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Driving impression: Toyota RAV4

2 December 2015

The Toyota Rav4 has always been an easy car to recommend to people, but the same can be said of a few other soft roaders in the segment.

To be fair, the Rav4 got there first when it kick-started a segment more than two decades ago, so there’s still a fair amount of loyalty at play, but that’s not the reason Toyota sells an average of 500 a month. No, the Rav4 sells so well because it is the best vehicle in a segment that’s bursting at the seams.

It’s a hard car to fault – so hard, in fact, that you have to resort to searching high and low for some sort of failing you can use to criticise the car. I’ve spent many, many hours behind the wheel of the pre-facelifted model and a couple more driving the new car, so here goes:

I don’t like the placement of the traction control button and the digital clock. While the clock does a perfectly good job of telling the time, it is annoying because it looks out of place in what is otherwise a lovely interior.

The Rav4 is comfortable, quiet and equipped with everything you could possibly want, across the whole range. The quality is good and the infotainment interface works like a charm. It’s also a safe car, with a host of active acronyms working hard to keep you on track, while the safety shell, airbags and safety belts will do their best to keep you alive if the worst does happen.

The car is as charming and delightful as it always was, so let’s move on to the exterior upgrades, which are extensive enough to actually notice. I can’t say I was fond of the way the pre-facelift model looked, but it wasn’t offensive, either. The new one, however, is both elegant and eye-catching. This is one facelift that was definitely worth the effort.

In terms of model line-up, I only had the opportunity to sample the top-of-the-line 2,5-litre petrol VX and the entry-level all-wheel drive diesel derivative.

The 2,5-litre (132kW) engine and automatic gearbox combination is very good and easy to recommend to those who still believe petrol is best in this application, but I’d rather focus on the entry-level all-wheel drive diesel GX manual.

The GX has all the equipment you need, with the VX trim only adding a few niceties you could easily live without.

Inside, the GX specification includes power windows, remote central locking and auto door lock, manual climate control, an infotainment system with every connection imaginable, retractable tonneau cover with net barrier and rear park distance control.

The 2,2-litre turbocharged diesel’s figures aren’t mind-blowing, but it feels more powerful than the claimed 110kW and 340Nm suggest. It’s also as reliable as one would expect from a Toyota and reasonably frugal, given its application.

What I love most about the Rav4 is its ability to tackle off-road obstacles that would leave most of its competitors dead in their tracks. It has just the right amount of ground clearance and an all-wheel drive system that’s more than competent enough to keep you going.

You can lock the centre differential to distribute the power equally between the front and rear axles, but it only works at speeds of up to 40km/h. At certain points on our sandy route in Mozambique I exceeded 40km/h and the vehicle would just revert back to doing its own thing. This left me stabbing at the button every few minutes, until I eventually let the car have its way.

As it turned out, the Rav4 is very capable and smart enough to cope with soft sand, which makes it okay in my book. Unlike some other soft-roaders, the Rav4 allows you to override both the traction control and stability control, which means the power is never cut unnecessarily at a time when you need it most.

Not that it matters, I suppose, because most people will end up buying the front-wheel drive model and will seldom use it on gravel.

Pricing starts at R327 700 for the petrol powered and manual shifting 2,0-litre GX and goes up to R487 400 for a top-spec VX diesel automatic.

The sweet spot is the mid-grade 2,2D GX MT, retailing for R409 900. At that price it’s cheaper than most of its rivals, so it represents good value for money. Add reliability, comfort, luxury and off-road ability and it’s easy to see why the Rav4 is SA’s favourite mid-sized SUV. – Gerhard Horn