REMEMBER the first Toyota RAV4? Yes, it was a cheeky three-door runabout with go kart-like handling and could be squeezed into a tiny parking space.
Of course, there was a larger family five-door version too. But that was almost a quarter of a century ago. Now the car that possibly paved the way for the SUV craze is much bigger, packs loads of tech and, inevitably, much more expensive.
The latest generation of Toyota's RAV4 is either hybrid-petrol or pure petrol underling the firm's electric intentions and throws down the gauntlet to rivals that have stuck with diesel power.
Not only does it look radically different with a distinctive new nose and sculptured hindquarters, but it is built on a fresh platform that lends a new dynamism partly thanks to a lower centre of gravity and a new suspensions set-up.
Significantly, the body is almost 60 per cent stiffer, benefiting the ride and boosting the handling as well as improving refinement.
The self-charging hybrid version reviewed is powered by a 2.5-litre petrol engine supported by an electric motor and driven by all four wheels. The gearbox is an auto continuous variable transmission, which has been effectively tweaked to help banish the ‘ebb and flow' of revs which is a characteristic of CVT systems.
Behind the wheel, it feels a much improved car with more fluent road-holding a greater composure. Steering is more precise and direct and the overall impression is of car-like handling despite the generously proportioned SUV body. Up to 80 per cent of the torque is directed to the rear wheels.
Together with the electric motor, it knocks out a substantial 219bhp which allows it hit 62mph in a brisk 8.1 seconds. Despite the punchy acceleration combined fuel consumption is given at 47.8mpg, making it one of the most frugal models in its class.
With emissions of barely more than 100g/km, tax is just £140 for the first year.
Smooth driving and keeping the indicator out of the power band on the monitor pays off, if you are aiming for greatest efficiency. Steering paddles allow you greater control and also provide engine braking at a dab of the hand.
Off-road over a gravel track it searches out grip and scrabbles manfully over difficult terrain. High ground clearance allows you to clear most obstacles easily.
Inside, the cabin is airy and spacious with loads of legroom front and back. Plenty of soft-feel trim and high grade furnishings lend it a premium feel. Rear seats fold to expand luggage space which is a generous 580 litres with four people seated. And no shortage of cubby space for oddments.
The Dynamic model we drove comes with a decent complement of kit including dual zone air con, telescopic adjustable steering column, front and rear parking sensors, rear privacy glass and powered tailgate (a trifle slow in operation).
On the safety front there's Toyota's ‘safety Sense' pre-collision system with night and daytime pedestrian detection, lane departure system and adaptive cruise control.