Toyota RAV4 Review
The new, hybrid-only Toyota RAV4 is cheap to run, reliable, fun to drive and striking looking in a class brimming with talented rivals
Strengths & weaknesses
- Eye-catching styling
- Good ride comfort
- Low running costs
- Automatic gearbox feels unnatural
- Entertainment system lags behind rivals
- Noisy engine
Toyota RAV4 prices from £10,995 Finance from £242.30 per month
The Toyota RAV4 is a family-sized SUV and the latest in a long line of RAV4s dating back to 1994. However, this is the first one to be available only as a hybrid, meaning it combines a traditional petrol engine with an electric motor.
These things only matter insofar as they tell you the RAV4 is a familiar model on UK roads, with a reputation for being well built and reliable, and that, being a hybrid, it’s economical and cheap to tax.
The fact that there’s no diesel version may be an issue for people who associate SUVs with diesel power but the fact is, diesel is falling out of favour. In any case, the possibility of over 50mpg from the hew hybrid version is likely to be sufficiently attractive to most RAV4 buyers doing less than 12,000 miles a year.
In addition, the hybrid powertrain has enabled Toyota to fit a second electric motor to the rear axle on versions of the RAV4, making it four-wheel drive. Toyota refers to this as AWD-i. This second motor comes into play the moment the system detects a slippery surface, thus boosting grip and making the car safer to drive. However, it just as quickly cuts out when not required so that fuel economy is barely any difference between this version and the standard two-wheel-drive model.
The new RAV4 faces stiff competition from the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, VW Tiguan and Skoda Kodiaq. Where these models score over the RAV4 is in their larger choice of engines while some, such as the Kodiaq, are also much cheaper.
The Toyota CH-R, the RAV4’s sister car, was launched a couple of years ago and is a striking-looking crossover. The RAV4 is not as daring but is still bold looking and really stands out in a crowded field. Fortunately, it’s a practical design with the boot capable of swallowing a full-size mountain bike without you having to take its wheels off. There’s space in the rear seats for three adults to make themselves comfortable, too.
The RAV4’s interior quality is impressive but its styling is functional rather than luxurious. Where it really falls down is in the quality of its entertainment system. Screen resolution trails rivals including the Tiguan and Ford Kuga but worst of all is the fact that smartphone integration of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is simply not possible as it is on competitor models.
At least the RAV is fun to drive. It may be a chunky SUV but it resists leaning in bends. The steering is direct and nicely weighted so you feel confident about turning into corners, which it does without pushing wide, as some less accomplished SUVs are inclined to do.
Unfortunately, the fun is spoiled a little by the automatic gearbox that doesn't seem quite in tune with the engine. For example, at times, the engine’s revs soar but the car doesn’t go any faster. At least you can play with the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles but it’s only a temporary fix before the gearbox reasserts itself.
The best thing is to just go with the flow, adopting a relaxed driving style and letting the RAV4 do all the work. Treated like this, it’s a quiet and refined car, although still capable of accelerating strongly when required.
|Boot size||580 litres|
|Tax (min to max)||£150 in the first year; £145 from the second|
Best Toyota RAV4 for...
Best for Economy – Toyota RAV4 2.5 auto Icon
Because only the front wheels are driven, two-wheel-drive RAV4s are slightly more economical than AWD-i versions whose rear wheels are also driven. Being the cheapest, Icon trim also helps to keep the purchase price down.
Best for Families – Toyota RAV4 2.5 AWD-i auto Design
This version on-demand four-wheel-drive system helps to keep the vehicle secure on slippery surfaces, while mid-spec Design trim has family essentials including a sat nav, a powered tailgate and all-round parking sensors with a rearview camera.
Best for Performance – Toyota RAV4 2.5 AWD-i auto Dynamic
Being four-wheel drive, AWD-i versions have extra grip when accelerating hard, making them slightly faster than two-wheel-drive RAV4s. Top-spec Dynamic trim adds sporty styling touches including black alloys wheels and gloss back wheel arches.
