The fourth generation Toyota RAV4 competes against a rather young pool of cars. What makes it so much a contender?

Photography: Elvis John Ferrao

The switch from family sedan ownership to buying into a crossover seems to gather pace as the years go on. Admittedly, an increasing number of car manufacturers now have decent offerings in the segment. The C and D-segment of sedan-based crossovers has blossomed with entrenched competition against the two early movers in the segment – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. So what is it that keeps buyers coming back to the Toyota RAV4, despite the fact that this, the fourth generation debuted in 2013.

Toyota hasn’t been keeping still – the steady march of technology and consumer lifestyle trends that brings out innovations in every new crossover platform is being addressed in the RAV4. Today’s car doesn’t look or feel like the one that saw the light of day four years ago. Whether it is the new sharper Toyota grille treatment of the 2015 facelift that makes the car look contemporary, or the use of LED DRLs, or the refreshed look of the interiors with the stitched seam finishes and layered dashboard formation, or indeed the use of high grade electronic displays and graphics – the vehicle could have launched today and still been seen as evolutionary.

The underlying XE40 platform offers a longer wheelbase and increased structural rigidity. The vehicle uses a large amount of ultra high strength steel and tailored blanks that result in a stiffer body and significantly lower NVH levels. In addition, the longer wheelbase made the cabin roomier than before, with the second row occupants getting an immediate gain in head and legroom.

With the facelift, the RAV4 looks edgier and slightly more aggressive than before, inasmuch as that is possible. The inclusion of LED elements has improved its light signature at night and makes the cabin a warm, engaging space. The use of a black lower skirting also lends a perched high look to the body, although that doesn’t actually mean more ground clearance.

The RAV4 we picked up our test drive was the top of the line unit. In the system of spec grades the RAV4 Exclusive gets the whole shebang of features, including projector headlamps, LED DRLs, 18” alloy wheels and tyres, leather interiors and even a power driver seat. And you get a 7” navigation system with SD card based data source.

Driving impressions

Our usual complaints against Toyota vehicles centres around their blandness of drive – or that is something we used to point out again and again. The company has listened to folks like us and nowadays the drive quality of models through the range has improved. That’s also true of the RAV4 – it uses the predictable delivery of the 2.5-litre 4-cylinder 177hp engine and refines response through the six-speed box. The electric power steering has been tweaked to offer a better sense of feedback and some weight on the extremities although the centre position still has the electric units lack of directness. The gearbox responds much better than we expected, with a sense of urgency when you switch the engine out of Eco mode. In Eco mode the power spool down is quite noticeable, with even the electricals of the air-conditioning and power steering being moderated.

The all-wheel drive system does a stellar job of apportioning power and grip. The engine isn’t the most torque rich unit around and needs to switch to a power inducing cycle when the pedal is floored. The balance is well maintained – you get good fuel efficiency and yet reasonable levels of power when you need it. The front-biased all-wheel drive unit also allows you to lock the split and you get hill assist both coming and going.

Verdict

The RAV4 is not going to sell because it drives the best. It sells because of a combination of factors – newly interesting exterior design, modern feature pack, matching consumer trends, very comfortable and useable interiors, marked by a thoughtfulness that includes the option of half-width emergency tyre to offer a lower loading floor and Tonneau cover and nets for secure storage. The engine is considered one of the most reliable in the fleet, featuring in most of the mid-segments four-cylinder choice, while the transmission is smooth and predictable. At the top of the line, the RAV4 doesn’t really lack anything other than the option of a panoramic roof. Is that a deal breaker? We don’t think so.

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