If ever a car epitomised the phrase ‘strong words, softly spoken’, the Toyota RAV4 is that car. Yes, it’s an SUV with all that brings with it – being large and spacious. Yet, it also does a great job of leaving a lighter footprint on the world because of its efficient powertrains.
No matter whether you’re looking at a current-shape RAV4 or a previous-generation car, there’s no mistaking its style. It blends a high-up stance with the lines, curves, angles and slashes that Toyota design has become famous for over the past few years.
Both versions have strong front-end styling, with lots of vents, creases, corners and slits so that you’re never in any doubt you’re looking at a RAV4.
The later version - from 2019 onwards - has a large trapezoidal grille and a downturned bumper that makes the car look positively ferocious. ‘Frowning’ headlights complete the mean-looking visage. The later car also has square wheel arches, which is quite the statement.
Both cars also feature a rising window line and roof rails to enhance the ‘active lifestyle’ look, and large, almost vertical tailgates, complete a practical rear end.
Toyota's design has become famous for over the past few years.
What’s it like to drive?
The previous-generation Toyota RAV4 was available with a range of non-turbo petrol engines and a turbodiesel, as well as a 2.5-litre petrol hybrid.
In the later car, there’s a plug-in hybrid version that allows you to travel further on purely electric power. The diesels are relaxed on long trips, while the hybrids are quiet. Any RAV4 is light and easy to drive, if a little uninvolving. It won’t raise a grin on a twisty road but should be a doddle in multi-storeys.
The suspension is firm, so you’ll feel the odd bump, although not enough to make you wince at the sight of a sleeping policeman.
It won’t raise a grin on a twisty road but should be a doddle in multi-storeys.
Given the current-shape and previous-generation cars were designed years apart, it’s actually remarkable how similar their dashboards are in philosophy.
There’s a conventional instrument display that shows all the information you need using dials and needles. The later version also has a gauge to show you how the hybrid system is operating, so you work out how to use the powertrain as efficiently as possible.
In both cars, controls for the electric windows and door mirrors are on the driver’s door, and the door pull is quite a long way forward, which makes it easy to reach when fully open. The steering wheel has a few buttons on it, mainly to control audio, telephones and cruise control.
The top of the centre console in both models has an infotainment touchscreen, through which you can choose your preferred music setup, make a phone call or get directions to your destination. The later car is compatible with several smartphone operating systems.
There are numerous cubbies and storage areas in both versions, and the layout of all the switches and buttons is logical.
As you’d expect from a Toyota, both versions feel pretty well built, although neither feels exactly what you’d call luxurious. Instead, they feel put together – from materials that give the impression they’ll last longer than you do. Everything that moves does so with a smooth, well-considered action.
Most drivers will be able to get comfortable in the Toyota RAV4, whether short or tall, keen on stretching out or being up close and personal with the steering wheel.
There’s loads of space up front, and plenty of adjustment for the front seats and the steering wheel. If you go for a higher-spec model with electrically adjustable seats, it will also come with adjustable lumbar support to aid comfort.
The back seat area is decently roomy, too, so you should have no complaints from anyone sitting back there. In the current model, these can also be reclined slightly, enhancing comfort levels. In both models, folding down the rear seats is easy, and leaves a vast, completely flat load area big enough to sleep in. Should you ever feel the need.
Running costs and reliability
You almost certainly won’t have to worry about the cost of running a RAV4. This car has been designed to have a light footprint, so no matter which model you choose it should have a very light thirst.
Both versions of the RAV4 we focus on here were awarded the full-on five-star rating from crash test body Euro NCAP, so they’ll not only be very protective in a crash, they’ll do their utmost to help you avoid one in the first place
What we love
No matter which version of the Toyota RAV4 you’re looking at, you won’t go far wrong. It’s a lovely family SUV that will get on with the business of taking you from A to B securely and with little fuss. All RAV4s are well equipped with both luxury and safety kit, which offers peace of mind no matter how long or arduous the journey ahead. Furthermore, both versions offer the luxury of space for both people and their stuff and can turn into load-carrying workhorses at weekends, which helps to shape their reputation as loyal family companions.
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Town and country drivers
Efficiency is the Toyota RAV4 watchword. That doesn’t only apply to its drivetrains and how much fuel it uses. It also refers to the cabin and how efficiently it uses the pace therein, because it’s more than roomy enough for a family, with loads of standard equipment.
This review was