Few 2019 models have improved as much as the new RAV4. In fact, Marie Kondo would be proud at just how much of the old RAV4 was thrown out with the advent of this new fifth-generation.
As with every one of the company’s latest monocoques, it adopts the Toyota New Global Architecture, offering a longer, wider and stronger platform with a lowered powertrain and passenger cell (bringing packaging benefits and an improved centre of gravity), yet slightly greater ground clearance. Substantially larger in almost every dimension, the unashamedly blocky RAV4 is now a properly spacious five-seater, offering easy entry/egress, an excellent driving position, great seats and generous storage.
As for active safety, Toyota joins the class-leading CX-5 in democratising driver-assist technologies like AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, auto high-beam, pedestrian/cyclist detection, and lane-keep assist. And even the base GX brings front parking sensors, rear air vents, reclining rear backrests with a centre armrest, digital radio and speed-sign recognition. All from $31K, redefining medium-SUV value.
The RAV4 also zigs and zags like no previous version could. There’s a direct feel and connection to its steering, without being too sharp or heavy, for precise handling. Better still, the jittery ride and road noise intrusion have been greatly reduced – especially in the loping GX on 17-inch alloys – partly due to the more rigid body and redesigned suspension.
Where the RAV4 really strives to push mainstream medium SUV segment boundaries is in the advent of electrification availability, ditching the problematic turbo-diesel option.
Based on the petrol-electric hybrid system first seen here in the 2001 Prius, there’s nothing revolutionary about Toyota’s decades-old tech. However, it’s only a $2500 option on all variants except the outdoorsy Edge, meaning Aussies can now drive a family-sized petrol-electric SUV from under $36K.
The 131kW/221Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol and 88kW/202Nm electric motor combine to provide a thrusty peak output of 160kW on front-drive models, while the optional (for $3000) E-Four version’s secondary, rear-axle-mounted 40kW/121Nm electric motor delivers 163kW all-up, as well as an efficient and lightweight all-wheel-drive layout.
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Yet even without the help of either hybrid system, the regular FWD RAV4 also presents a compelling case. Its freshly minted 127kW/203Nm 2.0-litre four-pot is a vocal bit of kit when you’re up it, but its deep-lunged, revvy nature and Toyota’s new CVT result in a palpably more muscular (and economical) entry-level engine option, further magnifying the RAV4’s egalitarianism.
Against expectations, the weakest powertrain is the 152kW/243Nm 2.5-litre atmo four in the aforementioned Edge. It employs a conventional eight-speed auto to drive its mechanical AWD system, which sounds like the best combination in theory, but the heavier Edge has neither the mid-range brawn of the hybrid nor the sparkling vigour of its 2.0-litre sibling. Considering its $48K pricing, we’re struggling to see where the Edge’s value lies. At least the plastic orange detailing and Matchbox car-style alloys stand out.
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Not so good is the ESC calibration on all RAV4s. Though ultimately effective, the electronic nannies interfere with a heavy hand. The low-friction Bridgestone Alenza tyres (on everything except the Edge) aren’t ideal for low-grip surfaces, yet they pull up with exemplary haste in the dry. They’re susceptible to coarse-surface road roar, however, which almost drowns out the wind noise coming from the hefty door mirrors.
While far from perfect, the new RAV4 represents a stunning comeback. Exceptional packaging, fluent dynamics, impressive safety and, most laudably, the widespread availability of hybrid tech ensures that few cars can touch the Toyota for value.
The reborn RAV4’s journey ends here. But what a turn-around.
THE JUDGES’ COTY SCORECARD
Type: 5-door SUV, 5 seats
Boot capacity: 580L
Weight: 1515 – 1745kg
Layout: Front-engine (east-west), FWD/AWD
Engines: 1987cc 4cyl (127kW/203Nm); 2487cc 4cyl (152kW/243Nm); 2487cc 4cyl (131kW/221Nm); + front electric motor (88kW/202Nm); + rear electric motor (40kW/121Nm);
Transmissions: 6-speed manual; CVT automatic; e-CVT automatic; 8-speed automatic
Tyres: 225/65R17 – 235/55R19
ADR81 fuel consumption: 4.7 – 7.3L/100km
CO2 emissions: 135 – 199g/km
Crash rating: 5 stars (ANCAP)
Prices: $30,990 – $47,490