WHAT IS IT?
The fifth-generation of the world’s best-selling SUV (811,000 in 2017), which is now offered in hybrid form for the first time. This all-new RAV4 adopts Toyota’s TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) engineering philosophy and brings an aggressive, truck-like appearance. It also provides further proof of the rise-and-rise of SUVs, as the RAV4 is now America’s most popular passenger vehicle outside of pick-ups.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Six months before the local launch in April, Toyota offered us the chance to test the RAV4 in California. Australian spec has yet to be finalised, but we learned enough to know rival Mazda, Nissan, Hyundai and Mitsubishi et al models are soon to confront a formidable challenger.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
SUZUKI and Daihatsu might have beaten Toyota to be first in Australia with an SUV crossover, but since its 1994 launch, Toyota’s RAV4 took ownership of the idea. The SUV revolution redefined the market and now, 300,000 plus RAV4s later, Toyota brings a hybrid powertrain to the party as the “standout” version of the new fifth-generation model.
Toyota is migrating almost its entire line-up to four architectures within the TNGA philosophy – the exceptions are the 86 and new Supra, both jointly developed models. The RAV4 is the latest to switch; using the so-called K-platform that also underpins the Camry, the next-generation Kluger, and Sienna MPV (that’s not for Australia).
Wheel time in the new RAV4 instantly confirms the benefits to handling, comfort and refinement of the TNGA philosophy of a lower centre of gravity, lower engine for a lower bonnet, wider tracks and quicker steering.
Yet this latest version takes this further still. Instead of the previous single RAV4 personality, chief engineer Yoshikazu Saeki developed the new model in three distinct streams; conventional on-road (essentially replacing the old RAV4), sports on-road, and off-road oriented.
Different chassis tunes and equipment levels across the front- and all-wheel-drive variants produce subtle, if noticeable, differences in driving character, most notably with the new Adventure version that aims to increase the RAV4s off-road capability.
Toyota is playing coy with what variants Australians can expect, and how much emphasis it intends to place on the three pillars philosophy, except to reveal that the three-grade Australian range will include front drive 2.0-litre petrol, front- or all-wheel drive 2.5-litre hybrid, and the AWD 2.5-litre petrol.
The RAV4's styling takes a monumental leap forward … if you like the truck influence of that robust front-end. The look is more refined around the tapered rear end, however, and in between, the body’s many creases and protrusions don’t quite match the ugly complication of the Lexus NX.
The RAV4 gains optional 19-in wheels, new two-tone paint schemes (apparently not for Australia) and door mounted, pedestal-style, side mirrors to greatly improve outward visibility. Styling varies by trim, with the American Limited displaying a more elegant grille and headlight design and the Adventure a more masculine look punctuated by wheel arch and lower body cladding.
Developed using the Camry as an engineering basis with newly revised front struts, the RAV4 gets what Toyota calls a trailing wishbone, multi-link rear suspension in place of the Camry’s double wishbones.
A quick, linear steering ratio delivers 2.7 turns lock-to-lock while the electric motor is now mounted on the rack, rather than the steering column, for more precision. An Aisin eight-speed gearbox is standard with the 2.5-litre petrol engines. The base 2.0-litre gets either a six-speed manual or the CVT that’s shared with the hybrid. A sports chassis tune is available along with hill-descent control, while AWD models get three multi-terrain modes. Based on the American models we drove, there’s an almost infinite choice of specifications and equipment. Toyota Australia’s product planners face a nightmare.
Predictably, given the array of TNGA chassis technology, Toyota claims the new RAV4 both handles better on the road and is more capable off-road, especially in the Adventure model grade, that is expected to come to Australia.
After experiencing the RAV4 Hybrid on a modest off-road course, as well as on some twisty mountain two-lanes, we won’t dispute the claim. More relevant are the RAV4’s road manners, which seriously improve over the old model. Slack steering is replaced by a system that's more direct and responsive, especially in the first movements off-centre. A vague feeling of aloofness is still there, but this is a RAV4 to be enjoyed with its increased grip and dramatically diminished understeer. However, the hybrid is slightly heavier on its feet than the 2.5-litre petrol, and its brake feel is less convincing. Tyre noise is sensitive to road surface changes, but the ride quality, while difficult to accurately assess on California’s smooth roads, appears to deliver real chassis refinement and comfort.
The powertrain is less cultured. The hybrid powertrain offers 155kW/221Nm (slightly more than the 152kW 2.5-litre petrol) and the performance is appropriate to the class (as usual, no acceleration numbers from Toyota). Efficiency of the hybrid is a highlight with a combined cycle figure of 6.0L/100km economy. However, some coarseness at high revs, where the engine spends considerable time if you are climbing, accelerating or passing another vehicle, detracts from the hybrid’s refinement. Aside from the strains of the hybrid, theRAV4 is extremely quiet and its structure solid. The more polished 2.5 petrol achieves 8.1L/100km.
Every modern car is as much about electronics as dynamics, especially when it’s a family-SUV. The 2019 RAV4 features Toyota's Entune 3.0 software viewed through a 7.0-inch colour display. An 8.0-inch screen with satellite radio and navigation is optional, as is an 800-watt JBL audio system, Qi wireless charging and up to five USB ports. Even the most basic RAV4 includes Wi-Fi connectivity. Sorry Apple users, Toyota Australia is still not happy with the CarPlay system and is testing alternatives, including Android Auto.
If it seems that Toyota has a RAV4 for everyone, that is certainly the intention. With its impressive array of mechanical and technological advances, the new RAV4 makes a convincing case that this is the most accomplished Toyota SUV yet.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
It is too early for a definitive verdict on Toyota’s crucially important RAV4, but if you approve of the forceful appearance, know that the new model is a huge improvement across the board and delivers a broader range of driving characters and appeal, with strong safety credentials.
PLUS: Space; handling; convincing interior quality; safety; visibility; polarising styling
MINUS: Raucous hybrid powertrain; low rear seat cushion; polarising styling
Model: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Engine: 2487cc four, dohc, 16v, hybrid
Max power: 155kW @ 5700rpm
Max torque: 221Nm @ 3600-5200rpm
Transmission: CVT auto
0-100km/h: 10.0 sec (est)
Fuel consumption: 6.0L/100km
Price: $38,000 (est.)
On sale: April 2019
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