Gareth Butterfield enjoys a week in the new Toyota Rav4
LOOKING back over the evolution of this, Toyota’s very latest Rav4, is a bit like taking a wander through the company’s highs and lows.
Back in the 1990s, when the first Rav4 came out, the firm was all about making bold and exciting vehicles which competed well with the bold and exciting vehicles offered up by rivals at the time.
The SUV was still a niche product at the time, but the Rav4 broke the mould to some extent and acheived what many had tried and failed to do – to be a truly fun yet rugged car.
As the years wore on and the Rav4 evolved it gradually lost its way. It was always reliable, frugal and practical, but it became increasingly dull and that seemed to follow the Toyota mantra to the letter.
But this new Rav4 has been launched at a time when Toyota is undoubtedly in a newer, bolder, more exciting phase. Its fabulous CH-R, which reminds many of us of the ethos of the original Rav4, has clearly influenced this newcomer and, thankfully, it’s not just a facelift this time. This new Rav4 is totally new. A back-to-the-drawing-board reboot. And it shows.
From some angles, it’s not exactly pretty. But from other angles it’s actually quite handsome. I think it’s very masculine, but that sort of look tends to have a wide appeal. It really does look good in the flesh, trust me.
Looking straight on at its gaping grill and comparatively small headlights, it looks oddly-proportioned – but look at it from a front three-quarter angle and it looks great. It looks big, tough and imposing. That’s not the traditional Rav4 way, but it’s a refreshing change.
And although the new one looks bigger, it’s actually shorter overall. Its wheelbase is longer, which creates the visual trick, but It’s not as long as its predecessor. That’s a clever bit of packaging.
There is a 4WD version and it’ll sell well, but it’s not mandatory. More importantly, though, this time the whole range is powered by a hybrid system.
There’s a new 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine with no turbo, predictably with a CVT gearbox, and a very healthy 215bhp. Or 221bhp for the electrically-boosted 4WD version.
On the road the CVT gearbox does its best to numb any excitement, with revs flailing wildly if you press on, but the new Rav4 does have an excellent ride and it handles very neatly. It’s not quite the hot-hatch on stilts the first version almost was, but it’s not dull by any stretch.
Inside the new Rav4 there’s plenty of room, thanks to that longer wheelbase and the improvements in Toyota’s interior design are really evident here. The cockpit is a nice place to sit, with a logical layout and a very good touch-screen infotainment system, with a digital instrument panel also available if you ask nicely.
In fact, you can spec the new Rav4 up to be very clever indeed, with a vast array of driver aids and comfort features. And that brings me onto costs. Shop around and you will probably find a base model for under £30,000.
Yes, that’s a world away from the original car, which was relatively spartan, but it does neatly undercut a few key rivals, spec for spec.
And, don’t forget, there are savings to be had in running costs. Not only is there Toyota’s legendary reliability to help you sleep at night, but the hybrid-only focus of this car will see you right for an easy 50mpg and, although emissions glide over the 100g/km mark by a couple of notches, tax will be cheap for an SUV capable of towing a 1,650kg braked trailer – if you pick the 4WD version.
So if you don’t mind a hybrid, and you can live with the looks, this is a Rav4 that brings Toyota back to fine form. It’s a long way away from the marvellous first effort, but significantly better than the last.