We moved to Australia from the UK back in 2013, and needed to find transport pretty quickly with work commitments and house-hunting duties giving us a three-week window of opportunity.
We left a Mercedes C220 and a Ford Focus 1.8 behind, and were looking to buy one mid-sized SUV powerful enough to tow, it had to be reliable with decent performance, and have reasonable standard equipment including a sunroof and climate control air-con. The shortlist came down to a four or five year-old Subaru Outback, Honda CR-V, Ford Mondeo Wagon or Toyota RAV4 on a budget of about $20K.
The Subaru and Ford were the first to be eliminated, but it was hard to split the Honda and Toyota, having owned and been happy with both brands before. So a snoozy but economical four-speed 2.4-litre Honda or Toyota?
Then we found a mint-condition 2008 RAV4 V6 SX, one owner, high-ish mileage but a full main dealer service history, for $23K at a suburban Toyota main dealer who was willing to do a deal. A short test drive was enough to convince us that this was the car for us.
The first thing that strikes you about a V6 RAV4 is the performance; it’s genuinely startling the first time you drive it. A mumsy school-run SUV with genuine hot-hatch performance, the 201kW 2GR-FE V6 surges forward in any gear at any speed, the gearbox allowing manual selection of gears if required. Acceleration from a standstill (0–100km/h in just over seven seconds) is such that if the road is at all wet or greasy, it’s too easy to spin all four wheels!
Under full acceleration, the 3.5-litre V6 has a characterful growl and it’s far too tempting to drive it like a total hoon. I got more demerit points during my ownership of the RAV4 than I've ever had in my life. Mind you, we live in Victoria, but that’s another story. I just had to learn to drive with a gentle right foot…
This performance comes at a bit of a cost in other areas, especially fuel economy. It was only when we replaced the car that I realised how poor the fuel economy had been. The V6 had an upgraded five-speed auto gearbox over the 2.4’s four-speed, but even with modest driving, 60 litres of regular unleaded would only get me 350km or so.
Then there’s the handling. Everyday cornering is totally manageable and predictable, but if you’re tempted to press on, the electric power steering system quickly robs you of any feedback and the suspension pitches and rolls in the corners. Expected, of course, for an SUV, but not up to the performance of the engine. The ride is pretty good on the whole, but can get unsettled and jittery on rough surfaces, with road noise and tyre roar being easily transmitted into the cabin.
Servicing was due every six months, and once out of Toyota’s fixed-price servicing, it got very expensive very quickly, so logbook servicing at a local garage was a cheaper option. The car was so reliable that in five years of ownership and 75,000km, beyond routine maintenance we only had to replace the pads and rotors once and shell out for a new set of tyres all round.
I remember reading a contemporary review that said as Toyota SUV drivers were a conservative bunch, the XA30 RAV4 eschewed gimmicks in favour of the simple, robust and proven. So no tech, just hardwearing shiny plastics. The SX was a mid-range special and came with dual-zone climate (really efficient), six-CD stacker and Bluetooth phone connection (no music streaming though) and an electric sunroof. That was pretty much it, but massive rear seat and boot space and one-lever drop rear seats were appreciated standard fixtures.
Other minuses not previously mentioned? The boot-mounted spare and side-opening tailgate were an absolute pain, meaning that in confined spaces you couldn’t open the boot, and the hard-plastic interior quickly developed rattles and squeaks.
Almost five years later and the odo’ at the 210,000km mark, it was time to move on. I’m now really enjoying a lightly used Ford Escape Titanium 2.0-litre with Tech Pack.
Overall, the RAV4 was a good car to own: totally reliable, cheap to service (if not to run), quick and incredibly practical. It’s one of that really rare breed – a Toyota with genuine character and charisma.