RICHARD'S BAY, KwaZulu-Natal – It’s hard to believe, but the Toyota RAV4 has just celebrated its 25th birthday. That’s quite a feat in an automotive market that’s notoriously fickle, so will the new version be able to carry the weighty baton of such a strong legacy in the compact SUV segment? The early signs on our launch drive in KZN are very promising…

Bold, or business-like?

Despite its perennial popularity, it has to be said that each generation of RAV4 has progressively ushered in more sober designs, culminating in the rather amorphous-looking previous-generation model. In this regard, the new RAV4 has broken with this unfortunate tradition, coming out in two different but distinctive guises. While the bulk of their bodywork is the same – a more angular, two-box profile affair – the front end of the GX/VX models sports a sleek design with polygonal vent work and a sculpted bonnet. The featured GX-R is aimed at a younger buyer demographic looking for something a bit more purposeful looking. With an enlarged grille sporting horizontal louvres, extra body cladding and a more pronounced bash plate, it certainly looks the tougher of the two.

Impressive interior

Toyota interiors have been a mixed bag of late; some solid but simple, while others perhaps overly ornate to the extent of becoming hotchpotch in their layout and material cohesion. This new model represents a veritable leap forward in terms of perceived quality and ergonomics. Plenty of the touch-point surfaces (and many others besides) are slush-moulded from dense, high-quality plastics. The tiered facia and its controls are simple and logically laid out, while the lion’s share of information is displayed via a sharp TFT display within the instrument binnacle. 

Updated architecture

Spun off an extended version of Toyota’s TNGA modular platform, the new RAV4 features a wheelbase that’s 30 mm longer than that of the outgoing car; the upshot of which is plentiful legroom aft, but like many of its contemporaries the RAV4’s legroom-to-luggage space ratio is slanted towards the rear occupants, leaving a boot that’s merely adequate.

Like many TNGA-underpinned products, the new RAV4’s improved torsional rigidity and the move to a double-wishbone rear suspension setup afford the car a pleasingly smooth ride. The electrically assisted power steering remains on the light, town-friendly side but otherwise the RAV4 feels notably less ponderous than its forebear.

Terrain tackling presets

Although our off-road experience was limited to rutted gravel tracks, the RAV4 proved to be stable and didn’t easily succumb to the tooth-chipping jitteriness that afflicts a number of its rivals. At the heart of this particular model sits an AWD system that tailors steering, stability, transmission and power delivery parameters to best adapt to looser surfaces. “Mud & sand” and “rock & dirt” presets are accessible via a centre console-mounted dial. That TNGA platform also sees ground clearance creep up from a disappointing 160 mm to as much as 218 mm.  

Power, band

The GX-R we drove was possessed of that powertrain combination that often elicits scorn within the motoring press; naturally aspirated, four-cylinder petrol coupled with a CVT. Here, the 2,0-litre engine develops 127 kW at a heady 6 600 r/min and 203 N.m of torque. While revisions to the CVT’s low-speed pick-up and shift characteristics have gone some way to improving off-the-line performance, the perennial issue of (virtual) gear hanging strain still presents itself under sudden throttle inputs. It’s by no means the worst example of this configuration we’ve ever encountered, but given Toyota’s ability to craft light, snappy manual ‘boxes, we’d be very interested to see what a model thus equipped could do.

Overall

The new RAV4 is a marked improvement over its forebear in pretty much every respect and may even have the goods to become a leading contender in its segment. In short, the RAV4’s future is in good hands here...



FAST FACTS

Model: Toyota RAV4 2,0 GX-R AWD
Price: R508 100
Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cyl, naturally aspirated
Power: 127 kW
Torque: 203 N.m
0-100 km/h: n/a
Top Speed: n/a
Fuel Consumption: 6,8 L/100 km
CO2: 147 g/km
Transmission: CVT 
Maintenance Plan: 6-service/90 000 km