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.
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.