The all-new RAV4 is here. We pitch the top-spec petrol Edge against the fresh, limited-edition Volkswagen Tiguan 132TSI R-Line.
With the choice of 11 variants of a big-selling nameplate in its hugely popular segment, the arrival of the all-new 2019 Toyota RAV4 is cause for considerable excitement.
A fair chunk of it is the reviewers’ mad rush to see how arguably the Launch of the Year fares in local trim – five different variants would have flown through the CarAdvice garage in the first month of release – and, further, how one RAV4 or another might fare against logical medium-SUV rivals. The options are bamboozling.
The RAV4 Edge, at $47,140 list, fits the bill for our first twin test nicely: its high-spec petrol power and AWD conventional enough to represent an honest yardstick against many segment competitors; its flagship status and want-for-little equipment list a best – if not very good – foot forward.
It just so happens, perhaps not coincidentally, that a new, limited-edition Volkswagen Tiguan 132TSI R-Line Edition has just arrived locally. It essentially takes the hugely popular R-Line makeover normally reserved for the pricier 162TSI Tiguan and reboots it in lower-spec 132TSI (132kW) trim at $46,990 list.
For powertrain format, potential performance, modest off-roading focus and bells and whistles count, the German SUV appears to line up the RAV4 Edge very nicely and closely indeed.
Both get lightly remodelled sports styling, 19-inch wheels and full LED lighting with self-levelling headlights outside, but from here each goes about its pitch for upmarket appeal with different feature sets.
Inside, the Edge features fully electric, heated/cooled front seats and two-row seat trim in synthetic leather-like SofTex, while the R-Line gets more rudimentary mechanically adjustable pews finished in cloth and microfibre.
Each gets exclusive features in different areas. For instance, the Tiguan gets electric folding mirrors, three-zone climate control (with row-two controls), dynamic headlight assistance, Apple/Android phone mirroring, and 360-degree sensors, while the RAV4 fits auto high-beam, a sunroof, ambient cabin lighting, inductive phone charging, and a suite of very cool 360-degree camera features.
They do line up, though, with adaptive cruise control and powered tailgates.
Nor are they equals in safety sets. The Toyota, for its part, fits speed sign recognition, audible hazard warnings, and daylight pedestrian and cyclist detection, while the Volkswagen has low-speed, semi-autonomous stop-go traffic jam assist and – should you really need it – parking assistance.
Both SUVs feature AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert systems and seven-airbag surety, and each carries a five-star ANCAP rating.
Clearly, neither is skimping on the goodies count, though deciding on a preferred features suite really requires some forensic detective work tempered by personal preferences.
Design and Interiors
Speaking of personal tastes, the markedly different approach to exterior design – boxy, truck-like façade of the Japanese versus the restrained and suavely sporty German – will polarise potential buyers as much, if not more so, as the relative hair-splitting of features. Being drawn to one look over the other will bring formidable magnetism.
They are equally and distinctively different on the inside. The Tiguan’s lighter, airier cabin design is neat, if almost apologetically underplayed in colour and texture choice, yet conspicuously spruced up in specific areas such as the racy, flat-ish-bottom sports wheel, the alloy pedal set and the whizz-bang, fully configurable ‘gen-two’ Active Info Display digital driver’s screen which, at 10.25 inches, has been downsized from the first iteration.
And its appearance is either pleasantly minimal or a confusing mess depending on which theme you choose. It is neatly twinned, though, by an equally crisp Discover-spec 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that offers proprietary sat-nav as well as Apple and Android smartphone mirroring, but annoyingly doesn’t fit DAB+ radio.
If there’s an area that lets the team down, it’s the quite shapeless front seats that, with their make-do trim and lack of fine adjustment, don’t do their ‘comfort’ name justice, and look like they’ve been lifted from another Volkswagen half the price.
By stark contrast, the RAV4’s is darker, richer, more cosseting, has more sense of celebration by way of nicely integrated burnt orange highlights – the nifty storage trays, the stitching – and what are hands-down the comfier, somewhat supportive and more upmarket seating. That supposedly hard-wearing Softex, an Edge variant exclusive, really is a remarkably supple leather substitute.
