By Mike Torpey on 2021-07-25 - Driving Force news editor and responsible for organising our daily output. He was staff motoring editor of the Liverpool Echo for 20 years.
Toyota RAV4 2.5
IT seems strange to think that one of the world's most successful cars very nearly didn't happen at all.
Thirty years ago the man behind Toyota's RAV4 project, a guy called Masakatsu Nonaka, was struggling to convince the company's other departments that a new mass production car should be created.
Worse still for Nonaka's aspirations, it would be sold in a market segment that at the time didn't even exist.
The category of Sports Utility Vehicle still hadn't been dreamed up. In fact the concept of a compact 4x4 seemed so alien to some of Toyota's big guns that plans were even stalled.
Thankfully the Japanese automakers saw sense and in 1994 the Toyota RAV4 - named due to being a Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive - was launched.
Now into its fifth generation and bearing little resemblance to the original, the latest RAV4 has graduated from world's first to, in the eyes of many, world's best.
And there's so much going for the latest variant, including hybrid power and multiple industry awards, that it's difficult to argue with that sentiment.
The RAV4 was actually the first SUV to be built on a new Toyota platform which provides the car with a low centre of gravity and far greater body rigidity than before.
The upshot of that of course is superior handling and ride comfort as well as a spacious cabin.
RAV4's hybrid system comprises a 2.5-litre petrol engine supported by an electric motor for a total system output of 219bhp while its intelligent all-wheel drive system (AWD-i) has been upgraded for stronger capability when the going gets tough.
You wouldn't normally expect an engine of this size to return average fuel consumption of 47.9 miles per gallon yet the hybrid system makes this achievable.
It is engineered to run as often as possible on electric power, so you save fuel and cut exhaust emissions - and for extra confidence you can see when the car is running on electricity because a green EV icon lights up in the instrument display.
Another bonus is an EV mode button, enabling the car to be driven at low speed over short distances exclusively on electric power provided there's sufficient charge in the hybrid battery.
All very efficient but there are plenty of other reasons why the RAV4 is such a successful, and desirable, car.
For starters it looks a strong, imposing vehicle, made all the more classy in the case of our tested mid-range Dynamic trim model by its dark Obsidian Blue Bi-tone paint job and 19-inch shiny black alloy wheels.
Move inside and there are soft-touch surfaces everywhere, tactile controls, ambient lighting, comfortable seating for five - including a centre rear passenger - and a vast boot.
Fold the rear seats down and a 29-inch mountain bike can be carried without any wheels needing to be removed and should dirty items need shifting there's a reversable two-level deck board in the load area.
Better all-round visibility was a key factor in the design process so the RAV4's bonnet sits 15mm lower than its predecessor, improving the driver's field of vision.
That said you get a commanding view of the road from a raised driving position in a car that's rock solid and well balanced on the road with a precise, connected feel from the steering.
As for safety, there's an extensive suite of features that make up the company's Toyota Safety Sense protection including the likes of a blind spot monitor, lane departure alert, trailer sway control and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection.
You also get loads of standard kit like a rear-view camera, parking sensors and sat nav while forking out an extra £1,645 will get you a Premium Pack of a Skyview glass roof, nine-speaker JBL Premium Sound and a Panoramic View Monitor.
Toyota RAV4 2.5 Hybrid Dynamic
Mechanical:219bhp, 2,487cc, 4-cyl petrol engine with electric motor driving four wheels via CVT auto gearbox
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