‘From the ground, up’, ‘new’, ‘all-new’, ‘completely redesigned’, etc. These are terms you’ll hear often in the automotive industry.
In the case of this fifth generation Toyota RAV4, I would have to tick the ‘all of the above’ box. Aside from the chalk-and-cheese visual differences, all the mechanical underpinnings replace those that had been around on previous RAV4 iterations for thirteen years.
The new RAV4 debuted in March 2018 at the New York auto show. It is based on the front-wheel-drive Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K) platform, which is also shared with the eighth generation Camry, the current Prius and CH-R, along with the seventh generation Lexus ES.
I recently spent a week with ‘YXR’, a front wheel-drive 2.5-litre Hybrid, presented in second-tier Design trim and finished in vivid ‘Cyan Splash’. More a drenching, perhaps.
With hints of the bold Toyota C-HR crossover and sporting a more sculpted, chiselled look that could well have derived from a Lexus drawing board, the new Toyota RAV4 SUV is certainly more distinctive than its predecessor.
The car has better proportions than it used to – it has a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) but is shorter overall by 11mm. Not only is it as far removed from being ‘librarian’ as could possibly be, it now squares up to strong rivals in the family SUV market such as the VW Tiguan, Renault Kadjar, Nissan X-Trail and Peugeot 5008.
The inside story
The first impression you get when climbing into the new RAV4 is one of improved quality. Less daring than the outside, the interior is laid out simply and sensibly and you get swathes of soft plastics across the dashboard and doors, and plenty of aluminium-effect trims on the steering wheel, door handles, around the air vents and centre console.
There are a few hard, more durable plastics on the grab handles, around the glovebox and below the central armrest, but on the whole the RAV4’s cabin feels pretty plush and suitably solid. The chunky and intuitive HVAC knobs are easy to use too, but oddly the heated seat switches are tucked away under the dashboard almost as an afterthought.
Every Toyota RAV4 comes with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard. The screen is bright and relatively easy to read in direct sunlight, but the menu screens need more than a cursory glance.
Navigation is standard in all but entry-level Icon models. It’s relatively easy to input an address and add a waypoint, but the maps themselves aren’t particularly clear.
Unfortunately, you can’t mirror your phone’s navigation apps because no model in the new RAV4 range facilitates Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring – at least for now. You can still use the standard Bluetooth connection to play music from your phone through the car’s stereo, though.
The Toyota wins for practicality, with a powered tailgate standard on the Design trim and above, revealing a sizeable 580-litre boot. A stretched interior also means adults will be able to travel more comfortably in the back. Toyota hasn’t squeezed a superfluous third row into the new RAV4 either as there is no seven-seat option in the new line-up. Sensible, actually.
Its boot has expanded by 79 litres to 580, with 1,690 litres of luggage area available when row two is folded down. That should be plenty of space for families and those figures compare well with the 497 litres available in the Honda CR-V hybrid. However, non-hybrid models like the Skoda Kodiaq and SEAT Tarraco offer more space and the option of seven seats for similar money.
Trim grades and equipment
Icon, Design, Dynamic and Excel trim levels are available, with even the entry-level Icon model getting 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, the eight-inch infotainment display, rear-view camera and DAB radio. Design adds 18-inch wheels, keyless entry, a powered tailgate, front parking sensors and sat nav.
Based on the Design trim, Dynamic models give the RAV4 a sporty look with its black wheels, a black headlining and heated front sports seats. Convenience is also boosted with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic warnings, folding door mirrors and a powered driver’s seat.
The range-topping Excel adds a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, headlight washers and windscreen wiper de-icers.
Engine and transmission
For the UK market, Toyota offers just the one powertrain – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with an electric motor. The combination offers 215hp in 2WD models, or 219hp in AWD versions. Because this car is hybrid only, no manual gearbox is available. Instead, there’s a CVT automatic with CO2 emissions ranging from 102 to 105g/km, which should certainly get the attention of business car drivers.
The RAV4 is a regular, self-charging hybrid, not one of those plug-in-and-charge-up PHEVs. While it’s great for convenience, you can’t go very far on pure electric power. Even with the EV (electric-only) mode selected, you’ll not get further than a few hundred metres before the hybrid system kicks the petrol engine back in to take over propulsion duties.
To be honest, you’re better off leaving the RAV4 in its ‘normal’ driving mode and let the system decide when’s best to deploy the electric motor and petrol engine. This generally means electric power alone in stop-start traffic and a combination of both power sources at higher speeds.
On the road
Being the nature of high-riding SUVs, the elevated driving position of the Toyota RAV4 affords a good view out over traffic ahead and hedgerows to the side. The A-pillars are relatively thin and the side windows are nice and large so it’s surprisingly easy to manoeuvre through city traffic.
The steering isn’t particularly heavy and every model gets rear parking sensors and a reversing camera to help make parking relatively stress-free. Pick a Design model or above and you also get front parking sensors.
The RAV4 does a good job smoothing out bumps and potholes around town and exhibits little lean on faster country roads. The direct steering makes it easy to accurately carve from one corner to another. All-in-all, the Toyota RAV4 drives pretty well for such an upright family SUV.
Settle into an inter-city motorway journey and you’ll find things stay calm and relaxed. The large angular door mirrors produce a slight whistle at speed depending on wind direction, but you won’t hear much noise from the goings on underneath.
During the week’s test, I drove ‘YXR’ a total of 506 miles over a variety of M, A and B roads. Most of that distance was under cruise control, my extensive use of which is always subject to local conditions and speed limits.
Toyota claims the hybrid combination of petrol and electric power lets the RAV4 return up to 51mpg. However, during the week I achieved a non-too-shabby 52mpg, with no deliberate attempt at frugality.
When crash-tested by Euro NCAP early in 2019, the new Toyota RAV4 was awarded a full five stars for safety, scoring 93 per cent for adult occupants and 87 per cent for child occupants.
It comes with plenty of driver assistance systems as standard, too, such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and road-sign recognition. You also get automatic emergency braking to help prevent avoidable collisions with other cars, pedestrians and even cyclists.
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 offers considerably more substance than the outgoing model. It’s more robust, more efficient, promises more off-road capability and has a chassis agile enough to satisfy most drivers.
Overall, the new RAV4 Hybrid is a pretty good family sized SUV and makes a worthy and compelling case for itself.