Lower centre of gravity and increase in body rigidity makes for superior handling. Picture: SUPPLIED
Lower centre of gravity and increase in body rigidity makes for superior handling. Picture: SUPPLIED

This is the new Toyota Rav4 aimed at people who’ve severed ties with the Corolla but seek something more logic for better family practicality and almost limitless access to remote driving areas.

It first appeared in 1994 as an imaginative, never-before-seen compact SUV and in true Toyota style the company was not merely dipping a toe in. The Rav4 is the inventor of the niche that has not only spawned various splinter crossover ideas, but is currently seeing nothing short of a meteoric rise in both sales and alternatives, at the expense of sedans and hatchbacks.

It has ruled over the midsized SUV segment ever since.

The more aggressive looking, advanced fifth generation has just gone on sale here in SA.

Anyone who has spent time in any of previous models will recognise that Toyota has had a proper go at glamming up the new Rav4 inside and out. Differences quickly start to accumulate on its body shell being more Lexus in hexagonal flame surfacing and American “truck” design in boldness.

Built on a completely new, stiffer but lighter platform, it’s been trimmed 5mm upfront and 30mm at the rear, effectively making the new car 35mm shorter than the model it replaces. The results are shorter overhangs and a design that hides its large size very well while unlocking an increase in wheelbase by some 30mm over the old car to open up more interior space.

In a nutshell, this new compact SUV ditches the old-hat dourness through a lower roofline but it’s wider and stands 15mm higher off the ground than the old car. Its chassis has also been stiffened by 57%.

Once ensconced within the new car’s cabin, the first apparent change is the dash layout, switchgear and binnacle graphics which are equally close to latter day Lexus products in soft touches and brushed aluminium.

The most advanced Rav4 yet gets a more luxurious cabin with soft-touch surfaces. Picture: SUPPLIED
The most advanced Rav4 yet gets a more luxurious cabin with soft-touch surfaces. Picture: SUPPLIED

First sampling the range-topping 2.5 VX 8AT AWD model, it boasts powered and leather-clad seats with bum warmers, shift lever and steering wheel also adorned in leather, keyless entry and start, wireless  cellphone charger, three USB ports, automatic climate control and high-beams, active cruise control, Toyota Safety Sense, Blind Spot Monitor, rear cross traffic alert, panoramic sunroof, and front and back reverse cameras as standard fitment. The generously specified VX grade walk can be had in 2WD or AWD guise.

On the move there is a palpable sharpness in steering and nimbleness. The chassis feels well matched to the normally aspirated 2.5l motor with 152kW/243Nm and an eight-speed automatic transmission that’s uniquely found in this model.

It has good enough poke and poise and a deeply satisfying and cushy ride quality. In the corners it’s well balanced, turns in keenly and also rides nicely on both smooth and bad surfaces.

The same can be said for my follow up drive experience in the 2.0 GX-R CVT AWD model; a funkier, less expensive rugged urban-stormer take on the Rav4. Instead it uses a smaller 2.0l four cylinder engine with 127kW and 203Nm driving all wheels through a 10-step CVT gearbox.

Unfortunately there was no real opportunity to check out its off-road driving ability, the most we ventured onto being a short gravel track. Regardless, proper mud-plugging remains something of a rarity in this segment anyway and that dirt-road served to reaffirm the top drawer damping on bad surfaces and to show off Toyota’s new drive mode selector which incorporates five "terrain" modes, including Normal, Sand & Mud; Rock & Dirt.

New Rav4 is lower, wider, and more eye-catching than ever and built on a completely new platform. Picture: SUPPLIED
New Rav4 is lower, wider, and more eye-catching than ever and built on a completely new platform. Picture: SUPPLIED

There is no doubting the new car as a vast improvement over its predecessors. My initial launch synopsis is that Toyota has shifted the goal posts so far in build quality, specification and design that once more it will please its profiled customers who are predisposed towards the brand’s famous peace of mind motoring while also giving rival brands something to think long and hard about.


Pricing

RAV4 2.0 GX MT 2WD — R416,400                                                                                   

RAV4 2.0 GX CVT 2WD — R 427, 600                                                                       

RAV4 2.0 GX-R CVT AWD — R508, 100                                                                    

RAV4 2.0 VX CVT 2WD — R505, 400

RAV4 2.5 VX 8AT AWD — R577, 900                                                                            

All models carry a six-year/90,000km service plan and three-year/100,000km warranty.