Toyota RAV4 2013: Launch Review

words - Matt Brogan
Sharp pricing and Oz-first turbodiesel engine headline the arrival of fourth-generation RAV4

Toyota RAV4 GX, GXL and Cruiser

Local Launch
Merimbula, NSW

What we liked:
>> Turbodiesel engine option, finally
>> Improved on-road dynamics
>> Classier, roomier interior

Not so much:
>> Appalling towing capacity for turbodiesel variants
>> Full-size spare should be no-cost option
>> Minor stability control lag

>> First Aussie RAV4 oiler in 20 years
Toyota says it has “reinvigorated” the compact SUV segment with the introduction of its fourth-generation RAV4.

Less expensive and better equipped that the model it replaces, the new RAV4 offers buyers the choice of two petrol and one turbodiesel engine; the first time an oiler has been offered in the model locally.

A total of 16 model variants are available in the new RAV4 portfolio, including two- and all-wheel drive options, and the choice of manual, CVT and automatic transmissions across the range.

Three model grades are available – GX, GXL and Cruiser – offering equipment levels competitive with the softroader’s numerous rivals, while a sharper look, revised interior styling and greater comfort levels add to a package offering more space, and improved practicality.

>> Sharp looks, sharper pricing
It’s rare for a new SUV model to arrive without at least a modest price increase, especially when standard equipment levels take a manifest uptick.

But the new RAV4 has managed to retain, and in some cases beat, existing pricing across all three model grades.

The simplified model range sees entry-level GX fitted as standard with steering wheel-mounted controls for audio and trip computer, rear parking sensors, cruise control, 17-inch steel wheels, projector style headlights, six-speaker single-CD tuner, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth telephony, 60:40 split-fold rear seat, roof rails, cargo net and roof-top spoiler.

Mid-spec GXL variants add fog lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera, display audio system, sports seats, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, electric folding mirrors, keyless entry and push-button ignition. AWD variants add a sound-deadening windscreen.

Finally, top-grade Cruiser models gain leather-accented seats, satellite navigation, blind-spot monitoring system, electrically-operated tailgate with height-position memory, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, eight-way power driver’s seat, and a tilt and slide electric Moonroof.

Pricing kicks off at $28,490 (plus on-road costs) for two-wheel drive (2WD) 2.0-litre petrol manual GX models, $500 below the entry price of the previous RAV4 CV ($28,990).

Entry-level 2WD petrol versions are offered optionally with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for $2500, while a step-up to the GXL elevates pricing to $32,490 with the manual and $34,990 with the CVT.

The asking price for AWD variants is unchanged, with the 2.5-litre petrol AWD GX manual from $31,990. The GXL version begins at $35,490, with top-spec RAV4 Cruiser priced from $42,990. All 2.5-litre petrol AWD models are available with a six-speed automatic transmission for an extra $2500.

Finally, the new RAV4 turbodiesel starts at $35,490 for the entry-level GX manual AWD -- a price Toyota says is “keener” than most diesel rivals in this segment. Next up is the mid-spec GXL from $38,990 and range-topping Cruiser from $46,490.

A six-speed automatic transmission is available for $2500, which prices the new flagship model at $48,990, or $1000 less than the previous range-topping, V6 petrol ZR6.

Optionally, GX variants are offered with 17-inch alloy wheels from $600. A full-size spare wheel is available across the range from $300.

Like all Toyota vehicles sold in Australia, RAV4 is covered by the capped-price Toyota Service Advantage at a maximum of $170 per service (over three years or 60,000km).

A long list of accessories is also available for the new RAV4 which include a polished alloy nudge bar, side steps, cargo barrier, rubber cargo mat, rear bumper scuff guard, bonnet protector, slimline weather shield, roof racks (with numerous cradles for various sporting equipment), parking sensors, floor mats and headlight protectors.

