Toyota's RAV4 enters its fourth generation

The Toyota RAV4 was one of the cars that pioneered a new class of vehicle – the small SUV that combined some of the go-anywhere ability of a full 4x4 with the more car-like driving style of a less-focussed mud-plugger.

It wasn’t long before this new genre of vehicle was christened “soft roader” to distinguish it from the harder, more serious “off-roader”.

SUVs of every size and off-road ability are very much “in” at the moment and nowhere more so than the USA. So, it was appropriate that Toyota chose the Los Angeles motor show in November and December last year to launch the new fourth-generation RAV4.

Toyota RAV4

Toyota describe the look of the new RAV4 as having “signature styling elements”. Unfortunately to my eye, it looks just that. It looks as though the various elements were brought together and incorporated into the design, but the overall result lacks cohesiveness.

Sadly, the interior also looks as though various designers produced different sections of the dashboard, but without an strong overall design vision. The appearance is not improved by some rather cheap looking materials, notably the rather odd yellowed silver plastic highlights on the dashboard and doors.

But it all works quite effectively and – apart from the ‘sport’ button tucked away under a ledge at the front of the console – the layout of the controls is practical and satisfactory.

The new RAV4 is 20cm longer and 30 cm wider than its predecessor, but to my eye the tough structural design make it look even bigger.

You may argue that style is unimportant. I would disagree. In this market I think style is vital. The original RAV4 became such a hit, resulting in 4.5 million sales to date in 150 countries, not just because it was good to drive, but because it was attractive and people wanted to be seen in it.

Toyota RAV4 interior

It may not tick the boxes in terms of style, but the new RAV4 certainly scores in practicality.

It has excellent passenger and luggage space. Rear seat passengers will be particularly pleased with the amount of legroom, which is visibly greater than most of the competition. The space story continues round the back, where the side opening door has, thankfully, been replaced by a conventional hatch.

With the seats up the RAV4 will swallow 547 litres of luggage, rising to 1,748 litres with the rear seats folded down.

Sadly the driving experience is not so good. My test Toyota RAV4 Icon 2.2 D-4D let itself down a bit in refinement terms.

Toyota RAV4

Whenever you rev above 3,000 rpm you are reminded by the rather tedious drone that there is an oil-burner under the bonnet. The engine also seems to lack punch over 4,000 rpm, meaning that progress involves a considerable amount of cog-swapping. Compounding the refinement issue, there is also a notable amount of diesel vibration transmitted to the interior.

Producing 147 bhp, the RAV4 2.2 D-4D accelerates from 0-62 mph in 9.6 seconds (just 0.3 seconds ahead of the 2.0 D-4D model). The top speed is 118 mph.

Where the Toyota RAV4 D-4D did do well was in economy. The combined fuel economy figure is 49.6 mpg with carbon dioxide emissions of 149 g/km to put it in band F for UK car tax. I found myself topping 40 mpg on a number of drives – an excellent figure in a four-wheel-drive SUV.

Prices for the new Toyota RAV4 begin at £22,595 for the two-wheel-drive Active 2.0 D-4D and rise to £29,305 for the rather boastfully-named Invincible 2.2 D-4D Auto. The test four-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 Icon 2.2 D-4D costs £26,500.

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