Back in 1994, when Toyota launched the original RAV4, the market for style-led small off-roaders didn’t exist, but customers quickly warmed to the appeal of a car that offered ‘street-tough’ looks (to a point) mixed with hot-hatch driving characteristics (again, to a point).

The firm soon discovered it had a star on its hands, the market boomed and suddenly its competitors got in on the act and the opportunities to succeed got tougher. Keen to protect the very market it generated, Toyota launched the second generation RAV4 in 2000 to continued success and the latest example in 2006.

It’s a gentle evolution of this proven formula, and the biggest change is perhaps the absence of a three-door model – it only accounting for around 20 per cent of sales in its final year. What the means is you get a practical, but still relatively compact, SUV with car-like driving dyanmics and Toyota’s famed quality and reliability levels.

There’s petrol, diesel, manual, automatic, four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive options as well as high levels of standard equipment. And like the rest of the Toyota range the RAV4 benefits from the firm’s five-year warranty.

It is however now six years old, and despite a couple of facelifts and new technology being added in the meantime, the RAV4 is beginning to show its age in face of more contemporary competition. Regardless though, as the car that kick-started the craze the RAV4 still has what it takes to appeal.

Top 5 Compact SUVs

  • A huge improvement over the old model and now among the class leaders

    BMW X3

    1
  • The new Land Rover Discovery Sport is the successor to the Freelander

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    2
  • The Swede's XC60 compact SUV is a rival for Range Rover's Evoque

    Volvo XC60

    3
  • The Q5 is Audi's response to the Land Rover Freelander 2, BMW X3 and Volvo SC60

    Audi Q5

    4
  • Kia's seven-seat Sorento SUV is now in its third generation

    Kia Sorento

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Toyota range

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    3 July 2015
    Charming four-door city car gets Smart's new six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, in a bid to make the Forfour more versatile
  • First Drive
    2 July 2015
    First UK drive in the latest-generation MX-5 reveals an iconic roadster that's back to its best
  • First Drive
    2 July 2015
    Extra firepower and pared-down kerb weight conjure even greater brilliance from the Boxster's chassis. Pricey – but superb to drive
  • BMW's prototype fuel cell concept is based on the 5GT
    First Drive
    1 July 2015
    Fuel cell-powered 5 Series GT concept previews a revolutionary storage and refuelling system which could pave the way for hydrogen to become the alternative fuel of choice
  • First Drive
    1 July 2015
    There's another BMW 2 Series variant on the horizon; we drive a late-stage prototype plug-in hybrid Active Tourer