I considered handing in my resignation over this review. Manual is always better is one of motoring journalism's cornerstones, you see, but the latest 2019 Toyota RAV4 isn't a better car with a manual.
There's nothing wrong with it, but there's only one reason to buy a three-pedal RAV4 GX, and it isn't driver involvement. It's because you couldn't stretch to the CVT.
But before we get into the transmission politics, the basics. The new RAV4 is a chunkier proposition than those before it, although it's actually shorter (5mm) and barely wider (10mm) than the car it replaces. It's underpinned by the mid-size Toyota New Global Architecture 'K' platform, debuted on the Camry, and features hybrid power across the range.
Priced from $30,640 before on-road costs, even the cheapest GX comes with semi-autonomous safety gear like autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
It rides on 17-inch alloy wheels (no steelies here), and is powered by a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine making 127kW and 203Nm. It's offered with a CVT for $2000 extra, but our tester was a six-speed manual, as previously mentioned.
The entire powertrain is inoffensive in the extreme. The clutch is light and well placed, but it has a vague take-up point that can be hard to ascertain, and the shift itself isn't a particularly exciting tactile experience.
It's light and effortless to shuffle from gear-to-gear with the exception of the third-to-fourth shift, which was noticeably notchier than any other. Even with a softly-softly approach, shifting carefully and slowly, it sometimes felt reticent to engage fourth. Our tester only had 1200km on the clock, so more mileage might help smooth things out.
At least there's some neat technology on board, in the form of Toyota's iMT rev-matching system. It's activated with a button ahead of the gearstick, and gently blips the throttle on downshifts to replicate a heel-and-toe. It delivers on its promise, smoothing things out for those who can't rev-match, but we left it switched off.
Heel-and-toeing is half the fun of driving a manual, after all.
Unless you're determined to drive a car with three pedals for the sake of it, the CVT is a better bet. The gearbox in a Honda Civic Type R is a scalpel, and the shifter in a D-Max is a trusty axe. The manual in the RAV4 is the cutlery you eat with every night. Serviceable but unexciting.
It's mated to a similarly vanilla engine. The on-paper outputs don't scream firecracker, but in the real world... It isn't a firecracker. Sorry to disappoint.
Toyota has done a great job suppressing noise and vibrations, though. It's almost silent at a cruise, and revs smoothly out towards redline when you put your foot down. Performance is perfectly acceptable with two passengers on board, thanks in part to sensibly short gearing in first, second and third, although downshifting is advisable for overtakes at highway speed.
We saw 8.6L/100km through a mix of highway and city driving, up on Toyota's claim of 6.8L/100km. In a win for your wallet, the RAV4 drinks the cheapest 91RON petrol Australian forecourts have to offer.
There's also a 2.5-litre hybrid powertrain on offer with a claimed fuel economy of 4.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but it comes at a $2500 impost over the GX with a 2.0-litre and CVT. If you have the extra money, the hybrid is a quiet, efficient powertrain with a surprising amount of punch, but the 2.0-litre petrol doesn't disgrace itself in comparison.
Like the rest of the RAV4 range, the GX is a doddle to drive around town. The steering is light, visibility excellent, and the ride is comfortable on the base 17-inch alloy wheels. It's also insulated from the outside world, with minimal engine noise and tyre roar sneaking in to ruin the serenity.
Moving away from the oily bits, there are a few nods to the fact the GX is the cheapest RAV4. It has conventional analogue dials flanking a small colour display instead of the flashier digital set-up in higher-grade cars, and there's no dual-zone climate control – only single-zone air-conditioning without a temperature readout.
You lose the neatly designed mode dial offered on CVT models, too, replaced with three generic buttons ahead of the gear shifter, and the rubberised door grabs have been subbed for regular plastic. Boo. Finally, the dash-topping 8.0-inch touchscreen misses out on factory navigation – and it won't get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto until later this year.
Navigation isn't standard on the GXL, but stepping up in the range does get you keyless entry, a leather steering wheel, dual-zone air conditioning with rear vents, wireless phone charging, and rear tinted windows, all nice additions to the car.
Leather seats are reserved for higher-grade cars, along with niceties like seat heating and a panoramic sunroof.
Otherwise, the cabin has the same excellent foundations as the wider RAV4 range. The driving position is comfortable, with enough adjustment to accommodate lanky drivers, and there are myriad storage options. Along with a deep central bin and spacious glovebox, there are big cupholders, a phone storage space in front of the gear shifter, and spacious door pockets.
You also get a small, open pocket cut into the dashboard to the right-hand side of the steering wheel, and a wider one in front of the passenger.
The materials are surprisingly nice, given its base-model billing. The dash is soft-touch and, although it's finished in plastic, the steering wheel is nice enough to hold. Finishing the climate controls with little rubberised tyres is also a nice idea, but they'll need rotating at each service in case they start wearing unevenly. Not really.
That's in keeping with the generally spacious vibe on offer in the cabin. Rear legroom is good for average-sized adults, even behind taller drivers and passengers, and there's lots of elbow room for front seat passengers thanks to a wide centre console. It feels more grown-up, more substantial than the old RAV4.
Servicing happens every 15,000km or 12 months, up from 10,000km and six months. The first five services are each priced at $210, and Toyota's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is up with the industry standard.
The new RAV4 is an excellent package in essentially any spec. Even the base model is handsome, refined and spacious, with a much nicer cabin than before. But unless you absolutely can't find $2000 for the CVT, it's hard to recommend the GX manual. The RAV is a much more cohesive car with a CVT.
If you need me, I'll be in a bunker hiding from my peers. I presume the punishment for breaking the manual is always better rule is death?
2019 Toyota RAV4 review (7 minutes)