One to Avoid – Toyota RAV4 2.5 auto Icon in Pure White
This cheapest version lacks the glamour and excitement of other, better-equipped versions, a fact emphasised by its non-metallic Pure White finish.
2019 (January): Model goes on sale offering one engine but a choice of two or four-wheel drive, and four trims (Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic).
2019 (May): Standard five-year warranty can be extended to seven years for £495.
Understanding Toyota RAV4 names
These letters stand for all all-wheel drive and the i for intelligent, meaning that depending on surface conditions it can engage the system in preference to front-wheel drive alone.
Engine 2.5 Hybrid
The number is the size of the petrol engine in litres while hybrid refers to the fact that it combines this power source with an electric motor (or two electric motors in the case of the AWD-I version). Toyota claims that around half the time, the RAV4 runs on electric power alone, generating zero emissions.
The RAV4 has an automatic gearbox of the CVT (continuously variable transmission) variety. There’s no manual alternative.
These tell you what level of luxury you can expect. There are four trims with Design being mid-spec. Expect special editions to follow.
Toyota RAV4 Engines
The main power source is a 2.5-litre petrol engine. In two-wheel-drive versions it assists an electric motor that powers the front wheels.
It’s why the model is called a hybrid since it’s neither a pure petrol car nor a pure electric one. The petrol engine recharges batteries as the car moves along. These in turn power the electric motor.
Unlike a plug-in hybrid vehicle, the batteries can't be recharged from a remote power source. This means that while the RAV4 can drive by electric power alone, it can do so for only short bursts.
Even so, Toyota claims that on most journeys, the RAV4 does in fact drive solely on electric power because the system is constantly drawing power from the motor and the engine as required. In fact, it says the petrol engine supports the electric motor, not the other way around. This ability to run on electric power for some of the time is why the RAV4 can achieve good fuel consumption figures and low CO2 emissions.
On four-wheel-drive AWD-i versions, there’s a second electric motor powering the rear wheels. It only cuts in when the system detects the front wheels slipping on, for example, mud, snow or ice, hence the i, for Intelligent, in its name.
Toyota RAV4 Trims
Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic
Even in standard trim, the RAV4 is reasonably well equipped with alloy wheels, dual-zone air conditioning, LED headlights, a rearview camera and rear parking sensors. Design is around £1500 more expensive and adds larger alloy wheels, a sat nav and a powered tailgate. It’s the optimum trim in terms of value for money. It’s available with four-wheel drive, too, where Icon is two-wheel drive only.
Excel is a bigger price jump of around £2400. The accent is on luxury; with leather seats, driver aids including blind spot assist and a heated steering wheel all included. Again, it’s available in both two and four-wheel drive.
Top-spec Dynamic is only around £800 more expensive but really only offers design tweaks including black alloys and gloss black wheel arches.
Toyota RAV4 Reliability and warranty
Although not as long as Kia’s seven-year warranty, Toyota’s five-year warranty is still better than most mainstream rivals offering just three years’ cover. In any case, it can be extended to seven years for an extra £495, although you’d need to be confident of keeping your RAV4 for that length of time, which is unlikely if you’re financing it on a PCP.
Fortunately, you might not need it anyway since Toyota always performs well in the Auto Express Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. In the latest one not only did a selection of Toyota models rank among the top 50, including the previous RAV4 in 39th place, but the Toyota Prius – like the new RAV4, also a hybrid – actually ranked top.
Used Toyota RAV4
A combination of attractive styling, good build quality and reliability, low running costs, a strong image and the popularity of SUVs, in general, should make a used RAV4 a very attractive used buy.
There should be a good choice of two-and four-wheel drive versions in Design trim but, at least relatively speaking, the bargain is likely to be an Icon version in a non-metallic colour such as Pure White.