Economy, roominess, comfort
Strange noises, poor infotainment screens, no phone mirroring
What is it?
The RAV4's first generation, especially as a three-door, was pioneering and not unfunky. Then things went downhill. The outgoing fourth-gen car, which sold mostly as a hybrid, was a visual assault and a dynamic misery.
Yet that RAV4 generation has been the world's best-selling SUV, and its fourth best-selling car of all. So imagine how much better place the world will be if the new one is actually a nice vehicle.
Wow. So is it actually a nice vehicle?
It's got a chance, because it's all-new. The smaller C-HR proves Toyota has more gumption now than for donkey's years. (And really it's the C-HR that's the successor to the original RAV4.)
The new 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 big-middle-sized family crossovers. Think the inevitable Qashqai, and Honda CR-V, VW Tiguan, Ford Kuga and Peugeot 3008.
Its design is all about facets and creased octagons, and it's more sober than recent Lexuses or the C-HR. No-one's going to be scared by it, yet you'll find interest and distinctiveness if you look.
Actually it's more of an SUV than a crossover; boxy and roomy. It's the 4WD versions that'll take most RAV4 sales. The black lower-body cladding and wheel-arches are all part of SUV semiotics. A 'trail mode' button in the centre console activates a brake differential and different ESP strategy. It might just get you out of a slightly more challenging off-road hole than before.
Yet confusingly this is the first RAV4 that comes on standard summer tyres rather than all-season jobs. That's good for road manners but if anyone's heading for mud and snow, they ought to swap it onto, er, mud and snow tyres.
I'm guessing it's still very much a hybrid?
This time the whole range is hybrid in the UK. The 2.5-litre petrol engine is new, with no turbo but using Atkinson cycle valve timing as favoured by Toyota for its hybrids. It's 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.
Diesel must be done for, then.
There's no diesel at all, and in 2021 a plug-in hybrid version with 41 miles of electric range was added to the line-up to act as the go to choice for buyers concious of fuel economy.
If you think hybrids can't do towing, note the AWD can haul a 1,650kg braked trailer, which isn't bad. All versions 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 half-way up the range.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
This is a pretty easy one to call, but we can't make the judgment in isolation. We need to know about your priorities.
If you want a manual transmission, or like working an engine for its own sake, go elsewhere. Simple. The RAV4 is quick and can do overtaking, but other cars, and even some other crossovers, are more fun to drive.
But as a family wagon it is much more appealing. It's roomy, comfortable and nice to be in. And as a financial and fuel-saving choice it really does take some beating.