The centre stack robs a bit of Lexus mojo in look and format, and there are some great little details, such as the rubber-ringed HVAC dials, though it does have some premium touches found in the Volkswagen, such as the Tiguan’s frameless rear-view mirror or flocked door bins (to stop objects rattling around noisily). Both temper the doldrums of hard and shiny plastics with soft surfaces along the key touchpoints, though the Toyota material is just a little more plush where it counts.
But the RAV4’s driver’s instrumentation, which is a more conventional (7.0-inch) half-digital/half-analogue arrangement, and the ungainly floating 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, really do look a bit old hat in design and format for an all-new 2019 vehicle.
No, Toyota’s infotainment system isn’t the slickest out there, but plenty of owners swear by the like-it-lump-it Toyota App Link format, it fits proprietary navigation, you get inductive charging, and the JBL nine-speaker audio sounds particularly rich and clear.
Our test car doesn’t fit smartphone mirroring, though plug-and-play is coming for your Apple or Android device later this year, and owners of older ‘pre-update’ RAV4s will be offered smartphone mirroring as retroactive fitment during normal servicing.
The Tiguan offers the superior second-row accommodation, if mostly for the proper rear passenger third-zone climate-control adjustment (including temperature controls) set into the rear of the centre console, and because the low window line affords small kids a decent view of the outside world to stave off the “Are we there yet?” moments of boredom.
That said, both SUVs have excellent head, shoulder and knee room, offer handy seatback rake adjustment, and genuine long-haul comfort for four adults.
Connectivity and power-wise, the Tiguan gets two USB ports up front and a charging port in row two, plus 12V outlets in both rows and the boot. Meanwhile, the RAV4 runs a single USB port in front, two in the console bin, and two under the rear air-con controls (a total of five) and utilises 12V outlets up front and in the luggage area.
Academically, the Tiguan’s 615L boot space supplants the RAV4, which is quoted as either 580L with its two-level adjustable floor in the lowest position or, as tested here with a full-sized temporary spare wheel in its high-floor location, just 542L (the Tiguan also fits a full-size spare).
But practicably, the load space is similar – in fact, the RAV4’s boot length seems deeper and better suited to longer objects. Drop the Toyota’s 60:40 and the Volkswagen’s 40:20:40 split-fold second-row seating and, again, overall volume is comparable and highly useable.
On the Road
As variants favouring feature count over powertrain prowess, neither SUV fits 160kW-plus engines found in their respective range flagships, but nor are they caught short simply making do with bare minimums.
The Edge is the sole petrol-only RAV4 to feature the 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder (against 2.0 litres in lower grades) good for 152kW and 243Nm, and the only eight-speed conventional automatic in the range (against a slew of CVTs), and only non-hybrid version with all-wheel drive (the other petrols are front-drivers). And right now, if you want the big-daddy petrol powertrain, complete with selectable off-roading traction programs, there’s no lower-grade RAV4 that fits such a combination.
The 132kW 2.0-litre engine might be the low-power option of the Tiguan’s choice of two tunes, but its turbo-fed 320Nm looks properly fulsome against its Japanese rival. It also plies peak torque in a low 1500–3940rpm band against the Toyota’s high 4000–5000rpm ‘sweet spot’, promising more punch and response when called to arms, and channelled to terra firma via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and permanent all-wheel drive.
Interestingly, it’s the RAV4 with more instantaneous and progressive response off the mark and on the move. At least in default Normal drive modes. And at least if you don’t bury the right foot. For a brisk getaway, for merging or exiting side streets into traffic, the Tiguan is your guy, if only once you tap the transmission controller to activate Sport and wake up the Volkswagen powertrain’s slightly too-lazy response.
