From £31,0958
Long-standing SUV enters a new generation. Can all-round improvements turn it into a Nissan Qashqai rival?

Toyota hasn’t been beating around the bush in its attempts to revitalise the style appeal of its line-up and the new fifth-generation RAV4 SUV is yet another step in the right direction. Compared with its handsome but forgettable predecessor, this one makes an impact straight away.

It’s all sharp lines, creases and bold geometrical shapes for this latest RAV4. Perhaps some might find it a curiously fussy and overstyled entrant to the hybrid SUV classes, but we think it looks more interesting and dynamic than ever before. Toyota has definitely found its mojo again.

Of course, the changes introduced as part of this fifth-generation overhaul aren’t merely skin deep. Beneath that striking exterior is the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), a new platform that is 57% stiffer and lowers the car’s centre of gravity. Elsewhere, it makes way for the introduction of a more sophisticated double-wishbone rear suspension and helps bring about sharpened steering feel, better weight distribution and an arsenal of active safety features.

Visibility has been improved, too, by slimming the A-pillars, lowering the beltline, enlarging the side windows, repositioning the door mirrors and optionally offering a camera rear-view mirror that virtually removes the headrest and pillar structures that would otherwise obscure your view.

The effect of all this is to create an airier cabin, and one of subtly and satisfyingly improved tactile quality. There’s more soft-feel trim, interesting upholstery that actually features some colour (a novelty for Toyota), a rubber finish to the door pull handles and climate controls and a leather-capped gearknob. It’s not quite premium, but this is a more interesting, well-made interior and a vast improvement on RAV4s past.

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In the UK, the entire RAV4 line-up is based around the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-hybrid drivetrain, albeit in different states of tune and with varying degrees of electric assistance. In the base model, that powerplant delivers 215bhp and 163lb ft to the front wheels via a CVT gearbox. In our test car, however, the total system output jumps slightly to 219bhp, while a secondary electric motor is employed at the rear axle to lend all-wheel drive capabilities. There’s a new plug-in hybrid model, too, which employs the same powertrain as our test model, but with a system output of 302bhp. Meanwhile, a larger 18.1kWh battery lends an electric range of 46 miles.

In regular all-wheel-drive hybrid form, the RAV4 promises to be a usefully more able off-roader. It’s also more able on the road. Crisper steering, more eager turn-in and plenty of grippy security make this RAV4 feel almost car-like through twists - although a heightened level of well-contained body roll and fairly meaty level of steering weight mark it out as an SUV. It’s hardly a riot but it’s assured enough to be enjoyable and its distinct utilitarian streak makes it an easily likable SUV to pedal around in.

Toyota continues to improve the refinement of its hybrids’ CVT gearbox, whose plunging and soaring is less obvious than it used to be. You can still hear the rises and falls but they’re fainter than before. Don’t bother knocking the transmission into ‘S’ mode, though, because that causes a grating buzz from the engine to be unrelentingly loud. If you need a sharper throttle response, just twist the rotary dial on the centre console into Sport mode. You also get Trail mode with the AWD version, which provides limited-slip differential control, the familiar Eco and EV modes also present.

The RAV4’s versatility extends to its cabin, which provides generous space on a back bench whose cushion is well angled for comfort. There’s plenty of on-board storage and a decent-sized boot, making this a properly practical family car. It’s further civilised by a clear infotainment system, a very good stereo and a fair ride. Sharp bumps could be better absorbed, but this RAV4 is rarely uncomfortable.

As ever with a hybrid, there’s extra entertainment to be had from conserving fuel, building up your battery reserves and scoring points for your eco-driving skills, your efforts revealed by scrolling through the driver information screen. You won’t have much trouble achieving an average economy figure in the mid- to high-40s, we reckon.

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All of which adds up to a RAV4 of considerably more substance than the outgoing model.

It’s more robust, promises more off-road capability, has a chassis agile enough to satisfy and its design, particularly inside, is interesting enough to divert and be convenient with it.

Prices in the UK start at £31,090 for the front-driven, entry-level model, and rise to £38,505 for the range-topping hybrid. The plug-in hybrid version, meanwhile, starts at £46,495 and rises to a fairly eye-watering £50,895. 

You wouldn’t call it pretty, but this new RAV4 hybrid is a good SUV. It’s more athletic, efficient and aesthetically appealing, and makes a more compelling case for itself than ever before. Of the current batch of newly released hybrid SUVs, it’s absolutely one of our favourites.

First drives