Toyota might claim to have created the small SUV with the RAV4, but now it’s not so small, nor is it alone, entering into a segment filled with medium SUVs that have a yen for adventure.
Updates to the RAV4 in 2016 have seen a fresh new face and LED lighting added to a fairly familiar package, with available safety added as well.
While all wheel drive might be the first thing that comes to mind when considering an SUV, most will spend their lives in urban scenarios, and as a result sales of two-wheel drive SUVs are taking off, leading us to spend some time with the entry-level, front-wheel drive RAV4 GX
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $30,590 (plus on-roads) $34,390 as tested
Engine/trans: 107kW/187Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.0 l/100km | Tested: 9.2 l/100km
With a broad spread of models to choose from, spanning petrol and diesel, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive and a range of three specifications, the RAV4 family appeals to a wide cross section of buyers.
In entry-level GX form, the front-wheel drive 2.0-litre petrol model is available with a six-speed manual, or the more popular CVT automatic tested here. In an attempt to bring advanced safety to the masses, Toyota has also added an optional Advanced Tech Pack with autonomous braking, lane keep assist, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control and more.
Pricing may not be as cheap as some rivals with the auto and Advanced Tech Pack added in, but the RAV4 GX still represents decent value, and while it might wear a somewhat unassuming exterior, the RAV4 still holds its own in an increasingly crowded segment.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim, air conditioning, reclining rear seat, rear cargo blind, urethane steering wheel rim, multi-function trip computer with 4.1-inch display, LED headlights, 17-inch steel wheels
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch touchscreen, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth phone and audio, USB and Aux inputs, AM/FM radio, single CD player
- Options Fitted: Advanced Technology Pack including DAB+ digital radio, front fog lights, satellite navigation automatic high beam and wipers, front parking sensors, plus upgraded safety features (see Safety) $3800
- Cargo Volume: 577 litres
Simplicity is the name of the game inside the RAV4 with an open, logical layout to storage compartments and controls, but as the starting point for the range the GX variant isn’t overly glamorous.
Seats are trimmed is good old-fashioned fabric, and the steering wheel and gear knob are urethane - but the steering wheel does still feature controls for the audio system and other functions.
The interior is generally a comfy place to be, with front seats sized correctly to hold smaller drivers in place while spacous enough to not pinch at the sides of larger-framed folk. Padding is a little on the firm side, but on long hauls comfort is maintained.
Rear seat occupants sit nice and high, and can adjust the backrest angle for tailored comfort. The RAV4 is also free from a rising window line, giving clear visibility to passengers through the side glass.
With an open shelf in front of the passenger, a stowage tray under the centre stack and two differently-designed cup holders (one of which is shaped to accept a mug handle) the RAV4 does a good job at being as practical as possible.
At the rear, a low loading lip and surprisingly low floor makes filling the boot a breeze, with cargo hooks, tie-down points, and storage for the cargo blind all pre-installed, though the boot sides are scratch-prone hard plastics and not carpet-lined like some competitors.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 107kW/187Nm 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, Independent wishbone rear
- Brakes: 296mm ventilated front discs, 281mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
- Towing Capacity: 800kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Picking a RAV4 with two wheel drive, instead of the available all wheel drive system, means a slightly smaller 2.0-litre engine and a CVT automatic, compared with a 2.5-litre engine and six-speed auto for all-paw models.
That doesn’t seem to hobble the RAV4’s performance too badly though. The RAV4 GX is by no means a traffic light tear-away, but with 107kW and 187Nm it’s good enough to get the job done in and around town.
Unfortunately the CVT automatic isn’t the smartest of the current bunch of modern CVTs, tending to drone, lacking the kind of faux-gearchange smarts of some rivals, and prone to be very slow to react to a kickdown request.
The CVT’s constant small variations in ratio may be essential to keeping fuel consumption figures low, but in Victoria’s tightly policed 40km/h and 50km/h speed zones the RAV4 is all too difficult to keep at a consistent speed.
Give it a run on the freeway, and apart from the reluctant kickdown, the RAV4 settles into a smooth and fairly quiet cruise, with low engine revs and decent levels of refinement.
Ride quality isn’t one of the RAV4’s strong suits, with a bouncy ride that takes time to settle over bumps and dips, and pogo-like suspension that will keep occupants bobbing about in the cabin.
Similarly, the RAV4 isn’t really a fine-handler, pushing into very early oversteer, while might might be a safe option but it isn’t the most confidence inspiring - particularly for buyers that might be new to the SUV experience.
That’s despite Toyota overhauling the suspension, stiffening up the rear end, and adding in extra sound insulation. While a back-to-back drive with the previous model might highlight those differences, Toyota appears to still have more work to do.
Looking to Toyota’s Advanced Tech Pack, though it may be pricey at $3800 it certainly brings some very welcome features that might be considered essential for family or first car buyers, including lane departure warning, distance-keeping cruise control, and autonomous emergency braking.
Better still, the way the systems operate - in a very well integrated and mostly unobtrusive way - deserves a pat on the back, though arguably a massive corporation like Toyota should be looking to offer the technology as standard, not an extra cost option.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the RAV4 scored 34.56 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2016.
Safety Features: Standard features include seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, and driver’s knee), front force-limiting seatbelt pretensioners, ABS brakes with
The safety features added with the Advanced Tech Pack extend to forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, distance-keeping cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beam and wipers, driver fatigue detection and front parking sensors.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: The Toyota Service Advantage program offers capped price servicing with intervals set at six months/10,000km up to 36 months or 60,000km (whichever comes first). Each service is set at $180 for eligible customers with some terms, conditions, and exclusions applied.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Currently at the end of its model run, the Mazda CX-5 is now entering into runout meaning a sharp deal should be possible. The CX-5 also happens to be a very nice drive, with handling amongst the very best in class and a recent update introduced a previously optional safety pack as standard equipment while lowering the price.
Slightly more compact looking, but just as big on the inside, the Kia Sportage delivers a high-quality interior, strong equipment list, and excellent ride and handling tuned for Australian roads.
Perhaps a little old now, the Subaru Forester still delivers well sorted dynamics, a spacious interior, and the best CVT automatic around - it’s also available solely with all wheel drive, unlike most of its competitors, which will hold some appeal for more outdoorsy types.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Perhaps revealing a little of Toyota’s complacency, the RAV4 isn’t quite the happiest on-road contender in its class - Yes, the company has made moves to improve the RAV4, and yes it is slightly better for it, but perhaps isn’t as impressive as some of its competitors still.
Those shortcomings are offset by a roomy interior, that’s simple to use, spacious to travel in, and comfortable on long haul trips. Even the boot, though hardly remarkable, is considerate enough to put utility first with its flat floor and low load lip.
Not every RAV4 will roll off the showroom floor with the Advanced Technology Pack either, but for safety-conscious buyers it represents a worthy safety-net of extra features that put high-end systems within the reach of everyday buyers, and it’s promising to see this kind of tech reaching more and more mass market vehicles.
Though it may not sit at the top of the class, the RAV4 still strikes a decent balance of comfort and utility in an appealling package and ought to prove a decent and reliable family companion.
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