Toyota RAV 4 GX AWD 2.5L Automatic Australia test

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Road tested by Blake James.
Darwin, Australia.

AUSTRALIA’S TOP END MEETS A JAPANESE SOFT ROADER.

Base price: AUD $34,490 Price as tested: AUD $35,865 before on road costs (metallic paint, 17” alloy wheels with a full size alloy spare).

Standard features: Air conditioning, rear park distance control, cruise control, halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, power windows, Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity with steering wheel mounted controls, split folding rear seats, axel lock, permanent all wheel drive, hill decent control.

Pros: Plush and quiet ride, funky interior and a massive boot.
Cons: Tyre noise is intrusive at motorway speeds on coarse chip surfaces, handling not class leading.

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I’ve been to Darwin, possibly Australia’s hottest and most dangerous city to test the new Toyota RAV 4. When I arrived I expected to see massive sand dunes, breathtaking lakes and stretches of desert for miles. Unfortunately Darwin is much like any other city, just smaller, and very hot. You cannot swim because you will be stung or killed (I’m not joking) by box jellyfish, or eaten by a crocodile. Evidently, my dream landscape was many hours from Darwin, and so with not allot of time to spare, the Toyota spent time in suburbia. This I suspect will be the home for most RAV 4 owners.

Toyota have brought the world what is essentially a typical mid sized Toyota that is raised a bit higher in the air. This of course, is a good thing. It certainly feels more car like than the last RAV 4. You sit lower down and it rolls less in corners. And while you can take it off road, you will be restricted by the cars ground clearance. Let’s be honest, serious four wheel drive adventure junkies are going to get a Toyota LandCruiser or a RangeRover etc.

It is still pretty tough, and had no problems gliding over gravel surfaces, and climbing steep ascents. In fact thanks to its axle locking function you can get yourself out of some pretty tricky situations. Hill decent control means you can make it safely down a very steep decline while taking your feet away from the pedals. The RAV 4 gave me a strange invincible sensation that I put to work around town. Gutters, round-a-bouts, and motorway embankments during traffic jams were all a breeze. There is something nice about driving over things you’re not supposed to.

All this mucking about is achieved in refinement and comfort thanks to the soft suspension and good sound insulation. Well done Toyota.

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Engine and transmission
If I’m honest, this combination was not particularly inspiring. The 2.5 litre dual VVT-i engine produces 132kW at 6000 RPM and 233Nm of torque at 4100 RPM. That sounds good until you look at the cars weight. 1580kg. Not bad for a 4WD, but allot for such a small power output. As a result 0-100km/h takes around 9.5 seconds. The engine does at least like to rev, although you don’t really have another option in order to make speedy progress. There is a distinct lack of torque low down and the gearbox isn’t able to hide it. In fact, if anything the gearbox doesn’t do the engine any favors. It is slow to change up or down, and often jerky.

The engine makes a reasonable attempt at growling as the revs rise, but the slow pace and gearbox manages to spoil the fun. The sport button on the dash increases the weight of the steering by 20%, and gives a crisper throttle response. However, the change was very subtle. While I’m complaining, the throttle is very imprecise and often the gearbox will change down a gear too soon or not quickly enough. It is very hard to judge where to place your foot.

That said this is not a sports car. So who cares except me? When driven sedately, it is smooth and swift enough.

Unfortunately, because the engine likes to rev, I didn’t manage better than 10.5L/100km. That included 80% motorway driving at 120km/h. While that figure is possibly expected, it’s by no means class leading. You would have to assume that the diesel, that I unfortunately did not get to test, would be the wiser choice.

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Practicality
Here the RAV 4 begins to claw back brownie points. I’m not sure how they could have made it any more practical. I’ll start at the front. You have plenty of space even for 6ft 2 people like me. The seats adjust up, down, forward and back, as well as the backrest and headrest being infinitely adjustable. There are four cup holders, one of which is large enough to hold a massive 1 litre bottle of water. Another in the centre console has been lined in a nice rubbery material and can be used as a mobile phone holder – perfect for using a Smartphone for navigation.

The glove box and centre arm rest are also well sized. All the controls are within easy reach and can be used with gloves easily. Anyone who has driven a Japanese car before will become accustomed very quickly.

Moving rearward, there is heaps of legroom for kids or even adults. Visibility is also good in the rear so no danger of claustrophobia setting in. Each rear seat has an anchor point for children’s cradles. What’s more the rear seats can be reclined or folded forward to reveal a flat floor and a massive boot. Toyota also include a retractable cover so you can disguise your valuable belongings from prying eyes. Very practical.

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Ride and Handling
While it is obvious this car is not designed to go around a race track, it is worth mentioning that steering feels numb and disconnected. Push it hard through a corner, and you will feel the car tilt more than your average sedan. Rightly so, the suspension has been tuned for comfort. So, the RAV 4 glides over small imperfections, eats speed humps and relishes gravel driveways. Only larger pot holes and ruts in the road upset progress. Otherwise it’s all very hushed, all very refined and smooth. The only intrusion comes on high speed coarse chip roads. These are common in the Australian outback, by the way.

I don’t want to sound pessimistic, because overall it is a pleasant driving experience, particularly around town. The brakes are also pretty good. I performed a very hard stop from 100km/h and the car automatically activates all four blinkers to warn other drivers that you’ve suddenly decided you need to stop very, very quickly.

I did manage to test the hill decent control and it works really well. Turn it on via a button on the dash, take your foot of the brake and point the car where you want it to go. The RAV 4’s four wheel drive system and myriad of onboard computers take care of the rest. The locking axel function also got me out of some mud that I had accidentally parked the car in.

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Design
I’m not a designer, so I’m going with polarizing to sum up the looks. This is Toyota’s latest design language and you either love it or hate it. From side on and the rear three quarter view I quite liked it. I also like the LED lights at the front, which are making an appearance in most new cars these days. Thank you Audi. They’re supposed to be for safety, but sometimes when I see a car with really beautiful LED lights, I end up staring at them and momentarily forgetting where I’m going.

Inside, the funky interior is unusual and I thought it was kind of cool. Funky vodka bar might be stretching it, but the faux leather on the dash, the round switchgear and the blue illumination at night felt slightly star wars. The fake carbon fiber inserts were not quite so tasteful, but better than fake wood. It kind of reminded me of the Lexus 200h.

Verdict
It’s practical, has a higher driving position that your average wagon, and it is well screwed together. While it doesn’t relish being thrown around a corner, it does ride very smoothly, and very quietly. There are sharper steering SUVs in this class, but for many the Toyota badge counts for allot. Never have there been so many options for SUV buyers. For families particularly, you should at least have the Toyota RAV 4 on your test drive list.

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