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Car review: Toyota RAV4

Spacious, comfortable and safe: it’s easy to see why the Toyota RAV4 is a hit with families, writes car reviewer Tim Barnes-Clay.

Toyota RAV4 exterior

The 1994 Geneva Motor Show signalled the arrival of a new kind of vehicle, one that would revolutionise the world motor market.

At the time few people could have predicted the effect the Toyota RAV4 would make.

The initial recreational activity vehicle with 4-wheel drive (RAV4) opened up a new sector for compact, manoeuvrable sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

Toyota had modest aspirations for its new car, expecting worldwide sales of only around 4,500 models.

Production volumes doubled

When 8,000 orders swamped the Japanese automaker in the first four weeks alone, production volumes had to be doubled.

To begin with, it was available only as a three-door with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Measuring just 3.96 metres long - little more than today’s Toyota Yaris - it was unlike anything else at the time.

The UK public had an appetite for the new kid on the block, however, and in 1995 - RAV4’s first full year on sale – almost 6,800 were sold, quickly establishing it as the fourth best-selling car in Toyota’s 14-strong British line-up.

A fun car

More than 20 years on, and the RAV4 is almost unrecognisable.

That’s because the compact SUV marketplace has evolved and matured in line with customers' changing requirements and preferences.

Generally speaking, two decades ago, this type of car was regarded as a substitute to sporty hatchbacks and coupés.

Today its popularity is among families wanting a more fun car over multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) and estates.

Focus on family use

Over the years, Toyota has worked hard to keep the model firmly at the heart of its segment, without forfeiting the entertaining-to-drive quality that defined the original RAV4.

When it came to creating the latest model, Toyota talked to existing RAV4 customers around the globe to understand what was best about their car.

They named its manoeuvrability, ease of access, lofty view of the road ahead, ingenious packaging, versatility and reassuring capability, even when the going gets tough.

As a result, 2014’s RAV4 points towards an even stronger focus on family use.

Old-fashioned interior

Toyota RAV4 cabin

The result is a car that is more refined with better exterior styling, a more airy cabin and load-space, greater comfort and higher levels of safety.

The only drawback with the current RAV4 is the old-fashioned interior.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a major issue – but it is noticeable all the same.

The car is undoubtedly luxurious, especially in Invincible 2.2 D4D Auto guise, but the cabin still looks at least a decade old.

A pleasure to drive

It’s not poor quality or anything. In fact it all looks very hard-wearing. It’s mainly the switchgear that looks really dated.

Behind the wheel, much of this is forgotten once the pure pleasure of driving takes over.

The RAV4 is smooth and gracefully punchy.

Indeed, its all-wheel drive capability is more sophisticated than ever before.

Easy to see why the RAV4 is a hit

Toyota’s Integrated Active Drive System has been developed to offer a more engaging "sport" mode, with gadgetry to automatically adjust the amount of twisting power distributed between the front and rear axles.

It’s easy to see why the RAV4 was, and is, such a hit.

It is undoubtedly thanks to this car that the SUV market developed from a niche to become a vital feature of the motoring majority.

Pros & cons

  • Spacious √
  • Punchy √
  • Grip √
  • Driving position √
  • Dated interior X

Fast facts

  • Max speed: 115 mph
  • 0-62 mph: 10.0 secs
  • Combined mpg: 42.2
  • Engine: 2231 cc 4 cylinder 16 valve turbo diesel
  • Max. power (bhp): 148 at 3600 rpm
  • Max. torque (lb/ft): 250 at 2800 rpm
  • CO2: 176 g/km
  • Price: £29,305 on the road

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Tim Barnes-Clay

Leon Poultney

Tim is an experienced motoring writer with a background in radio and TV journalism. He puts his pedal to the metal each week with his must-read car reviews.

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