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What's Hot
Rear seat space, lively engine.
What's Not
Suspension and steering out-of-touch. Refinement issues.
Good looks, plus wagon versatility, without carrying the cost or weight penalty of AWD.
Kez Casey | May, 16 2013 | 11 Comments


Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $34,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km | tested: 9.4 l/100km



There is a shake-up going on in the medium SUV segment.

A brace of new and improved models - like the new Outlander, CR-V, CX-5 and Forester - are making the choice harder for buyers, and there are now more 2WD models on offer as a less-expensive option.

Toyota hasn’t been asleep. It’s thrown its hat into the ring with an all-new RAV4 with sharp new lines, and offers a diesel option for the first time.

City dwellers however may find that the 2.0 litre petrol-powered model better suits their needs than the diesel. And also that front-wheel-drive should do the job, and with a CVT auto for convenience when commuting.

So this is the model we tested - the RAV4 GXL 2.0 litre front-wheel-drive automatic. It certainly ticks plenty of boxes for the family buyer, and in mid-spec GXL guise adds some worthwhile features.

We couldn’t help but wonder however if Toyota has done enough with the new model to fend off the improved challengers in a segment it helped create.



Quality: This interior is streets ahead of the previous model. While it’s a bit over-designed - there are a lot of elements and surfaces at work - it looks fresh and new and inviting.

The devil is in the detail however. On test we found the bronze-hued plastic sections showed up scratches, and there was a rattle from the centre vent that became a constant companion.

The padded lower-dash is a treat though. The controls are well weighted and have a quality feel, and, although it may not suit all tastes, the faux carbon fibre finishes add some variety.

Comfort: There’s space aplenty in the RAV4 cabin. There’s an open feel to the front seats with great head and elbow room, and while the seats aren’t especially shapely, they provide adequate support.

In the rear there’s enough room to stretch out. Yes, the sliding seat of the previous generation is gone, but in its place is a back seat that will happily accommodate three adults with a fair degree of comfort.

Equipment: Standard equipment includes proximity-key entry with push-button start, dusk-sensing headlights, auto wipers, dual-zone climate control, roof rails, cloth trim, cargo blind, rear-view camera, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Six-speaker audio with single CD, MP3 playback and AM/FM radio is controlled by steering wheel buttons, or the double DIN touchscreen head unit - the same unit as found across multiple Toyota vehicles.

It’s slow to respond, fiddly to use and often confusing - a genuine lowlight of the spec sheet.

Storage: Boot volume measures 577 litres with the standard space-saver spare tyre. Opt for the full-size spare (as seen here) and that drops to 506 litres due to a higher floor.

However, 60:40 rear seats fold flat and level for added versatility, but can’t be dropped from the cargo bay and lose the previous model’s fore/aft adjustment.

Each door features a bottle holder and front doors also get storage pockets. The centre console has a roomy lidded bin, plus cup holders (one of which is super-sized) and a tray beneath the USB slot, sized for an MP3 player or smartphone - if only it wasn’t so slippery.



Driveability: Front-wheel-drive variants of the new RAV4 are fitted with a 2.0 litre petrol engine, the same one as in the Corolla Ultima.

Outputs are 107kW at a lofty 6200rpm - meaning you’ll be wringing its neck to extract full power - and just 187Nm of torque, but at a more reasonable 3600rpm.

Surprisingly, in city driving this engine feels more lively than we expected. It’s no powerhouse, but pulls the 1540kg GXL away from standstill with ease, and feels brisk in amongst the traffic.

Loaded up however, it has to work harder at highway speeds and huffs and puffs a bit on longer hills. The CVT though will happily ‘kick down’ to keep the right ratio underfoot when under load.

Driven normally, the CVT transmission is a barely noticed accompanist. However, select ‘eco’ mode and things become quite a bit more sedate - it’s ideal for commuting (and will save money on fuel) but is a bit ‘doughy’ otherwise.

Sport mode sharpens things up, but then the throttle becomes annoyingly hair-trigger sensitive.

Refinement: While the CVT auto is smooth and fluent, the 2.0 litre engine can have its moments. It’s quiet enough when ticking along, but when pushed beyond 3500rpm it becomes noisy and a little coarse.

Also, on the open road, there’s a fair amount of tyre rumble and wind noise.

Suspension: More than anything, the ride of the RAV4 casts a question over how much local tuning went into the RAV4 before going on sale.

At low speeds the body pogos over speed-humps and though gutters, and at open-road speeds it thumps harshly over potholes and rough patches.

Steering scores a downvote too. The electric power steering system is out-of-step: on the road it’s slow, inconsistently weighted, and almost completely numb.

Its saving grace is that it offers effortless assistance at parking speeds - as long as you don’t outpace the electric assistance.

Braking: Four-wheel disc brakes with vented front rotors take care of stopping, and with 296mm front and 281mm rear discs, the RAV4 is easily able to pull up in a hurry.



ANCAP rating: Five stars.

Safety features: Standard features include seven airbags (dual front, side, head and driver’s knee) ABS brakes with brakeforce distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, three-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints for all seats, plus height-adjustable belts with pretensioners and load limiters for front seats.



Warranty: Three years/100,000km

Service costs: Toyota Service Advantage offers capped price servicing for the first three years or 60,000km of ownership. Each service is set at $170, every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first.



Honda CR-V VTi-S 4WD ($36,290) - Honda has combined a smooth drivetrain and a very neat interior, but while there’s space for a growing family, some may find the rear seat isn’t quite comfortable enough for lanky teens.

While slightly more expensive, the auto CR-V adds all-wheel-drive and a larger more powerful engine. (see CR-V reviews)

Mitsubishi Outlander LS 2WD ($34,990) - Thanks to a huge boost in interior presentation, the new Outlander is a much more pleasant place to be, and is more coherent inside than the RAV4.

Boot space is more compact but the Outlander’s 2.0 litre engine and CVT combo is more refined than the Toyota. (see Outlander reviews)

Ford Kuga Trend AWD ($36,290) - Ford’s new Kuga asks for a little more money, but backs it up with all-wheel-drive and a strong equipment list. The 1.6 litre turbo engine is a plus against its naturally aspirated Japanese.

Less pleasing is the unresponsive six-speed automatic, however the interior is well built and comfortable. (see Kuga reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.



Good looks and some handy rear seat space earn the RAV4 valuable points, so too the eager engine - better than we expected given the size of the RAV4.

But eyeball-to-eyeball with its new competition in the medium SUV segment, the RAV4 does struggle.

Refinement isn’t there, dash rattles had us wondering about build quality, and the clunky audio head unit is a pain.

The unsettled ride also feels at odds with Australian roads, and the thrashy engine at higher RPM doesn't help the experience.

Certainly, for resale, and solid family buying, the RAV4 is worth a close look. But we’d suggest there’s better buying in the segment at the moment: the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and new Ford Kuga coming immediately to mind.


Pricing (excludes on-roads)

2WD Petrol

  • GX manual $28,490 ($500 less than old model)
  • GXL manual $32,490 (-$1500)
  • GXL automatic $34,990

AWD Petrol

  • GX manual $31,990 ($0 difference)
  • GXL manual $35,490 (-$1500)
  • Cruiser manual $42,990 ($0 difference)

AWD Diesel

  • GX manual $35,490 (new model)
  • GXL manual $38,990 (new)
  • Cruiser manual $46,490 (new)

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