The RAV4 was introduced in 1994 at the Geneva motor show. At the time few people could have foreseen the effect the Toyota RAV4 would make and how it would disrupt the car market.
The arrival of the Toyota RAV4 (recreational activity vehicle with 4-wheel drive), kickstarted the small sport utility vehicles (SUVs) trend.
To begin with, the RAV4 was available only as a three-door with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Twenty years on, and the RAV4 is almost unrecognisable. That’s because the compact SUV marketplace has evolved and matured.
These days diesel powered versions are best, and pick up eagerly enough from low revs. Unfortunately, the diesels quickly run out of “oomph”, but are more economical.
2014’s RAV4 makes a great used buy. It points towards an even stronger focus on family use. Now with five doors, it has good ease of access, provides a lofty view of the road ahead, and has ingenious packaging and versatility.
The result is a car that has a more airy cabin and load-space than before. It also offers greater comfort and higher levels of safety. Four adults or two adults and three kids will be completely contented.
A couple of buggies, children’s toys and even the weekly supermarket shop will all fit in the boot without difficulty. The rear seats fold flat for added flexibility, too.
Ride and handling
The RAV4 is smooth and relatively graceful. Indeed, its all-wheel drive capability is more sophisticated than ever before. Toyota’s Integrated Active Drive System has been developed to offer a more engaging “sport” mode, with gadgetry to automatically adjust the amount of pulling power. It grips well, steers with decent precision, and feels settled and safe at motorway speed.
The SUV has good manoeuvrability, and reassuring capability, especially when the weather gets challenging.
What to know before you buy
The only drawback with the present-day RAV4 is the old-fashioned interior. It is not a deal-breaker – but it’s noticeable. The car is undoubtedly well-appointed, especially in “Invincible” 2.2 D4D Auto guise, but the cabin still looks at least a decade old.
It isn’t poor quality or anything, in fact it all looks very durable. It’s mainly the switchgear that looks really out-of-date.
More troublingly, transmission problems and electrical failures are the most common issues on the older models. The flywheel and clutch on early examples was known to be the car’s Achilles' heel and could fail without warning, especially on tow cars. Toyota dealers were aware of the glitch, and should have fixed this. Check the car’s history and ask the vendor if this has occurred.
Sunroofs on older RAV4’s can also drip water, so check the cabin for wet patches and fusty smells. The electrics suffer due to the water leakage, and getting them working again is expensive, so make sure all the controls operate properly when you are on a test drive.
Other rivals in this class to consider include the Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5 and the Mitsubishi Outlander, which isn’t the most attractive car on the road but makes a top-drawer family motoring choice.
Generally speaking, two decades ago, this type of car was regarded as a substitute to sporty hatchbacks and coupes. Today its popularity is among families wanting a more fun car over multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) and estates.
It’s easy to see why the RAV4 was, and is, such a hit. It’s undoubtedly thanks to its character and that the SUV market developed from a niche to become a vital feature of the motoring majority.