Toyota's RAV4 mid-sized SUV soft roader has been around so long it's easy to forget quite how far it's come. The fifth generation model has been lightly updated with a slightly smarter look, both inside and out, plus the option of a more extreme-looking 'Adventure'-spec model. As before, there's the choice of a self-charging hybrid engine with front or four-wheel drive. And a 4WD Plug-in Hybrid variant. Reacquaint yourself with a RAV4. You might be in for a surprise.
It's easy to underestimate quite what a debt of gratitude we owe the Toyota RAV4. Back in 1994, the market for compact SUVs was massively different to the one we have today. If you wanted a modestly-sized car of this kind back then, you had to have it with the proviso that it was likely to fall over if it was shown a picture of a corner. This was all part of the bargain. You saved money on the up-front cost, but shelled out when it disappeared through a hedge row on its door handles. The RAV4 changed all that. It was the first compact SUV that was actually good fun to drive on road. But times change. The RAV4 has grown ever bigger and more sophisticated in response to market entrants like the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Honda CR-V and the Ford Kuga. This fifth generation car was a smarter take on a well-established theme and now it's been usefully updated, aiming to bring the RAV4 back to a prominent position amongst volume brand entrants in the mid-sized SUV marketplace.
Nothing's changed beneath the bonnet with this MK5 RAV4, so as before, there's the choice of a 2.5 VVT-i self charging hybrid engine with front or four-wheel drive; it delivers 215bhp in front-driven form or 219bhp in AWD form (that variant featuring an extra electric motor). The AWD model adds a further electric motor on the back axle, providing significantly increased extra traction. The powerplant alternative is an AWD-only Plug-in Hybrid variant at the top of the range which has 302bhp and can be really rather fast. You're probably going to want one of the self-charging models and as with all Toyota hybrids, there's a belt-driven CVT auto gearbox and the RAV4 in this form can be driven in three ways. By the electric motors only (as is the case from start-off for up to 1.2 miles using the provided 'EV' mode); with just the engine (if you're giving it full throttle); or more usually, with a combination of both. During deceleration and under braking, the engine switches off and both electric motors act as high-output generators, recovering kinetic energy that automatically recharges the batteries for the next time the hybrid system is able to switch back to electric-only mode. This is no BMW X3, but thanks to a stiff GA-K platform and a low centre of gravity, the car turns keenly into corners at speed and there's less understeer than you'd expect in an SUV of this kind, plus plenty of traction to power you out of the other side of the turn. There's an automatic limited slip differential control on AWD-i models - Toyota calls it a 'Trail Mode' and it's selected via a button on the dash. It deals with the issue that afflicted previous generation AWD RAV4s which saw a risk of the vehicle being stranded if a driven wheel lost contact with the ground on very uneven terrain. Should this happen when 'Trail Mode' is activated, the free rotating wheel will be braked while drive torque is directed to the grounded wheel.at the same time, throttle control and the transmission shift pattern will be adapted to help the driver keep the vehicle moving.
Visual updates to this fifth generation RAV4 are relatively slight. the main difference is the adoption of projector-style LED headlights and LED front fog lamps, plus some variants get a smarter 10-spoke alloy wheel design. There's also a new 'Adventure'-spec version with wider wheel arches, silver front and rear under-runs and more of a serious SUV look. Otherwise, this MK5 RAV4 looks much as before; it still looks accessible - a RAV4 must never be big and bulky. Buyers have always looked at one and thought 'yes I could drive that', 'yes, I could park it' and 'yes, that would look rather nice in the driveway'. Inside, updates across the RAV4 range have brought smarter LED lighting, powered seat adjustment, illuminated window control switches and extra USB-C ports. Up front, as usual with a RAV4, the finish is functional rather than luxurious. Unfortunately, Toyota hasn't taken the opportunity to upgrade its infotainment technology, which means that the graphics aren't particularly avant garde but the screen can at least now offer 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. The way that this MK5 model's wheelbase was stretched by 30mm has always made this design reasonably spacious at the rear - it's certainly a size bigger than something like a Qashwqai or an Ateca and you can stretch out in the second row as a result. There's no option of third row seating. You get a big boot out back though, 580-litres in size. There's 1,690-litres of space on offer if you fold the rear bench.
Pricing starts at just over £31,000 for the self-charging hybrid models; you'll need quite a lot more though, if you want the latest 'Adventure'-spec version. The other core trim levels are 'Icon', 'Design', 'Excel', 'Dynamic' and 'Black Edition'. With each of these options, there's a £1,555 premium to go from a front wheel drive to an AWD version. Should you want Plug-in hybrid tech in your RAV4, you'll need much deeper pockets - prices start at around £47,000. This top variant comes only with AWD and in 'Design', 'Dynamic' and 'Dynamic Premium' states of trim. Even the base 'Icon' self-charging models get 17-inch alloy wheels, front LED fog lights, rear parking sensors, auto headlamps and wipers, roof rails, LED headlights, rear privacy glass and power-folding mirrors. Inside, there's the 'Toyota Touch 2' infotainment screen with a DAB tuner and a rear view camera built in. And all RAV4 models are equipped with the second generation of the 'Toyota Safety Sense' package. This incorporates a Pre-Collision System able to detect pedestrians in the vehicle's path during both day and night-time driving, and cyclists during daylight hours. The Adaptive Cruise Control has intuitive deceleration and acceleration control, keeping the RAV4 a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. Other systems include Lane Departure Alert and Lane Trace Assist, to help keep the vehicle positioned within its traffic lane, Road Sign Assist and Automatic High Beam. Additional advanced safety features include a Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (on 'Excel' and 'Design' grades) for safe manoeuvring. Plus an E-Call service on all models that can automatically alert the emergency services to the vehicle's location in the event of an accident - triggered when the airbags are deployed.
The Japanese maker describes the RAV4 Hybrid's mainstream technology as being of the 'self-charging' variety - but as we've said, also offers a plug-in version too, which can offer an EV driving range of 46 miles, a combined fuel reading of up to 282.5mpg and a CO2 return of just 22g/km, both class-leading figures. Most though, will want the ordinary self-charging hybrid version of this car. Let's get to the figures for that. CO2 emissions range up to 126g/km for the front-driven model (combined cycle fuel return up to 50.4mpg) and 131g/km (up to 48.7mpg) for the AWD version. The low emissions mean relatively low Benefit-in-Kind taxation for business users. The base RAV4 model has a BiK rating of 29% - and every other self-charging version comes in at 30%, regardless of spec. Residual values for the RAV4 have always been good, in most cases bearing comparison with its closest Honda CR-V and Land Rover Discovery Sport rivals and there's little reason to doubt that they'll only improve with this update. What else? Well, the five year 100,000 mile warranty is extremely good and even after that runs out, you'll find that most spares are relatively inexpensive. There's also three years warranty against rust and 12 years of anti-corrosion protection.
Though opinion may be divided as to whether the RAV4 invented the soft roading segment, no one doubts that, more than any other, this model defined it. In some ways, it continues to do just that, for this car still sums up most of what a model of this kind should be all about. Smart, wieldy, reasonably spacious, affordable to run and with just enough SUV-ness about it to get you to the places you tend to dream about but will probably never go. This improved version of the fifth generation model won't convince you if you didn't already want a RAV4, but if you did, it's smarter looks and cabin finish might be deciding factors - timely improvements, even if there are still other rivals that better this car either on or off road. Few though, provide a stronger compromise between the two and none can better the unimpeachable build quality and strong residuals that have become a RAV4 trademark.