Review: Toyota RAV4

Do buyers of SUVs place much importance on razor-sharp handling, or are there more pressing priorities?

Toyota has decided that the new fourth-gen RAV4 should wear myriad changes – mostly positive – including more evolved and involving dynamics.

The new-gen is even fun to drive, though less so on poor surfaces.

Such is the dramatic overhaul of the RAV’s design and engineering that the latest iteration of the original SUV is unrecognisable as such.

Old styling cues, including the characteristic tailgate-mounted spare, are gone.

Yep, a top-hinged rear ’gate is the go. With a standard space-saver.

If you want a full-sizer, it’s now a $300 option that can be found under the cargo floor.

Replacing the slow-selling 3.5-litre V6 engine is a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel clearly aimed at taking on the Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5.

An oldie but a goodie, it dates back to 2005 in the Avensis and more recently has been doing duty in the Lexus IS.

Two petrol four-cylinder engines – a recalibrated 2.0-litre from the Corolla Ultima, and a 2.5-litre – are also available.

The new RAV4 five-door wagon continues to be offered as either front-drive or with a new all-wheel-drive system.

There are also three gearbox types. Different six-speed manuals are mated to each of the three engines.

Then there’s a CVT option for the 2WD variants, and six-speed autos for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel and 2.5-litre petrol.

Trim levels are GX, GXL and a flash new Cruiser range-topper.

Prices have been reduced or contained despite more gear, and swing from the base 2WD GX at $28,490 (with seven airbags, stability and traction control, Bluetooth, 17-inch steel wheels et al), to $42,990 for the 2.5 Cruiser auto, replete with HID ’lights, rear camera, tailgate memory function, smart entry multi-information display and blind-spot monitor.

Though about the same size externally as the outgoing RAV, the new one offers more interior space, with good knee and legroom for the three perched in the back seat. The seats give improved support, too.

Toyota must have noted the warm reception accorded the 86, because the new RAV has a revised suspension tune that gives a more nimble driving experience. The old lazy, rollicking feel isn’t there, which is good, but we sense not everyone will endorse the idea of an SUV with sports-car intentions.

The new diesel AWD GXL auto has unobtrusive noise levels, and, pleasing urge and responsiveness.

The latest AWD system, which has a bias to the front wheels in normal running, ladles out more drive to the rears on demand.

This all takes places with surprising subtlety, with the RAV4’s newfound poise hard to shake. This version’s claimed 6.5L/100km will have some appeal, too.

Click here to read the full range review of the 2015 Toyota RAV4 

Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.

Want free access to 5 years of Wheels archive content? Sign up now!