Toyota RAV4 Review 2023 | Top Gear
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Monday 4th December
Definitely the sensible option, but you'll be laughing all the way to the petrol station

Good stuff

Economy, roominess, comfort

Bad stuff

Engine noise, infotainment lags behind rivals


What is it?

This is Toyota’s self-titled flagship hybrid, a large family SUV that was launched (in rather more svelte form it must be said) back in 1994 and is now in its fifth generation. 

The hybrid option was new on the fourth-generation car, but what this latest RAV4 brings to the party is a plug-in hybrid option for the first time, with up to 46 miles of official claimed range.

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It looks better than it used to, right?

The RAV4's first generation, especially as a three-door, was pioneering and not unfunky. Then things went downhill. The outgoing fourth-gen car was a visual assault and a dynamic misery, even it was at one point the world’s best-selling SUV.

The latest RAV4 has better proportions than it used to: longer in the wheelbase but shorter overall. That means not only that it looks less ungainly, but also that it still lines up against the larger midsize family crossovers. Think the inevitable Nissan Qashqai, Honda CR-V, VW Tiguan, Ford Kuga and Peugeot 3008, albeit now with heightened competition from the likes of the Kia Sportage that comes with hybrid options.

It’s much more of an SUV than a crossover, though – it’s boxy and roomy and doesn’t think it’s still a car. It even comes with the option of four-wheel drive, though that’s restricted to keeping you out of trouble than hooning about on off-road tracks. Don’t be fooled by the button on the centre console that activates Trail mode…

Are there just hybrid engines available for it?

This time, yes – SUVs like the RAV4 have got too heavy for a petrol-only set-up and the whole point of Toyota’s hybrid system was to provide an alternative to the relentless march of the diesel engine. Looks like they had the last laugh.

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The 2.5-litre petrol engine was new in the fifth-gen RAV4, and it doesn’t have a turbo but uses the Atkinson cycle valve timing that Toyota likes for its hybrid cars. It has the usual infinitesimally variable epicyclic power-split motor/generator transmission too, with electric rear drive if you've ticked the AWD box. But all those components have been worked over to lose weight and friction, and the rear motor is strong enough to produce the majority of the car's torque at low speeds.

Overall system power is now 215bhp, or 219bhp for the AWD. Both get to 62mph in the early-eight-second range.

Are the kit levels respectable?

All versions of the RAV4 get a comprehensive bank of driver assist and safety kit. That includes radar- and camera-based warning and braking for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. There's also road sign recognition, radar cruise control and steering assist for lane centring, and LED headlights. But blind spot and cross traffic warning comes only halfway up the range.

All cars get dual-zone aircon, parking sensors and a rearview camera, as well as auto wipers and lights. Other gadgets and gizmos are chucked in as you ascend the trim line-up.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

Definitely the sensible option, but you'll be laughing all the way to the petrol station

The Toyota RAV4 really makes its own case for itself – if the hybrid powertrain and no-nonsense styling don’t tickle your fancy then you’re better off looking elsewhere. Likewise it’s not for control freaks who like their manual transmissions and working away at an engine.

The RAV4 is practical, intelligent, and puts Toyota’s cumulative years working away at this technology front and centre. As a family wagon it’s appealing, and as a financial and fuel saving choice it really does take some beating.

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