The RAV4 also activates Sport with a tap of the transmission controller heightening eagerness further, though it's no rocket ship and makes a coarse ruckus once you ask for everything it’s got. The Toyota does feel larger, chunkier and a little more ponderous to drive, which is only partly to do with a slightly heftier kerb weight (by around 40kg or so).
It’s not quite as light on its tyres or to steer as the Tiguan, though it imparts an innate sense of solidity. The Toyota feels more robust and substantial on the road.
Fuel consumption does tend to fluctuate more with turbo engines than with natural aspiration, though on test their thirsts were surprisingly close: low sixes on the motorways, low 10s in traffic, against official combined claims of 7.3L (RAV4) and 7.5L (Tiguan). Worth consideration is that the Volkswagen requires a minimum 95RON octane fuel, while the Toyota is perfectly happy on crappy 91RON.
Over the same crook urban roads and lumpy motorways, the RAV4 has the more impressive ride compliance and ability to cushion impacts from the cabin. Part of that impressive isolation is down to deft damper tuning; part of it is surely the narrower 235mm, tall-sidewall tyres compared with the relatively broad 255mm rubber loaded onto the Tiguan.
Both SUVs are quite quiet at a cruise, though each could do with a touch more sound deadening to suppress ambient road and tyre noise.
While the Tiguan, with its large expanse of glass, is a little better for outward visibility – particularly for smaller kids seated in the back – neither is especially tricky to park and both have quite good parking-assistance systems.
The Volkswagen gets a huge, clear reversing camera augmented with 360-degree sensing, while the Toyota has rear and overhead camera angles, plus an extremely cool and novel function offering a panning camera view that surveys the perimeter of the car. Turning circles – 11m for RAV4, 11.5m for Tiguan – aren’t remarkable, though don’t realistically impact maneuverability.
“(Ding-dong), you’re now entering a school zone.” If there's a real annoyance with the RAV4 experience, it's incessant audible warnings. Yes, the occasional 'tip' can be helpful and enhance the safety of passage to one degree or another, but some of the Toyota's many systems are simply too cumbersome to activate or deactivate, usually after decrypting some submenu label, at the user's want...like outside of school hours or on weekends.
Further, the Toyota’s speed sign recognition system, like so many of its type on the market, performed accurately about 90 per cent of the time, which is 10 per cent not good enough.
Though the pair was treated to some quick cursory soft-roading, the jury remains out on how effectively their fitted off-road systems and their various modes operate. But, for the record, the Edge is the only RAV4 to get dynamic torque vectoring tied to 4x4-specific Normal, Mud/Sand and Rock/Dirt drive-mode calibrations.
For its part, the Tiguan fits myriad active wheel-control systems governed on a beaten path by Snow, Off Road and Off Road Individual choices, while both SUVs fit handy hill descent control.
Both SUVs are covered by five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranties and require servicing every 12-month or 15,000km interval, whichever comes first, under capped-price schedules.
However, the Toyota is, at just $210 per year for the first four years, vastly more affordable to service.
The intervallic cost for the Tiguan starts at $435 (first and fifth services) and tops out at $1070 (fourth service), at a total of $3263 for five years or an average of $652.60 per year.
Deciding which is the finer medium SUV proves tricky, not merely because they’re both fine machines, but because each steals the march in quite different areas. For powertrain performance, confident active safety and techy window dressing, it’s all the Tiguan’s way.
For all-round family-friendly comfort, be it in-cabin or on the road, and more favourable running costs, the RAV4 is your guy.
Ultimately, a few too many niggling foibles and annoyances in the active safety and convenience systems knock the RAV4 down a peg against the Tiguan’s more well-rounded consistency.
That’s not a lot of tangible margin on which to hang a victory, but that’s the measure of how close these two are. In fact, in the ratings shake-out, they're much closer in averaged numeric score – 8.2 for Tiguan, 8.1 for RAV4 – than the half-point overall ratings suggest.
Worth consideration, too, is that the Tiguan 132TSI R-Line is, at the time of writing, only scheduled for a limited 1000-unit release – so, before long, there mightn’t be a choice to make at all.