Though it’s hard to believe, the popular RAV4 turns 20 this year. And, unsurprisingly, it has grown up quite a lot over the last two decades.
Launched as a compact, 3-door model, the first “Urban 4WD” was quite different to a traditional 4×4. It featured a relatively small 2.0 litre engine mounted transversally within a monocoque bodyshell, and all-round independent suspension. At 3.69 m long, it was shorter than today’s B-segment vehicles. This was a truly pioneering new car.
The starting idea
It was the RAV-FOUR concept car at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show that first indicated Toyota’s direction to create a compact 4WD model. This showcar was no more than a design study, lacking the detail required for an actual development model. But it was welcomed by unanimous enthusiasm from the public and eventually in March 1991 the project was given the green light, and the actual development of the first RAV4 began.
A new approach but a difficult birth
But at that time, for Chief Engineer Masakatsu Nonaka, it was not easy to convince the other Toyota departments that it would be possible to create a mass production car that should be sold in a segment that so far did not exist. This was at a time when the phrase “Sports Utility Vehicle” was still unknown and there were many within Toyota who simply could not conceive such a compact 4×4. At one point, the development even stalled due to internal resistance. The development team was about to give up when support from an unexpected direction breathed new life into the project.
It was the Japanese and European Sales Division that came to the rescue. Being in close contact with the market, they felt that the time was right for this type of car. Jointly, they pushed the project back on the tracks and they were proven right: shortly after its launch, the RAV4 has been soon recognized as a trendsetter for its fresh and excellent driving performance.
From a niche model to a global car
Toyota can rightfully claim to have created the compact SUV market with the launch of its first Recreational Active Vehicle with 4 Wheel-Drive (RAV4) in 1994. That year, Toyota sold 53,000 units of his RAV4. Multiplied by 2 the year after, the figure has been tripled in 1995 and steadily grown generation after generation. In 2013, the number of sales should represent 10 times the sales result of 1994.
In total, more than 5 million RAV4 have been sold in the world of which more than 1.3 million in Europe. And more than 90% of those are still on the road today.
However, competition also increased over these 20 years: in 2010 there were 10 different models in the compact SUV segment; today there are 19 to choose from.
The compact SUV segment is one of the few still growing in Europe, with sales increasing by some 36% between 2008 and 2013. In 2013, Western European segment sales totalled 848,000 units, with a further 387,000 vehicles sold in Russia.
The Fourth Generation RAV4
Since 1994, the segment has not only grown, it has also changed and matured. Where the early customers often used to buy compact SUVs as an alternative to sporty hatchbacks or coupés, today’s growth of the SUV market is fuelled by families looking for a more fun and fashionable alternative to MPVs and estates.
Whilst keeping the design and fun-to-drive aspects of the first generation of RAV4, the fourth generation has evolved to capture that trend.
Existing RAV4 customers from Europe, China and North America were interviewed to understand what they most appreciated about Toyota’s compact SUV. They cited good manoeuvrability, ease of access linked to an elevated view of the road, ingenious packaging, versatility, and reassuring capability, even in tough conditions.
The new RAV4 reflects this stronger emphasis on family use without sacrificing any of the model’s core values -manoeuvrability, versatility, an elevated view of the road and accomplished on- and off-road capabilities.
Rather, it offers customers stronger, more sophisticated and dynamic styling, refined, premium-quality interior design, greater cabin room and loadspace capacity, and enhanced comfort, versatility and safety.
Equipped with new powertrains, the new RAV4 combines the widest engine line-up yet offered with an average reduction in CO2 emissions of 11% across the entire model range compared to the previous generation.
In conjunction with a new, more focused driving position, retuned front and rear suspension systems, revised Electric Power Steering and a newly developed Sport mode for its advanced, all-wheel drive, Integrated Dynamic Drive System, the new RAV4 delivers greater stability and agility on both wet and dry roads for a more engaging driving experience.
This is particularly true in Sport Mode when the cornering control increases rear wheel torque distribution up to 10% by detecting the steering angle. Yaw-rate feedback control then precisely adjusts the rear wheel torque depending on the vehicle yaw-rate. As a result the 4th generation RAV4 is more at ease than ever on daily roads, whilst remaining as competent as always off-road.
4 GENERATIONS, 20 YEARS OF EVOLUTION
1st generation 1994 – 2000 : 1st urban 4WD. Launched in 3 doors. Compact (3,69 m) and lightweight: 2-liter 129 DIN hp, transverse mount without sub-transmission, Fulltime 4WD, Unit body construction, independent rear suspension, overall dimensions compact enough for good manoeuvrability and ease of ingress/egress despite a high eye point. 5 doors (4.10 m) and 2WD launched in 1996. 3 doors soft top available, first RAV4 EV produced from October 1997 to April 2000. Customer: Single/couples.
2nd generation 2000-2006 : Launched in 3 and 5 doors, respectively +5,5 cm and +4 cm compared to 1st generation. Two engines available: 1.8 123 DIN hp & 2.0 150 DIN hp, Fulltime 4WD with centre differential LSD viscous coupling and Torsen as factory option for the rear diff. First 2.0 Diesel in 2002. Customer: Couples/Young families.
3rd generation 2006-2012: New platform, 5 doors only but two different wheelbases available in USA and in Russia. Overall length extended 19 cm for the short and 47.5 cm for the long wheelbase. Full engine line-up: 2.0, 2.4, 2.5, 3.5 V6 and 2.2 Diesel. New 4WD system with electronically controlled coupling (based on speed, throttle information, steering angle, longitudinal acceleration or g-force). Downhill-Assist Control and Hill-start Assist Control. Customer: Mature families/Empty Nesters.
4th generation 2013: 5 doors only with one wheelbase for all countries. Overall length extended 23.5 cm compared to the previous short wheelbase and reduced by 5 cm compared to long one. Full engine line-up: 2.0, 2.5 petrol and 2.0, 2.2 Diesel. Dynamic Torque Control AWD System (based on speed, throttle information, steering angle, longitudinal acceleration or g-force) offers cornering control and sport mode. Downhill-Assist Control and Hill-start Assist Control. Customer: Mature families/Empty Nesters.
* Be sure to have a look at our RAV4 gallery here.