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Review: Toyota RAV4

PUBLISHED: 14:02 18 December 2015 | UPDATED: 14:02 18 December 2015

Toyota RAV4 hybrid

Toyota RAV4 hybrid

Sebastien Mauroy

Toyota's radical and sporty take on the 4x4 formula created a whole new market sector that just grew and grew.

Toyota has revitalised the current generation RAV4 with a new look and, for the first time, a petrol-electric hybrid option.

The world’s No1 car brand says the hybrid development is one of the most significant for the RAV since the original created the sports utility vehicle (SUV) or soft-roader sector on arrival in 1994.

This ‘Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive’ was a sensation, sparking a ‘RAVolution’ that other manufacturers simply had to join.

Within just a month of launch, Toyota was forced to double production levels, and it wasn’t long before customers wanted a five-door to augment the original three-door model.

With its small size, grippy, all-wheel drive and big tyres, the new car had everyday usability and affordability plus ‘funky chunky’ off-road styling that was becoming so fashionable at the time. No wonder market watchers dubbed it ‘The 4x4 GTi’ or ‘The GTi off-roader.’

Four generations on, it now has sought-after sub-brand status: asked what car he or she drives, a RAV4 owner will usually say ‘a RAV’ rather than Toyota. It has also proved that while it might be smaller than a proper 4x4, it is no less rugged: 90 per cent of all the RAV4s built are still on the road.

However, success has a downside: lots of wannabe competition. Its youthful appeal may have been surrendered too, in favour of pleasing a wider audience or keeping original fans happy as they age, so dimensions and practicality have grown at the expense of compactness and sportiness.

But the car has loyal fans and the newly revamped fourth generation car (from £23,695) is both sleeker and more practical than ever, with more boot space, a fully flat load floor with seats folded, plus generous under floor stowage.

It also has a lifting tailgate, which people prefer for easy loading and as a rain shelter, particularly when ‘grandstanding’ at rural events. The rear now seats three in comfort too, with generous leg and headroom and a virtually flat floor, allowing all rear passengers to scoot across easily and alight either side.

The latest car also appears even more rock solid, to go with its legendary reliability, while handling remains sure-footed, body roll is well-controlled on corners, and ride quality is forgiving enough to make the latest RAV a good all-rounder.

The new powertrain line-up comprises 2.5-litre hybrid, new 2.0-litre D-4D diesel and revised 
2.0-litre Valvematic petrol (from £28,295) and in front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions.

Five trim grades are offered - Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus, Icon and (replacing Invincible) Excel. With one eye on the tax-conscious company car sector, it’s no surprise that Toyota has launched the new Business Edition Plus trim model (£26,195) with front-wheel drive and hybrid power.

On the outside, the revised RAV gets styling closer to mainstream Toyota cars; some ruggedness has been lost, but there is more style and class.

Safety kit has been enhanced with Toyota Safety Sense and a £695 package of integrated active safety and driver-assistance features, including: lane-departure alert, automatic high beam and pre-collision system, which alerts the driver to risk of collision, prepares the brakes to deliver extra stopping power and brakes automatically if the driver fails to react.

Toyota RAV4

Price from: £23,695

Model featured: Business Edition Plus £26,195

Power: 200PS (197bhp) and 0-62mph in nine seconds (estimated)

Engine: 2,494cc four-cylinder petrol engine plus electric motor

Fuel consumption: 60mpg combined cycle (estimated)

Road tax: £30/year (estimated)

Best rival: Ford Kuga

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