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Toyota Rav4 (Bill Petro/Toyota)
Toyota Rav4 (Bill Petro/Toyota)

Road test

Toyota RAV4: A little dated but still competitive Add to ...

Some industry watchers anticipated Toyota’s RAV4 would have been reborn in next-gen form by now to go head to head with Honda’s new CR-V, which it has since both arrived to define the compact crossover segment in the mid-90s, but it appears the gestation period will stretch into early 2013.

Whatever Toyota’s timetable actually was, it extended the life of the current model through this year.

The last full remake of the RAV4 was for 2006 – facelifts came along for 2009 and 2011 – leaving it one of the older designs in the very competitive compact crossover segment, but it remains one of the most popular. Last year, sales of 21,559 saw it ranked sixth (out of almost 30), behind the Ford Escape, Dodge Journey,CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevrolet Equinox. And this year, although it understandably offers only minor changes, it still appears to be holding its own.

Despite its age, the RAV4’s styling remains attractive, it has a pleasantly functional interior with room for up to seven or a generous amount of cargo, and is available with four- or six-cylinder engines. And it’s offered in a wide range of models starting with four-cylinder front-drivers at $24,865 and reaching all the way up to the test unit, a $37,300 4WD V-6 Limited.

It’s not much of a step-up into the RAV4’s cabin, and you swing your backside into a seat that, while not actually too short, falls away under your thighs at the front, giving the impression it is. Otherwise, it’s bolstered to be comfortable and produce a reasonable degree of lateral support that mitigates the suspension’s propensity to muscle you around.

Call the interior ambiance nice-enough. The tester came in dark gray over light gray leather with dark silver brushed metallic trim on the doors and centre-stack. The Optitron instruments are bright and clear, controls are generally easy to locate and use, including those on the leather-wrapped wheel, although you have to cock your wrist to reach around the door-pull to operate the power window and lock switches. Cupholders are reachable down by the driver’s right knee.

The rear compartment is surprisingly spacious, with plenty of headroom and a flat floor. The seat is somewhat bench-like, but a couple of people won’t be unhappy spending time back there. The seatback splits 60/40, expanding the 1,016 litres of storage space found behind it to useful 2,072 litres when folded. This is accessed by a large door that swings to the curbside which can make access a little awkward. Hanging the spare wheel on this means it doesn’t take up interior room but makes it heavy. A low liftover height makes chucking stuff in easy.

The RAV4 Limited is not an inexpensive vehicle and, as you’d expect, comes with plenty of features. These include dual-zone climate control, sunroof, navigation, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, automatic headlights, push-button start, a rear-view camera with its screen in the rear-view mirror and an upgraded audio system with the latest electronic access features.

The four-cylinder available in the RAV4 is rated at a reasonable 179hp and 172lb-ft of torque, but only comes with a performance-constraining four-speed automatic transmission, which means the V-6 is the weapon of choice for those who feel they need more of the force to be with them in battling daily traffic. Or perhaps, more sensibly, for towing as four-cylinder RAV4s are rated to tow 680 kilograms while the V-6 versions up this to 1,587 kg.

The 3.5-litre V-6 is a lot of motor, delivering 269 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque to the full-time all-wheel-drive system through a five-speed automatic transmission. This produces all the poke anybody could want, surging away from a stop when you plant the pedal, and responding readily to passing or merging requirements.

And you don’t actually have to pay a serious fuel economy penalty for this added urge. The V-6 is rated at 10.8 litres/100km city and 7.8 highway and the four at 9.7 city/7.2 highway. And I’d guess the V-6 likely comes closer to reaching its numbers in real world driving than the four, particularly in highway driving as the V-6 pulls a tall top gear (that it pops out of on hills periodically).

The RAV4 is much like others in this class in terms of handling and ride, making you aware it’s heavy and tall and thus not provoking you into driving it harder than you should.

It follows steering commands in a linear fashion, leaning into curves at sensible-SUV-speeds. Flicking from lane to lane isn’t exactly its forte, but none of its rivals could be described as agile either. Brake pedal feel is reassuringly immediate and progressive. Back road ride is fine with no harshness apparent, although the firm springing means bumps and pavement undulations don’t go unnoticed.

With a new RAV4 waiting in the wings and based on the latest Camry, should you buy one of the current models?

Good deals are obviously going to be available and they are still competitive vehicles in most areas. And it might be your last chance to get a V-6, although the new four-cylinder models will undoubtedly be more powerful and efficient – along with everything else a new generation will bring.


Tech specs: 2012 Toyota RAV4 4WD V-6 Limited

Type: Compact Crossover

Base Price: $37,300; as tested, $39,070

Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6

Horsepower/torque: 269 hp/246 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 ity/7.6 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-, Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Rogue

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