2013 Toyota RAV4 pricing (excluding on-road costs):
RAV4 GX 2.0P 2WD $28,490 (man.) / $30,990 (CVT)
RAV4 GXL 2.0P 2WD $32,490 (man.) / $34,990 (CVT)
RAV4 GX 2.5P AWD $31,990 (man.) / $34,490 (auto.)
RAV4 GXL 2.5P AWD $35,490 (man.) / $37,990 (auto.)
RAV4 Cruiser 2.5P AWD $42,990 (man.) / $45,490 (auto.)
RAV4 GX 2.2D AWD $35,490 (man.) / $37,990 (auto.)
RAV4 GXL 2.2D AWD $38,990 (man.) / $41,490 (auto.)
RAV4 Cruiser 2.2D AWD $46,490 (man.) / $48,990 (auto.)

>> Something for every taste
While the RAV4’s headline act is the introduction of a turbodiesel engine to the local line-up, it’s important to note the new model also offers a choice of two petrol engines, as well as manual, CVT and automatic transmissions; not to mention dedicated front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive variants across the range.

At the entry-end, the RAV4 GX and GXL come with the (3ZR-FE) 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, driving the front wheels with either a (EB61) six-speed manual or (K111) seven-ratio MultiDrive Sport continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The Toyota Corolla-sourced petrol powerplant is equipped with dual variable valve timing to offer 107kW at 6200rpm and 187Nm at 3600rpm.

On the combined cycle (ADR81/02) test the 1987cc unit returned a fuel consumption figure of 7.4L/100km, with CO2 emissions of 173g/km for CVT-equipped variants. Manual models returned 7.7L/100km and 179g/km.

The other 2.5-litre (2AR-FE) four-cylinder petrol engine also powers the Toyota Camry. Driving all four wheels via Toyota’s new Dynamic Torque Control AWD system, it develops 132kW at 6000rpm and 233Nm at 4100rpm – 7kW and 9Nm more than the 2.4-litre unit it replaces.

It can be matched to a (EB63F) six-speed manual or (U760F) six-speed auto for a combined fuel consumption of 8.6L/100km (down 5.5 per cent) and 8.5L/100km (down 11.5 per cent) respectively.

Toyota says the 2.5-litre engine promises not only improved performance, but also better fuel economy, lower emissions and reduced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).

Finally, the newly adopted 2.2-litre (2AD-FTV) four-cylinder turbodiesel engine delivers 110kW at 3600rpm and 340Nm between 2000 and 2800rpm – with 200Nm available from just over 1000rpm and “at least” 300Nm from 1700rpm, Toyota says.

Diesel transmission choices include the (EB64F) six-speed manual or (U660F) six-speed automatic transmission; both offering all-wheel drive, again via Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Control AWD system.

Officially, combined fuel consumption is 5.6L/100km with the manual transmission and 6.5L/100km with the auto. CO2 emissions are 149g/km and 172g/km respectively.

Towing is rated at 750kg (unbraked) for both petrol models, rising to 800kg for 2.0-litre models and 1500kg for 2.5-litre models when trailer brakes are fitted. Turbodiesel variants, however, do not fare so well. The automatic variant can tow only 500kg and the manual slightly more at 550kg.

As touched on earlier, the new RAV4 introduces a revised all-wheel drive system dubbed Dynamic Torque Control AWD. In normal conditions, the system sends most of torque to the front wheels (90:10 front-to-rear) via an electromagnetic coupling located in the rear differential housing. That figure can vary by up to 50:50 when conditions dictate.

Whereas the previous AWD system relied on slip detection (i.e. it only intervened when a loss of traction was detected on slippery roads), the new system controls the amount of torque delivered to the front and rear wheels based on road speed, steering angle and throttle input.

It also includes a SPORT mode to aid control when cornering on dry roads, by altering the responsiveness of the throttle, transmission and electric power-steering assistance. SPORT mode is cancelled under braking to optimise the operation of the RAV4’s anti-lock braking and stability control systems. The driver may also override the system manually at speeds up to 40km/h by pushing the AWD LOCK button.

All RAV4s are suspended by a MacPherson strut (front), trailing-arm double wishbone (rear) arrangement and arrested by four-wheel disc brakes (measuring 296 x 28mm at the front and 281 x 12mm at the rear). Steering duties fall to an electrically-assisted rack and pinion system offering 2.83 turns lock-to-lock.

