YEARS ago, when my mother first declared she wanted a small SUV, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I suggested she bought a Toyota RAV4. And she did just that.

It was a MkI version from 1995 and it served her very well. The original RAV4 was well made, cheap, economical, safe, practical and, most importantly, a lot of fun.

She liked it so much she later bought a second-generation version and that was also cheap, economical, practical and safe. It wasn’t quite so much fun, but it was a decent car and she’s now on her third.

There’s also been a third generation, which mother ignored, largely because it was no longer available as a three-door. But it was a decent car and carried over the RAV4’s original ethos quite well.

Anyway, now there’s a fourth generation and it’s been around long enough to have been treated to a facelift.

That’s not all. The latest RAV4 is available with Toyota’s excellent hybrid system, it’s bigger, safer than ever before and, even with one of the conventional petrol or diesel engines, pretty economical.

The facelifted version is quite attractive too. The chiselled rear of the previous version has been softened up a bit, while the front has gone quite pointy and inherits some cues from the Prius.

The interior is also a nice place to be. The latest facelift has brought it a cleaner, more simplistic look but the legendary Toyota build quality is still evident and it’s still exceptionally comfortable.

Against some of its rivals, the interior does look a tad dated now, despite the nip and tuck, and although top models come loaded with all sorts of toys, it doesn’t have the futuristic feel of the Prius.

That won’t bother everyone, that said. And the afore-mentioned toys do make the RAV4 an appealing prospect. Trim levels start with Icon, which gets a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, DAB radio, 17-inch alloy wheels, hill-start assistance, cruise control, a reversing camera and dual-zone air-conditioning. At £27,450 it might not be cheap, but you do get a lot for your money.

Opt for a top of the range Ecxel model and you get a cascade of technology. A 3D-mapped sat nav, blind spot monitoring and autonomous braking are among the bits bundled in.

Toyota also offers the RAV4 with its five year/100,000 mile warranty and residuals and reliability are bound to be good.

So it’s still a very good car. But there is one thing that niggles me. The excitement and fun seems to have gone. None of the excitement has made its way down the family tree from the original.

In truth, it started ebbing away in the third generation RAV4. It doesn’t respond so well in the corners and it’s lost its character. The current RAV4 is a good, safe, secure and reliable car still but it’s lost its fizz.

There’s still no three-door option, gone is the perky petrol V6 engine and if you want a diesel with four-wheel-drive you’ll need to look elsewhere.

It’s as if the RAV4 has grown old gracefully. It’s lost its boyhood charm and blossomed into a respectable, decent member of society.

For some buyers, that will be music to their ears. The RAV4 does many things very well and that’s more than enough for most.

But will it suit my mum? Well, she’s no spring chicken, but she’s not exactly gone to seed. It’s not as if she sits back in a rocking chair of an evening sucking on a Werther’s Original, reading a book about flower arranging.

She might turn her nose up at the new RAV4 and, to be honest, I wouldn’t blame her. But thankfully, Toyota has also now launched the C-HR. And that funky small SUV brings back some of the magic of the original RAV4. I can see her liking that.

The funny thing is, if it was my choice, I would probably choose the RAV4. I like sensible, grown-up cars. I also quite like Werther’s Originals. But let’s not go there.

About Gareth Butterfield

Motoring and travel journalist Gareth Butterfield has a passion for writing reviews. Whether it be a biscuit or a Bugatti, 34-year-old Gareth will happily test it out and write about it. His job as a reporter for a large regional newspaper group has brought him plenty of opportunities to hone his skills and to produce articles for many titles and websites, mainly covering the Midlands. Over the years, Gareth has driven some of the most advanced and impressive cars in the world. As well as a few of the really rubbish ones.