While it is often the case that manufacturers refer to a specific vehicle as representing a “quantum leap” over its predecessor, Toyota certainly took this definition to the extreme when it debuted the fifth generation RAV4 earlier this year.
What is likely to be the precursor of today’s compact crossover, Toyota’s Recreational Activity Vehicle with four-wheel-drive has morphed from the comparatively tiny and cute Corolla-based vehicle in 1994 to a rather large, aggressively styled family pseudo off-roader.
As many of you might now, the RAV4 has, over the last three months, been part of our long term fleet where it has served as the ‘comfortable and stylish’ alternative to the brawny and rugged bi-turbo Ford Ranger Wildtrak it regularly swapped placed with amongst The Citizen Motoring’s editorial team.
In what is undoubtedly the biggest departure from any previous generation, the latest RAV4 is certainly a looker and much more imposing than the “smiley faced” four iterations that preceded it. Previewed by the FT-AC concept that bowed at the Los Angeles Auto Show two years ago, terms such as ‘bold’ ‘eye-catching’ and even ‘is this a Toyota?’ were frequently used to describe the looks of our Glacier White VX.
Like the Corolla Hatch, the RAV4’s break from Toyota’s conservative design mantra has resulted in what is arguably the most striking SUV in its class today, as elements such as the bold grille, angry LED Auto High Beam Assist headlights with integrated daytime running LEDs, concave bonnet, sharp lines and indeed most of the rear facia have been mildly toned down from the FT-AC.
In VX guise, the RAV4 rides as standard on 19-inch alloy wheels and together with the protruding black wheel arch cladding and silhouette, it rates as a watershed moment for Toyota’s iconic SUV whose new attire will not be branded as boring anytime soon.
Inside, and as a further nod to the Corolla with which it shares the TNGA platform, the RAV4’s interior is a breath of fresh air as it looks and feels modern – with a few foibles thrown in. As minimalistic and clean as the layout is, with a decidedly chunky feel to the switchgear, our tester’s combination of beige/ black with brown inlays certainly split opinions, in spite of it offering an airy feel to the traditional black.
It is a similar story in the build quality department where the cabin employs a mixture of soft touch plastics, premium leather and piano key black inserts, but with a cheap feel towards to the faux aluminium inserts on the doors and centre console.
Making up for this is the amount of space and comfort on offer as the heated front seats are confortable and offer ample support, while leg and headroom in the rear will leave little to complain about. Further counting in the second’s row favour are separate air vents for the dual-zone climate control, a pair of USB ports and a central armrest with dual cupholders.
Another stand out is the boot which, once the irksomely slow electric tailgate opens, measures 580-litres with the rear seats in place, although the claimed 733-litres with the 60/40 split rear folded down appears rather conservative even with the alloy spare located underneath the boot board.
Being the range-topping model, the VX’s spec sheet make for interesting reading with items on offer such as one-touch electric windows all around, a six-speaker sound system, a multi-function steering wheel and wireless smartphone charger, electrically adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and memory function, electric mirrors and rain sense wipers.
On the safety front, little has been left to chance with the VX boasting Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, Driver Attention Alert, Lane Keeping Assist, Vehicle Stability Control, Hill Assist Control, Pre-Crash with Automatic Braking, seven airbags, ABS with EBD and ABS, front and rear parking sensors, Trailer Sway Control and a 360 degree camera system plus Downhill Assist Control.
As specced to maximum as it is, the biggest disappointment is the infotainment system which, despite being easy to use, looks dated with rather old fashioned graphics and without essential features such as satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Technophiles meanwhile will scoff at the fact that less than 300 items are readable from a USB device.
Where matters really go awry, however, is in the drivetrain department where the normally aspirated 2.5-litre petrol engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox were extensively panned by the editorial team for feeling underpowered and with mismatched ratios.
Known as Dynamic Force and delivering 152kW/243Nm, the all-new four-pot simply doesn’t like to be pushed and feels sluggish when you want to get a move on. As Motoring Editor Jaco van der Merwe mentioned in his midterm report last month, the motor becomes vocal at above 4 000 rpm and just doesn’t feel as if it has the outputs claimed on paper.
Not helping matters is that gearbox. Regardless whether you opt for Eco or Normal modes, the box easily gets confused by sudden throttle inputs, which becomes worse when you select Sport mode as the revs climb with the resulting noise being that of an engine strained mercilessly. Admittedly, dawdling around town, none of this is present or would likely bother most drivers, but it still is rather annoying.
Towards the end of its tenure, the RAV4 had a chance to stretch its legs when I drove it down to the Eastern Cape, where it also served as the impromptu wedding car for my brother’s wedding. Despite the thicker air at the coast and being comfortable on the long trek, overtakes still had to be planned carefully due to the lack of low down torque.
As disappointing yet bizarrely frugal as the big displacement petrol is, the new Toyota RAV4 otherwise impressed throughout its three month stay. Comfortable, refined, very well kitted-out and feeling planted thanks to that all-wheel-drive system with the added benefit of three modes: Normal, Mud and Sand, Snow, and Rock and Dirt and torque vectoring, it is a welcome return to form. If the drivetrain is of little concern, this is more than a match for arch rival the Volkswagen Tiguan, as SA’s top-selling compact SUV.
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