The base model RAV4 GX is fitted with 17 x 6.5-inch steel wheels, while GXL and Cruiser variants share 17 x 7.0-inch alloys. All are shod with 225/65-series ‘low rolling resistance’ Yokohama Geolander tyres.

The fuel tank capacity is 60 litres across the range.

>> A sharper SUV sculpture
Toyota says the new RAV4 bears no aesthetic resemblance to earlier models, and we’re inclined to agree. The sharp exterior design offers strong angular lines and tighter proportions; however, the aggressively sculpted ‘Under Priority’ front end and ‘Keen Look’ headlights are reminiscent of the latest Corolla.

A black resin finish, which flows from the bottom corners of the lower bumper opening, is said to form a “tough, durable skirt” around the base of the vehicle for protection offroad, while blacked-out B and C pillars emphasise the lengthened glasshouse.

From the rear, pronounced wheel arches announce a “stable, planted stance”, while the top-hinged tailgate loses its spare wheel, improving aerodynamics and adding to a “cleaner” look.

To further improve aerodynamics, the new RAV4 features underbody panels for a ride height reduction of 15mm. The coefficient of drag varies between petrol- and diesel-powered models, at 0.34 and 0.32Cd respectively.

Smaller in overall size, the new RAV4 measures 4570mm in length (-55mm), 1845mm in width (-10mm) and 1715mm in height (-20mm), including roof rails.

The front and track are 1570mm apiece (+10mm) while the wheelbase is unchanged, at 2660mm. RAV4 now tips the scales between 1485 and 1660kg depending on variant.

Inside, the RAV4 offers more room and higher-quality finishes, as well as a renewed focus on the driving experience, Toyota says. A horizontal-lined design theme aims to emphasise strength while the new dashboard offers soft padding. Other highlights include a new instrumentation binnacle with crisp ‘Clear Blue’ illumination, revised steering wheel and new décor and colouring throughout.

Ergonomic improvements include better seat height adjustment range (+15mm), deeper bolstering on Sports seats (offered in GXL and Cruiser grades) and a steering wheel angle lowered by 2.3 degrees.

Thinner A-pillars improve the driver’s field of vision by eight per cent, while the distance between driver and rear-seat passenger is 107mm more, at 972mm.

Thinner front seats also increase rear seat knee room by 41mm (now 944mm) while an increase in the cushion surface and higher side bolsters improve comfort and support. The recline-angles of the 60:40 split-fold rear seats are adjustable.

Toyota has also increased the size of the rear cargo area, which is now deeper (951mm), wider (1337mm) and easier to access via the top-hinged tailgate. There’s 577 litres of space when a space-saver wheel is included, dropping to 506 litres when optioning a full-sized spare wheel.

The new RAV4 is also more family friendly, with the three top-tether child-seat anchor points relocated for easier access, and ISOFIX points fitted to outboard rear seats.

>> More meat, less fat
Toyota claims improved body strength and active and passive safety levels in the new RAV4. The result is a five-star European (EuroNCAP) and Australian (ANCAP) crash-safety rating.

Increased use of corrosion-resistant high-strength steel, more (spot) weld points around door apertures, and optimised body reinforcements have contributed to improved torsional rigidity and strength, while reducing unnecessary weight.  

Safety equipment extends to seatbelt reminders for all five seating positions, stability control with steering assist functionality, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, hill-start assist, downhill assist control (AWD automatic models only), reversing camera (GXL and Cruiser models only), daytime running lamps, emergency stop signal, and seven airbags (front, side, curtain and driver’s knee).

The top-spec RAV4 Cruiser also gets a blind spot monitoring system, HID headlamps and an electro-chromatic mirror, while AWD variants get the handling benefits of Toyota’s new Dynamic Torque Control AWD system (as mentioned in MECHANICAL, above).

>> Off to battle in 21-strong segment
Toyota says the new RAV4 will bolster its already strong segment leadership in Australia when it goes on sale this week. By the end of January, 197,347 RAV4s had been sold in Australia since the first-generation model went on sale in 1994, beating long-term rivals Honda CR-V (137,319), Nissan X-TRAIL (129,444) and Subaru Forester (172,629).

