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Toyota RAV4 GXL Road Test

The RAV4 is no longer the ‘compact’ SUV it was 20 years ago when first introduced to Australia. It's nearly half a metre longer than the first five-door model in the late 90s. And it's much better equipped for comfort and safety features. Yet the intermediate-level RAV4 GXL tested here in petrol/CVT form costs less than $500 more than it did in 2012, when the current model was launched. It's about keeping your customers loyal...
There’s a new Mazda CX-5 just around the corner, and the medium SUV segment has never been so hard-fought. So how does a company like Toyota maintain interest in its RAV4 – now half-way through its current model life cycle?
The RAV4 GXL on test was a mid-range model packed with plenty of kit, including an optional Technical pack, comprising of Pre-Collision System with forward collision warning and automatic emergency brake, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and front parking sensors.

Combined with the premium paint option the cost of the car rose above $41,000, which is around the level buyers are paying these days for a well specified medium SUV.
The additional driver-assist gadgets were a mixed bag. I found the forward collision warning system provided just enough notice in advance, without being strident and premature about it. So kudos to Toyota for that, but deduct some points for the Lane Departure Alert, which doesn’t cope well with Aussie country roads and was an incessant nag when it was working.
Big enough for mid-size family
The RAV4 was a strong package, as we found in a comparo against the Honda CR-V last year. There was abundant room in the boot and rear-seat passengers enjoyed plenty of knee and headroom, but the RAV4 lacked adjustable vents back there, and I personally don’t like the side-mounted light in the luggage compartment, which was blinding at night.
The front seats were very well shaped and supportive. They may be a little firmer than the seats of some rivals and the seat base could be a bit longer – although I’m not certain how that would square with the typical RAV4 target buyer anyway.
While the driving position was generally straightforward and well designed overall, the steering column could have done with more reach adjustment. And Toyota persists with a stub out of sight behind the wheel for the operation of the cruise control. It’s not hard to use, and it does operate the (optional) radar-based adaptive cruise control, but it would be ‘handier’ located on the spokes.
All the other controls were where they should be, including the switchgear on the wheel for flicking between different trip computer functions or changing tracks/stations and volume.
I found the instrument display fairly busy for ‘at a glance’ viewing at first, but it didn’t take long to adjust to the presentation, finding the information needed quite quickly.
The infotainment touch system was not presented in a tablet as is increasingly the fashion, but it’s easy to read in its large-screen format, quick to react to touch and not hard to navigate. Gently pressing on-screen buttons loaded a new page or menu item faster than we’ve seen in the past from other similar systems.
All the buttons gathered either side of the touch screen were labelled in a font appropriate for the visually impaired and, with the abundance of black upholstery and coordinating dark chrome throughout the interior, all the centre fascia needed to complete the packaging was the instruction ‘Don’t panic’ in big, friendly letters.
How it drives

As a driving proposition, the RAV4 tested rode softly and quietly, but without compromising handling and roadholding to the degree that some of its competitors do. That said, there are some rivals that corner and brake better on bitumen, and some rivals that are more capable on unsealed surfaces. It’s to the RAV4’s credit that it neatly straddles the fine line in between.
If one were to pit the RAV4 against Mitsubishi’s Outlander, for instance, the Mitsubishi would have the edge on the Toyota in off-road situations, but the RAV4 is more driveable on the road. Out in the bush the RAV4 on its standard (road-going) Dunlop GrandTrek tyres was just not in the same league as the Outlander.
Ultimately though, it wasn’t the tyres letting the RAV4 down. Even with the centre diff locked, the Toyota just didn’t have the engine output to overcome gravity without a run-up first. At least the RAV4 perched steadfast on a steep grade when the drivetrain cried enough. And in fairness to the Toyota, it was a petrol model, rather than the diesel-engined Outlander previously reviewed.
However, with a little bit of persistence and tackling one particular climb from a different angle the RAV4 was able to reach the top. But at the summit it became clear that the Toyota’s ramp-over angle is really not optimal for this sort of work. On the return journey the DAC (Downhill Assist Control) kept speed in check very capably.
Back on the bitumen, the RAV4 felt demonstrably superior to the Outlander, dynamically speaking. Ride comfort and brake pedal feel were both ‘soft’, but the brakes were quite dependable when put to the test at higher speeds.
Over smaller irregularities the Toyota just soaked it all up, but felt a bit busy over larger bumps and potholes. Around town the RAV4’s body control and ride qualities were perfectly acceptable. As a matter of fact, the RAV4’s ride/handling balance was unexpectedly good.
There was some sign of weight-driven handling traits, but in general the Toyota was safe and relatively close to neutral, erring on the side of understeer. Imminent loss of adhesion was clearly signalled by the wailing tyres, but not until the RAV4 was travelling at fairly alarming speeds, by SUV standards.
The Toyota tipped into corners neatly and the feedback was fine, other than some vagueness on centre. It’s no direct rival for Ford’s Escape (formally Kuga) or the Hyundai Tucson, but it’s ahead of most other competitors in its segment for on-road manners.

Subdued power delivery
On the move, the RAV4 proved fairly quiet. There was some subdued tyre noise at around 80km/h, dominated by more wind noise at freeway speeds. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine emitted a mild rumble at 100km/h, with the tacho reading just under 2000rpm.
Despite its showing in the bush, the engine in the RAV4 was not short of performance in the suburbs, although it felt anaemic on light throttle. In addition to the standard setting, there are two modes – Eco and Sport – to adjust the car’s power delivery. The Eco setting makes a discernible adjustment to the accelerator pedal feel. You have to push it further and harder to achieve the same performance. This contributes to the impression the RAV4 is a bit slow and uncertain. The Sport setting reverses that, but also shifts back a gear for the engine to be hitting its stride at around 3000rpm.
Open it up a bit and the RAV4 does actually go hard. It’s a reasonably pleasant (and refined) engine note at higher revs and is flexible right across the rev range. From launch it’s particularly lively.
Fuel consumption for the week was 11.7L/100km, which isn’t as dire as it sounds, considering the first 90 minutes in our custody the RAV4 sat in unmoving traffic with the air-conditioning running as Melbourne’s road network grappled with a load of offal spilled at the entry to the Burnley tunnel.
By the end of the week the RAV4 had cemented its position as a good all-rounder. There remains a niggling doubt, however… and that doubt is spelled ‘C-X-hyphen-5’.

2017 Toyota RAV4 GXL pricing and specifications:
Price: $41,500 (as tested, plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Output: 135kW/233Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 8.5L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 198g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP (2016)
Also consider:
>> Hyundai Tucson (from $28,590 plus ORCs)
>> Mazda CX-5 (new model on the way)
>> Mitsubishi Outlander (from $28,750 plus ORCs)

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