fold the back seats (there are no levers in the cargo area for this, you must walk to the side of the car) and you get a storage area about 1.7m long, with sufficient space for two front passengers. Many of the fleet versions have cargo crash barriers, but for some this latter measure is relevant.

Under the floor is a standard space-saving spare wheel that’s fine for urban drivers who’re close to tyre repair/replacement workshops, but regional buyers note that you can opt for a full-size spare tyre/wheel for $300.

The RAV4 is a little longer than many rivals, at 4605mm nose-to-nail. It sits upon a 2660mm long wheelbase and shares much of its running gear with the superseded Camry. The new model will, of course, sit on the company’s new modular TNGA architecture.

The version tested here tips the scales at 1590kg with fluids, and can carry 560kg worth of people or gear, and is registered to tow a braked trailer weighing under 1500kg. Toyota’s engineers are generally a little conservative with their claims.

Entry front-drive models come with a smaller 107kW 2.0-litre petrol engine, but the AWD versions get a larger (2AR-FE) 2.5-litre petrol four that stands apart from some rivals with smaller, turbocharged engines that have greater low-down torque.

Its outputs are a claimed 132kW of power at 6000rpm and 233Nm of torque at 4100rpm, more than sufficient for this type of vehicle. It’s a simple but proven engine that needs revs to feel muscular, but which never feels stressed. Inspiring? No. Effective? Absolutely.

Toyota claims combined-cycle fuel use of 8.5 litres per 100km, though we averaged a little over 9L/100km. On the plus side, you can use cheap 91RON petrol, and services are a reasonable $180 a pop, albeit at short six-monthly/10,000km intervals.

Matched to the engine is a six-speed traditional automatic transmission with torque converter, sequential shifting and a manual-override mode. Just like the engine, it’s inoffensive, though many will prefer its stepped shifts to the CVTs in some rivals, and its linearity compared to the double-clutch units in the Tucson and VW Tiguan.

Toyota calls its on-demand AWD system ‘Dynamic Torque Control’. It uses information from speed, steering angle and yaw-rate sensors to control torque transfer between the front and rear wheels.

In good conditions it defaults to FWD. In this way, it’s the same as all rivals bar the permanent, symmetrical AWD Subaru Forester, also due for replacement.

Dynamically speaking, the RAV4 isn’t the nimble, slick experience that the TNGA-based new-generation C-HR and Camry are, nor does it match the Australia-tuned Hyundai Tucson for ride smoothness or Ford Escape for cornering agility.

The springs/dampers iron out sharp hits like road joins or ungraded gravel at high speeds, but give a slightly ‘busy’ feel in urban conditions. Handling against lateral loads is merely adequate, ditto the lifeless steering.

Thankfully, the 17-inch steel wheels (you’ll regret kerb rash less than you would with the GLX’s alloys, in a bad-case scenario) have chunky 225/65 rubber to isolate noise and vibrations to an acceptable degree.

The suspension set-up comprises a tried-and-true MacPherson strut front and trailing-arm double wishbone arrangement at the rear.

In essence, the RAV4’s dynamics and performance are classic Toyota – inoffensive. We expect the next generation to inject some dynamic life into the mix, as the new TNGA-based Corolla and Camry do. But for many this is not relevant.

From an ownership perspective, the RAV4 gets Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty, which is now inferior to that offered by many competitors. Those service intervals are also short, as mentioned earlier, but they’re cheap, and Toyota has more dealerships than any other carmaker in Australia.

At the end of the day, the MY18 RAV4 GX AWD is a classic example of the outgoing Toyota brand. ‘New’ Toyota is all about injecting some driving nous and stylistic adventurousness into the mix, as the next-generation RAV4 shows. That car’s styling has polarised tremendously.

By contrast, the car driven here just steadily ticks boxes, offering good value-for-money, bulletproof reliability that’s been proven over its life cycle, good customer care, acceptable cabin space and ergonomics, and adequate performance and dynamics.

If you’re a fleet buyer, or a private customer who wants something trouble-free that’ll be easy to sell a few years down the track, then go have a look. You need not stretch to the $4000 more expensive RAV4 GXL any more, given the extra features. Be aware that the likes of Mitsubishi and Nissan offer great deals, and drive a bargain.

The RAV4 just represents unexciting but reliable motoring. We’d point you towards the Honda CR-V VTi-S AWD as a class-leader around this price point, but there’s no doubt the outgoing RAV4 represents good value and shouldn’t give you any problems.