Toyota RAV4 takes an

interesting turn

Toyota RAV4, front action
Toyota RAV4, full front action
Toyota RAV4, overhead action
Toyota RAV4, front action 2
Toyota RAV4, side action
Toyota RAV4, rear action 2
Toyota RAV4, dashboard
Toyota RAV4, rear action
Toyota RAV4, boot
Toyota RAV4, upright action
Toyota RAV4, front seats
Toyota RAV4, rear seats

EVERY few years Toyota, perhaps more than most major car makers, decides it is time to stop making cars keen drivers think are dull and catch the current vibe instead.

So when the big boss (there is none bigger) says ‘no more boring cars' this giant supertanker of a motor manufacturer swings the rudder hard over and heads for more interesting waters.

One of the results of that decree from Mr Toyoda himself (yes, a ‘d' and not a ‘t'; it's a long story) is facing you here today in the decidedly modern and crisply sculpted shape of the fifth generation RAV4, latest bearer of a badge that has adorned more than nine million cars.

That makes it the biggest selling SUV in the world, so no pressure then on the design team to keep the sales graph climbing in a challenging market with so many more decent driving competitors than when the first RAV4 appeared in 1994.

With just three doors and a spare wheel on the side hinged rear door the tiny (a near midget by modern standards) mark one RAV4 was an instant sales success.

Buyers loved the car for its honest ability to transfer a family in some comfort and sometimes on roads made treacherous by frost or standing water.

The intervening years saw the car gain a pair of rear doors and ditch the external spare as it grew in size and sophistication. Both attributes appear in spades on the newcomer.

It is lower but wider than before with the wheels set further out for a more substantial look, with more interior space for people, thanks to stretching the distance between front and rear axles. The boot is bigger too, up 79 litres to a generous 580 litres.

As much attention has been lavished on the inside as on the new bodywork with the result that the latest car feels a whole grade better finished than before. It has become not only a more comfortable place to pass the miles but more premium feeling as well.

You will pay a little more for the move from premium economy to business class, with prices starting at a touch under £30,000 (£29,635 to be precise) for an Icon grade.

Toyota thinks the next grade up, the Design, will be most popular and that the great majority will have all-wheel drive, needing a bank transfer of £33,430. You then move up through Excel to Dynamic, with the dearest of the new cars costing £36,640.

Once you've chosen the plushness of your new RAV4 you can relax, with every one powered by the same 2.5 litre petrol engine, helped out by an electric motor and biggish battery that recharges when you lift off the throttle or brake.

Pick the all-wheel drive RAV4 hybrid and an extra motor controls the rear wheels, giving the car some credible performance on the roughest of tracks or when faced with snow covered side road. You might never need that ability but it's good to know it's there.

A mere four years ago a whopping 80 per cent of RAV4s were diesel powered. Today that fuel has been banished from the line up and only the hybrid petrol/electric car will be be sold in the UK.

That doesn't mean you lose the ability to stretch a gallon a long way. The 215 combined horsepower of the front driving RAV4 posts an official 51mpg average, which translated into a more than acceptable 43.4mpg on the varied roads chosen form the car's launch around Barcelona. A diesel might do better, but not deal-breakingly so.

Modest CO2 outputs, from 102g/km, mean equally low road fund licence demands and Toyota's ranking among the world's most reliable carmakers should mean an untaxing time for an owner.

The all-wheel drive RAV4 is actually a tiny bit more powerful (219bhp) and showed a still more impressive 53mpg on a rather less demanding road drive than the front-driver tried earlier.

Both of them have more of Toyota's Safety Sense features that includes adaptive cruise control that will keep you within the speed limit, can spot bicycles in your path and will brake the car for you in traffic jams and move off smoothly when things sort themselves out.

Both also ride with the sort of supple aplomb missing in too many family machines that fancy themselves a bit sporty - on Spain's superbly smooth minor roads (be ashamed, UK) it felt like a mini-limo.

Quiet too at a decent motorway lick and near silent in town when the electric motor kicked in to provide emissions free progress through Barcelona's crazy get-to-work traffic.

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