A 2016 facelift for Toyota's RAV4 brings styling tweaks and a more efficient diesel engine, but we still think a Mazda CX-5 makes a more convincing case

What is it?

This is the latest version of the Toyota RAV4, a car that helped to start the whole compact crossover genre. It was originally launched back in 1994 when the Japanese brand realised that many people fancied the idea of a rugged looking 4x4 but didn’t want the agricultural handling and high running costs they then came with.

The RAV4 cleverly offered the style and high driving position of an off-roader but with handling and economy that wasn’t too far off that which you’d expect from a family hatchback. It was a formula that worked, ensuring that the name is still around more than 20 years later.

Although the basic recipe has remained the same, certain ingredients have been altered over the years. Toyota realised that many people were more interested in economy than mud-plugging ability, and as such, four-wheel drive is not an option with the 2.0-litre diesel engine we’re testing here.

It should come as no surprise to hear that the reduction of running costs is a focus of the 2016 facelift. A hybrid version is soon to be available, while the new oil-burner we're driving here replaces both the old diesel of the same size and the bigger 2.2-litre lump.

Emissions of CO2 are now rated at 123g/km (on 17in wheels) and official economy is 60.1mpg; both figures are better than those of the older, less powerful 2.0-litre diesel. Furthermore, the interior and exterior have been refreshed. 

What's it like?

Our previous experience of the diesel RAV4 wasn’t overly positive, but happily, the new D-4D engine helps make a better case for the car. It pulls cleanly from around 1500rpm, making relaxed progress easy, and if you rev it harder it will accelerate onto a motorway slip road without too much fuss. Toyota claims 0-62mph in 9.6sec, which isn’t exactly going to get pulses racing but is more than enough for a family SUV.

If you do decide to access all the performance, the engine gets pretty vocal as you approach and pass 3000rpm. You’ll also find there’s a noticeable amount of wind and road noise as your speed increases, although not enough to turn conversations with passengers into a shouting match.

At lower speeds the RAV4 can feel firm in the way it deals with bumps and other road imperfections, although it’s never unbearable. As the speed increases, the ride smoothes out and becomes comfortable to the point where it’s no chore at all to rack up the miles.

Thanks to those stiff springs there’s minimal body roll in bends, which is especially impressive considering how tall the car is. Precise steering helps it feel keen to turn in, too, although there’s little feedback on offer through the rim. But while surprisingly capable in the turns, you’d never call the RAV4 fun; a Mazda CX-5 is still better.

Inside, Toyota claims to have improved the ‘sensory quality’ of the interior, although there’s still plenty of unyielding black plastic dotted around. Even so, the bits you touch mostly are soft-touch, while there’s metal-effect trim and (on our test car at least) faux leather to lift the dashboard a little. It may not be the plushest cabin around but it’s certainly well put together.

All models come with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system that's easy enough to navigate. There’s little to no delay when moving between screens, but it’s not the most attractive system and some of the icons are too small to hit accurately while driving. You also get a 4.2in colour screen between the dials that provides a variety of additional info.

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It’s spacious interior, too, and it’s easy enough to get comfortable up front, although only higher trim levels get adjustable lumbar support. Those in the back get loads of leg room, but anyone over six feet tall will feel the headlining on their scalp.

All models are fitted with reclining rear seats that can also be folded forwards easily. Even before you push the 60/40 split folding bench forwards, there’s a sizeable 547 litres of luggage capacity, rising to 1735 litres with the seats folded. The load bay isn’t totally flat, but there’s only a small incline leading up to the seat backs from the boot floor. Handily there’s also almost no load lip.

Should I buy one?

There’s no doubt that Toyota’s tweaks have gone a long way to sorting out the issues we previously had with the RAV4 diesel. The new motor may not be the most refined oil-burner out there, but it’s quiet enough at a cruise and far more flexible at low crank speeds.

Our test car also proved economical in the real world, recording 45mpg over a mixed test route. Emissions are also better than those of a number of rivals, although the car can’t quite beat the equivalent two-wheel-drive Mazda CX-5 or the (admittedly less powerful) Honda CR-V.

Despite the improvements and undeniable practicality of the RAV4, we still prefer the Mazda CX-5. Not only is it a better steer but it’s also more spacious in the back and should prove cheaper to own for the majority of buyers. 

Toyota RAV4 2.0 D-4D review

Location West Sussex; On sale: Now; Price £26,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, diesel; Power 141bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1750-2250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1605kg; Top speed 121mph; 0-62mph 9.6sec; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 123g/km, 22%

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rdsreference 20 January 2016

Average thrills

Its been a while since the Rav 4 broke new ground unlike the original which was at least pretty decent to look at. This one has a touch of the ugly stick about it a bastardised Avensis it is. New model arrived in 2013 an its had a major facelift already? The Yaris had one after two years? Those looking for driving thrills should look elsewhere and avoid Toyota completely.Refinement and reliability will be pretty good though as is always the case.
5wheels 18 January 2016

Lost its way

Loved the original back in 94 - was really something new exciting useful and even fun. The new model - seen here, has been on the roads of Russia for more than 6 months and I had the chance to sample one when a friend went for a test drive. We both came away with sadness. There is absolutely nothing convincing. On the contrary, there are so many alternatives out there as to place this RAV4 into the pit of "also ran". The squareness and cheapness in appearance outside is enough to worry you with so many lousy drivers here - bits will get knocked off scratched and broken. Very poor effort from a company which has all the ingredients to do better and a boss who is truly a pistonhead and I think the management didnt ask him about this!!
androo 15 January 2016

Not good enough

The problems seems to be that Toyota's designers and engineers and marketing people and top brass look at the final product and think it's good enough when it really isn't. If you can't design a new thing that's better than everything else on the market, what's the point? Toyota always seems to settle for adequate. Why should buyers do the same?