The VFACTS segment in which the RAV4 competes (SUV Medium under $60K) features no fewer than 21 different models, though we expect much of the model’s competition to come from direct rivals such as Holden Captiva5, Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, Skoda Yeti and Volkswagen Tiguan, as well as the newly introduced Mazda CX-5 and upcoming Ford Kuga.

The RAV4 was the third biggest-selling medium SUV in Australia in 2012, narrowly trailing the Nissan X-TRAIL and Mazda CX-5.

The option of a turbodiesel engine for the first time will also give Toyota a much-needed leg-up in the increasingly popular arena, and Toyota expects the new RAV4 oiler will account for upwards of 20 per cent of all new-model sales.

Private SUV sales accounted for around a half of all model sales in 2011.

>> Waku Doki, not Jinba Ittai
Toyota says its new RAV4 is more Waku Doki (fun to drive) than the old one, and we’d have to agree. But it certainly doesn’t match the feeling of Jinba Ittai (horse and rider as one) the CX-5 offers.

The RAV4 is more planted at speed than ever before. It’s also noticeably quieter and offers a better haptic feel through all of the primary controls than the out-going model.

The seating position is deeper and relates sensibly to the steering wheel, pedals and gearshift, while also offering clear outward vision and reference, thanks primarily to the raised bonnet edges.

Toyota offered manual and automatic variants of the 2.5-litre petrol version of its new RAV4 to at the car’s local launch. The petrol engine is smooth and quite happy to rev, but needs to be worked harder on steeper inclines to deliver real results.

It’s a good thing then that the transmission is well calibrated to throttle inputs and cooperates with the driver to achieve the desired result without hunting.

The tall gearing on the manual variant means it’s biased towards economy, but will still deliver ample performance provided you’re happy to drop a few cogs and work the engine through its upper reaches (the 2.5-litre unit develops maximum power at 6000rpm).

The gearshift itself is light but positive while the clutch offers just the right amount of feel without tiring the left leg. The brake pedal too offers adequate modulation for a family SUV, though we did notice a very small ‘gap’ in initial pedal response before braking application commenced.

Braking performance is otherwise strong, and the suspension works well to stop the nose diving under heavy application, while maintaining proper steering control. We tested the anti-lock braking system on gravel sections with good results, though the stability control system was less effective.

The suspension is firmer and, in calibrating the stability control, Toyota appears to have allowed more time before intervention by the new all-wheel drive system and indeed driver input takes place. The slow reaction time led to a few understeer moments on unsealed roads, and meant the RAV4 didn’t feel as predictable or as controllable ultimately, than the Mazda CX-5 or Volkswagen Tiguan sampled in our earlier Mid-size SUV Comparison.

But in tougher offroad situations the RAV4’s all-wheel drive system and electronics proved more than capable. Most ‘soft roaders’ struggle when the going gets tough, but RAV4 proved quite talented, and this without the assistance of a low-range transfer.

Ground clearance was an issue in some places, but the RAV4 crawled and scurried its way up steep hills and down steep, deeply gouged declines with surprising confidence, proving itself a better all-rounder than you’d first give it credit for.

The electric steering is well-weighted with force feedback increasing in Sport mode. The system is direct and quite accurate, and though we’re commenting without the benefit of a direct comparison, we’d still stick our necks out and say it’s one of the best electronic systems in its class.

Ultimately we’d like to sample the RAV4 fully laden before giving the nod to its on road and overtaking performance. But with two passengers on board the RAV4 2.5 petrol was capable, quiet and competent through the hills and dales surrounding the Merimbula launch location -- and we really look forward to sampling the new 2.2 turbodiesel in a few weeks’ time.

Vastly improved, the RAV4 should continue to be a popular choice among medium SUV buyers. The pricing is fair, the options numerous and the reasons for buying better justified by the improvements to its tactility, practicality and capability.

Watch a video history tracing the successful run of the Toyota RAV4

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Published : Wednesday, 20 February 2013
In most cases, attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

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