New RAV4 raises the

SUV bar

Toyota RAV4, 2019, front, static
Toyota RAV4, 2019, front
Toyota RAV4, 2019, nose
Toyota RAV4, 2019, rear, static
Toyota RAV4, 2019, interior
Toyota RAV4, 2019, tail
Toyota RAV4, 2019, rear
Toyota RAV4, 2019, side
Toyota RAV4, boot

IT seems hard to believe it was a quarter of a century ago that Toyota first introduced its game-changing RAV4 pioneering the way for so many other go-anywhere SUVs with handling akin to a ‘normal' car.

But now all these years later it's time for the completely new fifth generation model and the latest RAV4 raises the bar yet again.

Priced from £29,635, the five-door model (long gone are the three-door versions with a spare wheel on the back door) is available in four well equipped trim levels called Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic, along with front or all-wheel drive.

But the biggest change for UK buyers is that the car is only available powered by an all-new hybrid powertrain.

Toyota prides itself on its two decades of experience in hybrid development and has ditched the stand-alone petrol and diesel options, although other countries still have that choice.

Toyota needed to box clever with its RAV4 because it was the best-selling SUV in the world in 2017 and the company believes 2018 figures will be just as impressive when they are released.

So, despite developing an all-new car, the Japanese car maker didn't want to scare off loyal drivers in any way.

And it would seem the new RAV4 is the perfect replacement. It looks more grown up and athletic, boasts a wealth of on-board technology, has extra space, offers better comfort, improved driving dynamics and upgraded safety technology.

Much of this long list of improvements is thanks to the introduction of a new platform called TNGA GA-K. As a result, the car is lower, wider, has a lower centre of gravity and that means it is more balanced and agile to drive.

Powering the latest car is a new 2.5-litre self-charging hybrid powertrain mated to a CVT gearbox and it impresses on all counts.

It delivers 219bhp in the all-wheel drive model powering it to 62mph from a standing start in 8.1 seconds topping out at 112. The front-wheel drive car delivers 215bhp and can complete the 0-62mph dash in 8.4 seconds and also maxes out at 112mph.

We tried the RAV4 in range-topping Dynamic trim with front-wheel drive on a route around Barcelona that included fast moving highways, twisting country lanes and testing mountain roads, and it certainly didn't lack any firepower.

The car, sitting on 18-inch wheels, was priced at £34,400 and could return a combined 51.2mpg with carbon emissions of 105g/km.

The new hybrid unit was punchy with a constant stream of power on tap to make light work of overtaking and the perfectly weighted steering offered ample driver feedback.

As to be expected with CVT units, it can get a little rev-happy when driven with a heavy right foot and some of the more testing ascents caused the noise levels, in the otherwise beautifully quiet cabin, to rise considerably.

But the RAV4 could easily cruise at fast motorway speeds and proved beautifully nimble as it weaved through the crowded city streets. Then on twisting country roads it was a delight to drive accelerating hard into bends with confidence.

There are different driving modes called Eco, Normal and Sport that alter the performance, along with an EV-only mode that works up to speeds of about 75mph.

The new-look, more aerodynamic styling of the RAV4 also results in a more refined cabin with barely a hint of wind sound or roads surface noise filtering through, and the new suspension system that has been introduced does a very thorough job of smoothing out bumpy road surfaces.

Toyota has also developed an electric AWD-i system to give additional grip in poor driving conditions.

This set-up is more compact and lighter than a standard mechanical AWD system, so fuel consumption is not compromised. There is a Trail mode for extra grip when faced with off-road terrain and the car's ground clearance has been raised by 15mm.

We had the opportunity to try out this system in an AWD version of the RAV4 and it was impressive across slippery, boggy tracks and on gravel.

Another plus factor for the platform is a 30mm extended wheelbase resulting in extra space within the car for occupants and storage.

Rear passengers have more width to spread out and an extra 49mm of legroom which means a couple of six footers can sit comfortably in the back of the RAV4.

Up front, the driver's hip point has been lowered and the steering wheel adjustment increased by 50 per cent so getting comfy is an easy process.

In addition, the front pillars are narrower, the bonnet and belt-line lowered and the door mirrors have been moved to a slightly lower position too - all these factors, along with the elevated seating position, result in excellent all-round visibility.

And there is a wealth of techno treats to explore with the likes of full leather upholstery, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, Toyota Touch 2 Go system with eight-inch multimedia touchscreen, DAB radio, full navigation, up to five USB ports and the option to upgrade to a premium JBL sound system and an opening panoramic sunroof.

Storage options have improved too with an extra 79 litres of boot space, meaning the capacity ranges from 580 litres to 1,690 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat.

The flat boot floor is handy when loading heavy items and the tailgate is powered so really useful when approaching the car carrying shopping bags. The rear doors also open wider making it easier to access child seats.

Toyota has introduced extra safety features to the new RAV4 and existing technology has been upgraded. Although the car has not yet been tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating, the company is confident it will receive a maximum score just like the previous generation model.

The RAV4 line-up ranges from £29,635 for the base-level Icon model with 2WD to £36,640 for the top-of-the-range Dynamic RAV4 with AWD.

At launch, there is a number of PCP offers. For example, the Icon model would cost £269 per month, Design £279, Excel £299 and Dynamic £309 - all with a deposit of 24 per cent. For those looking for AWD, it is available on all apart from the entry-level Icon model and costs an additional £2,240.

All in all, the latest RAV4 is a fabulous piece of kit and ticks all the right boxes for anyone looking for a great quality, safe, practical SUV that's fun to drive, economical to run and packed with all the latest technology. And based on that, the RAV4 is likely continue with its global sales domination.

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