The Toyota RAV4 is on course to become Australia’s most popular SUV of 2020.
After finishing close behind the incumbent Mazda CX-5 in 2019, Toyota’s mid-sized sports utility vehicle had a clear lead in the country’s most fiercely contested segment, before its dominance increased during the coronavirus-affected April. It currently commands nearly a quarter of all mainstream medium-SUV sales.
The first petrol-electric RAV4 is contributing to a spike in hybrid sales, though has also created issues around supply and demand.
The range starts with a petrol variant, the GX, which is priced from $30,990. Or from $32,990 (before on-road costs) more realistically, as the lower price is for a manual-gearbox version only one per cent of buyers will choose, whereas the higher price brings a CVT auto.
With on-road costs added, you’re looking at about $37,000 (final price varies by state) – though at this time of year, keep a sharp eye out for those end-of-financial-year deals.
The GX’s equipment level is good for a base model. Among the inclusions are 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights, fog lights, parking sensors front and rear, rain-sensing wipers, and heated/folding electric side mirrors.
On the passive-safety side there are seven airbags including one for the driver’s knees. For active safety, there’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping aid, current-speed-limit notification, auto high-beam on/off, and blind spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring.
Infotainment includes navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.
The GX comes with key-ignition rather than the keyless start of other variants, and the petrol GX misses out on dual-zone climate control, whereas it’s standard on the GX Hybrid.
The RAV4’s cabin isn’t the most upmarket in the mainstream-medium-SUV class, yet it offers plenty of utilitarian appeal. There are great details, for example, in the rugged-looking, rubberised climate dials and dash storage shelves that are incised to provide better grip for items.
Hard plastics are common to lower areas of the cabin, but are softer for higher parts of the dash and doors. Unlike the Edge range-topper, there are no colour trim highlights to break up all the greys and blacks, so lighter-coloured headlining and pillars are welcome, as are the silver-plastic trim used on the doors, side-vent surrounds and centre console.
Buyers have to upgrade to the GXL if they want a more tactile steering wheel wrapped in leather. Fluffy RAV4-branded carpet mats add a touch of smartness, though these reside on the accessories list, so you'll need to negotiate them into your deal.
The positioning of the 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen takes the ‘tablet’ approach – standing upright out of the dash rather than being integrated. It’s probably best, then, that the screen size isn’t any bigger or there would be a danger of blocking some vision out of the windscreen.
The operating system is easy to use and responds faster than older Toyota touchscreens. Voice commands work well, too. Touchscreens with better graphics and resolution are found in plenty of rival vehicles, though.
There’s only one USB port in the GX, whereas other variants have five (two up front, three in the rear seat). The GX is also the only variant to miss out on wireless smartphone charging.
Practicality is as good as every other RAV4, of course. Sizeable door pockets take large drinks bottles and other items, generously sized dual cupholders sit ahead of a medium-size console cubby, the overhead console includes sunglasses storage, and there’s a large tray for smartphones.
Going camping? There are 12-volt sockets in the console cubby, rear of the centre console and in the boot.
An armrest and ventilation can’t always be taken for granted in base models, but the GX ticks those off. The wide armrest gives rear passengers a cupholder option in addition to the bottle holders integrated into the rear doors. A seatback pouch provides additional storage.
Those in the back – including adults – also get to enjoy ample space. Perhaps more importantly for parents sitting up front, this also means kids in child seats won’t be able to reach the back of their seats with their feet!
You can squeeze three child seats across the rear bench if necessary (dependent on child seat dimensions, of course), though a seven-seater vehicle may be a better bet – that’s the Kluger, if you want to stick with Toyota.
A larger SUV isn’t necessary for a bigger boot, however. The RAV4’s 580L luggage compartment can hold plenty of gear without the need for stowage accessories such as roof pods. (Which is helpful as the GX doesn’t come standard with roof rails.)
The rear seats split-fold (60-40) for an expanded and fully flat cargo area. There’s some side storage and a cargo blind, and while there’s no electric operation for the tailgate, it’s not that heavy.
The GX is the only RAV4 that can be ordered with an optional full-size spare wheel (a $300 upgrade), though this reduces luggage capacity to 542L and removes the dual-height floor available with the standard space-saver spare.
The GX is available with four different drivetrain configurations: petrol manual, petrol auto, hybrid 2WD (front-wheel drive) or hybrid electric AWD (all-wheel drive).
While the hybrids come with the biggest recommendation for the most effortless drivability and reduced fuel use, the 2.0-litre petrol has appeal beyond saving you some initial money over petrol-electric versions.
It’s a livelier engine than its power/torque outputs suggest – which at 127kW and 203Nm are modest – especially with the six-speed manual. The DIY shifter has a surprisingly pleasant action to it as you slot the lever between gears, and there’s even a rev-matching system that smooths out downshifts (and far more subtle auto-blips of the throttle than you get on some sports cars with this type of system, such as the Nissan 370Z).
However, the vague clutch makes getting underway tricky in first gear – with potential to stall the vehicle – and that alone is enough to confirm the majority of buyers are making the right decision going for the CVT auto.
It makes the RAV4 much easier to drive around town, while it has the traditional smoothness of a CVT, yet not making the traditionally annoying drone that can accompany this type of transmission. Acceleration is a bit more lethargic with the CVT, though.
Official fuel consumption is slightly better for the CVT, too: 6.5 litres per 100km compared with 6.8L/100km for the manual. The 2.0-litre can take regular unleaded.
At best that’s still a 2.0L/100km gap to the GX Hybrid (4.7–4.8L/100km official consumption), though our testing of various RAV4 models suggests the gap would be a bit wider in the real world.
If fuel economy is going to dictate your purchase decision for budgetary reasons, just remember to take into account that the Hybrid costs an extra $2500.
If towing is a consideration at all, you’ll want the electric AWD Hybrid (or the Edge with its own 2.5-litre petrol engine) that brings a 1500kg braked towing capacity. The 2WD hybrid is limited to just 480kg and the petrol 2WD is rated at 800kg.
Thanks to a suspension that adapts terrifically well to the variable road-surface quality regularly faced by Australian motorists, RAV4 occupants can travel in consistent comfort.
The impressive ride quality is consistent throughout the range, and arguably the biggest area of improvement over the previous RAV4. It’s hard to find any major fault with the SUV’s driving experience, whether it’s a shorter trip to drop the kids at school or heading out of the city for a weekend break.
Light, accurate steering and excellent all-round vision make the RAV4 effortless to manoeuvre around town, which in GX form is the lightest in the line-up at 1550kg.
The driver is also afforded excellent vision by the Toyota’s generous glass area, and of course the high-set seating. The front seats could offer a bit of extra side support, though they remain comfortable for longer journeys.
Minimal road noise and the standard all-speed adaptive cruise control also help make such trips less tiring, and the camera-based Road Sign Assist can help ensure drivers are keeping to the prevailing speed limit.
Reducing any stress on the ownership side is a five-year warranty and some of the lowest maintenance costs you’ll find in the medium-SUV segment. The GX costs just $1075 for five years of servicing – or $215 per visit.
While it’s worth stretching to the GX Hybrid if possible, medium-SUV buyers on the tightest of budgets will still find a strong package in the GX petrol with its combination of value, space and refined driving manners.