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Toyota may have produced some unexpected gems of late – namely the funky C-HR, and even the new Prius if you appreciate nimble handling – but its SUV mainstay, the RAV4, remains steadfastly linked to the former regime. Bound by a platform dating back over a decade, it represents the old guard of medium SUVs.
Yet there’s still plenty to like here. Relying on a seemingly insipid 107kW 2.0-litre four that drives the front wheels through a CVT transmission, the 1510kg RAV4 GXL is about as performance-primed as a chamomile tea. But, lazy step-off aside, you tend to forgive the RAV4’s anaemic on-paper acceleration because its engine tries super-hard to please.
Toyota’s 2.0-litre sounds sweeter than Mitsubishi’s, with a nifty manual mode that will keenly extend it to 6700rpm, and convincingly mimic a torque-converter auto’s engine braking when downshifting.
Left to its own devices, however, Toyota’s CVT inserts faux ratio steps, ‘shifting’ up at under six grand and killing the accelerative buzz a little. It also takes a tedious amount of time to build revs in Drive, meaning you’re better off leaving it in Sport mode (via a push button buried deep in the dash centre) and taking advantage of the RAV4 2.0’s fuel efficiency.
Drive the RAV4 hard and it rewards with surprising chassis poise. It steers crisply and precisely (via an arguably too-chubby wheel with inadequate reach adjustment), it turns in with enthusiasm, and you can feel its rear suspension ably assisting the front end to promote its handling balance. Compared to the Haval, the Toyota is paradise, but its ride is louder and more pattery than its Korean rivals.
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Despite a facelift in 2015 and several more updates last September (see sidebar), nothing can save the current RAV4’s ride quality, certainly not the GXL’s 18-inch wheels. It never settles, with abrupt reactions to bumps and a jostling demeanour that leaves passengers shaken, not stirred. The RAV4 has clearly been tuned for handling, but unlike models on Toyota’s new-gen platform, it doesn’t ride at the same time.
Our test GXL came with a $2500 Safety pack (bringing collision warning, AEB, active cruise, auto high-beam, auto wipers, lane-departure warning with steering assist, front parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert), which unlocks the option of a questionable dual-tone paint option ($1000) which includes black headlining.
Unfortunately, that last detail makes the RAV4’s ageing cabin feel oppressively dark. And while the GXL’s cloth front buckets are almost armchair-like for comfort, facing an expansive windscreen that offers a superb view, a too-high brake pedal skews the driving position. The front passenger, meanwhile, misses out on seat-height adjustment and has to contend with a needlessly protruding lip on the dashboard that proves a perpetual pain for anyone that’s seriously tall.
The Toyota’s rake-adjustable rear seat lacks the armchair feel of up front, despite quite a long cushion, because it’s mounted too close to the floor. Cranking the driver’s seat low unleashes an unimpeded view forward from behind, but rear toe room is marginal.
The RAV4’s strong air-con makes up for its lack of rear air vents, however, and you get four huge door grab handles. Pity the flimsy luggage cover guarding its vast 577-litre boot (when there’s no full-size spare) fails to dampen the continual drone from its tyres.
All of which leaves the Toyota down but not completely out. If you’re an undemanding driver, you could easily put up with the 2.0-litre’s performance, and providing you can tolerate its ride, there’s much
to commend the RAV4 GXL’s driveability. But glory in 2017 requires more than just competence.
Model: 2018 Toyota RAV4 GXL
Engine: 1987cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v
Max Power: 107kW @ 6200rpm
Max Torque: 187Nm @ 3600rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic
Fuel economy: 10.4L/100km (tested)
On sale: Now
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