Like all compact SUVs, the RAV4 continues to see its sales climb. Indeed, this market segment grows by more than 20% every year. That said, I must admit that I was surprised to find out that the RAV4 is Toyota’s second most popular vehicle (their top-seller is the Corolla). It’s also ranked third in its category, which is pretty impressive considering how tough the competition is.
But Toyota is not satisfied with bronze. The company wants a gold-medal standing. According to Stephen Beatty, Senior Managing Director at Toyota Canada, the new RAV4 has been improved with the aim of climbing even higher among the ranks of the most-sold compact SUVs. He emphatically makes the point that the RAV4 is assembled here in Canada, in an all-new plant in Woodstock, Ontario. But what is really going to make the difference is not where the vehicle is built, but rather the changes that have been made to it.
Decidedly more elegant
The previous RAV4 was characterized by square angles and the spare tire on its side-hinged rear door. The vehicle’s appearance sparked some debate, but its rear door was by far the most controversial element; some people were dead against it, while just as many others liked it. But since its design was outdated, it was time to replace it with a more contemporary hatch. The new hatch’s height is adjustable and the more expensive trims come with a powered liftgate.
Most of the attention, however, has gone to the front section, which now features an elegant grille hanging over a large air intake and hefty black bumper. Overall, the front treatment is attractive and makes the vehicle look more dynamic. In contrast, the rear section is conservative, except for the raised taillight and deflector positioned just over the window.
The dashboard is also all-new, and visually, it’s a success. The indicator dials are easy to read, the climate controls are simple and there’s a storage compartment directly in front of the passenger. Lower down are the Eco and Sport mode controls, as well as 12-volt and USB ports. However, the designers added a horizontal “lip” through the centre of the dash. This breaks the monotony of the look, but also makes it harder to reach some of the controls in the lower mid-section.
A stylish console divides the comfortable bucket seats up front, while the rear seats are also offer comfort and a good amount of head and leg room. It’s worth noting that the materials are better quality than what we saw on the previous RAV4. Toyota stresses that, with a total capacity of 2,078 litres, the cargo hold is the most spacious in its category.
Same engine, new transmission
The back door is not the only element that has been retired. The new RAV4 has done away with the 3.5L V6, but kept the 2.5L four-cylinder engine that delivers 176 horsepower and 172 lbs.-ft. of torque. This time around, it’s paired with a new six-speed automatic gearbox, which replaces the fatigued four-speed transmission from last year’s version. As a result, you get livelier accelerations and can sprint from 0-100 km/h in 8.9 seconds (compared to 10.2 seconds with the four-speed transmission). The new gearbox also helps reduce the vehicle’s fuel consumption to 7.7L/100 km (compared to 8.3L before). And finally, drivers can choose between Eco, Normal and Sport modes. With Eco, the system works to improve fuel economy, while Sport puts performance in priority.
Four-wheel drive is now available – at last! This brand-new system features dynamic torque control, a first for Toyota. It comes with Auto, Lock and Sport settings. In Auto, 100% of the torque is sent to the front wheels but then shifts to 50-50 front-rear distribution when the wheels start to slip. When you’re driving under 40 km/h, Lock mode ensures full-time 50-50 torque distribution. And finally Sport mode transfers power 90-10 front-rear, with a maximum of 50% of engine power sent to the rear.
Some people will lament the loss of the V6, but Toyota claims that the vehicle is now equipped with the better option, as the four-cylinder makes the vehicle more agile, less fuel-hungry and, most importantly, more enjoyable to drive. Another plus is the fact that you can order your RAV4 with a sophisticated AWD system that is adjustable in many different ways. They’re also hoping that the “Made in Canada” label will seal the deal for a good number of buyers.
I took the RAV4 on a 200-kilometer jaunt on a variety of roads and concluded that its handling has definitely changed for the better. The vehicle’s platform is more rigid than before and the suspension has been well calibrated. In fact, even though I didn’t have much time to get familiar with all the vehicle management settings, the Sport and Eco modes met my expectations. That said, you have be careful in Eco mode, as it can cause the engine to be sluggish and thereby catch you off guard in some circumstances. Fortunately, Toyota engineers found a way around this. If you press the accelerator all the way down, the vehicle switches in to Normal mode, allowing you to accelerate or pass safely.
In conclusion, the new RAV4 boasts a sportier exterior, improved road handling, and enhanced driving pleasure – all factors that should help it climb higher on the podium in the compact SUV category. Not to mention the fact that – like all Toyotas – it is reliable and durable.
It’s hard to predict whether Toyota will be able to meet its objective, but one thing is for sure: the RAV4 has definitely kicked things up a notch.