The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

Old SUV favourite becomes sensible, suave and savvy

Look no further than the new Toyota RAV4 for insights into modern motoring.

First launched as a genuine little off-roader 25 years ago, it's got bigger and less agile. That happens to the best of us as we get older.

There's been strong interest in the just-released variants, with the hero models hybrids that use similar technology used successfully in the compact and green Prius.

Hybrid queues are currently at least six months long. Toyota's decision to adopt combination of electric and petrol power showcases current buyers tastes and changing attitudes toward alternative technology.

For those not convinced, or unwilling to wait, there's the pure petrol-powered models that start from just over $30,000 for the manual versions.

Only those short of cash are likely to opt for the stick shifter, with the vast majority of Australians opting for autos.

Our experience was the range-topping two-drive version - designed for those who have no intention of getting off the bitumen and want the best luxury and technology on offer.

The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

VALUE

Sitting atop the front-wheel drive line-up means the Cruiser gets some nice kit, among the highlights are leather-accented seats, sunroof, nine-speaker JBL stereo linked to an eight-inch touchscreen display, satnav, as well as 19-inch alloys with an 18-inch temporary spare.

Other items which bring the RAV4 onto shopping lists are wireless charging for enabled phones, three front and two rear USB sockets, keyless entry and push-button start.

Coming before the end of the year are smartphone mirroring applications Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (they will need to be retrofitted for free). When users can plug their phones in for simpler access to music, podcasts and maps, the functionality and infotainment appeal will take a giant leap forward.

The driver has a seven-inch display (up from 4.2 in GX and GXL models) with digital tachometer or power meter.

With a five-year warranty and service costs that are $210 for the first five years, it's one of the least expensive SUVs to keep on the road. Services are required annually or every 15,000km.

The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

SAFETY

Here's where Toyota has really stamped its authority, and range-wide the "Safety Sense” suite is standard.

The RAV4 can apply the brakes automatically if a collision is imminent (even sensitive to pedestrians and cyclists), radar cruise control to maintain a pre-set distance from vehicles in front, keep the vehicle within the lane if the driver strays and also recognises speed limits that are displayed in the driver's instruments.

One of the additional benefits of the Cruiser models is the reversing camera has a panoramic view monitor.

The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

COMFORT

Sitting on a longer wheelbase than the previous model, the latest RAV has improved internal space. Electric adjustment of the driver's seat, dual zone aircon along with vents in the back seal the deal as a well-appointed family chariot.

There's ample room for the growing family and it's among the more spacious medium-size SUVs available.

Boot space is now a massive 580 litres, dwarfing the best-selling CX-5 at 442 and only just shy of a Skoda Octavia wagon, which is 1015mm long. That was good enough for a couple of surf boards and two kids still in the back using the 60-40 split-fold seats.

The cabin design is simple and edgy, although some of the style and ambience is true Toyota.

Safe and careful, the Japanese marque never strays to far from the tried and tested. Despite the new appearance and features some aspects like the infotainment appearance feel old...something which will be addressed by the smartphone mirroring apps later this year.

The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

DRIVING

Reliable and honest, the four-cylinder petrol engine is a fine example of Toyota sensible.

Those who don't ask too much of its sprinting abilities will find the four-potter responsive and fine for daily duties. Extend the right ankle with too much vigour and the continuously variable transmission struggles to meet expectations - a common issue with CVTs.

The trade-off is excellent fuel consumption figures, and an average of 7.2 litres for every 100km with a combination of real-world highway and urban driving is a reasonable return.

Hybrid models offer extra kick under acceleration and even better consumption numbers. The extra investment required for the alternative drivetrain is $2500.

As well as the longer wheelbase, the RAV4 has been widened at the front and rear for improved stability. Throw it into a roundabout or a bend and it grips well with limited body roll.

The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

HEAD SAYS

I'm never getting off the bitumen so spending extra coin on an all-wheel drive is wasted coin. This is big enough for the family and outstanding safety credentials.

HEART SAYS

Modern looks and a vastly improved cabin make it lovable, and the Toyota reputation for longevity and reliability is second to none.

The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

ALTERNATIVES

MAZDA CX-5 MAXX SPORT, $38,740 D/A

The segment leader is equally safe, well-appointed and also boasts strong driving dynamics. Also powered by a 2.0-litre 4-cyl, but it's less powerful at 115kW/200Nm.

SUBARU FORESTER 2.5I-L, $41,457 D/A

Only available in all-wheel drive, the Forester was recently overhauled and also has impressive safety software and space. Powered by a 2.5-litre 4-cyl generating 136kW/239Nm.

VERDICT

Toyota a reputation built on reliability and practicality, but the RAV4 throws modern appeal into the mix. Those wanting some extra zip would be better serviced by the hybrid, both in performance and fuel consumption, but if space, some luxuries and functionality are at the top of your list then the Cruiser is tough to beat.

The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.
The Toyota RAV4 in Cruiser specification.

AT A GLANCE

TOYOTA RAV4 2WD CRUISER

PRICE $43,000 drive-away (reasonable)

WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 yrs/u'ltd km (good); $1050 for 5 yrs/75,000km (bargain)

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 127kW/203Nm (sensible)

SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, active cruise, lane keeping, sensors, rear camera and cross traffic alert (excellent)

THIRST 6.5L/100km (7.2L on test, good))

SPACE Space saver (not great, but common)

BOOT 580L, rear seats have 60-40 split (spacious)


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