The one that started it all is now the best of its breed
Words by: Adam Allen
Ah, 1996. What a year.
And how! We look back wistfully at the good ol’ days. Important milestones include after 27 years of being left on the sidelines, Betty Rubble finally became a Flintstone vitamin. Those that had finally ‘made it’ were sporting brand new Motorola StarTAC flip phones, and the Ottawa Senators set an NHL record of 16 consecutive home games without a win, a distinction that still stands today. While the Sens might have been losing, Toyota’s fortunes were going the opposite way when they unleashed the RAV4 onto the Canadian market-we took a strong liking to this new vehicular genre that offered all-weather capability coupled with excellent fuel economy. You might say that the RAV4 is responsible for setting off the frenzied buying of crossovers that’s all the rage these days, and look no further than the fact that it outsold the popular Camry and Corolla last year. Those numbers show no signs off cooling off, especially now that this 5th generation has landed to critical acclaim.
Tell us…What’s so good about the new RAV4?
Everything, frankly. That’s right folks- in every single metric that one might judge a car, the RAV4 has made improvements in all of them. It is faster, handles better, is more efficient, better looking and depending on what trim you have your eye on, better equipped than ever before. The folks in Woodstock, Ontario know a thing or two about screwing cars together and their expertise is on full display here. It’s nicely refined, carefully assembled and most importantly, much better to drive than any RAV4 that has come before it.
It’s no Supra.
Correct, but that isn’t the point and it is not what buyers want. It has a new 2.5 litre engine that makes increases of 27 and 12 in horsepower and torque respectively over the previous mill; not enough to strain neck muscles but certainly adequate for the cut and thrust of urban driving. We have praised Toyota before with its resolute dedication to natural aspiration and even without the turbos found in the engine bays of competitors the RAV4 makes enough power to keep you from getting bored. That sprightly character is helped by a new 8-speed automatic that under most circumstances races into top gear to conserve fuel. Select the Sport drive mode or simply put your foot down and the extra ratios help to make the most of the engine’s power making it feel stronger than its numbers suggest. Thanks to its TNGA bones- underpinning everything from the Corolla Hatchback we drove recently to the family sized Highlander- it doesn’t cower in fear when you show it some corners. The departure from the 4th generation where driving dynamics is concerned is a stark contrast to the better. Even the all-wheel drive bits get upgraded, and our Limited had the up-level version which offers torque vectoring and can disconnect the rear wheels from the drivetrain, further upping efficiency.
It would appear that Toyota didn’t skimp in the interior either.
It is undeniably a comfortable and well trimmed affair, but the RAV4 cannot unseat the Mazda CX-5 as the top dog where premium feel is concerned. Still, our Limited was swankier than the Platinum model we drove last winter. It has pretty much everything you could want, but we most appreciated the heated steering wheel and seats which come up to temperature quickly, which we valued as winter continued to taunt us well after the calendar proclaimed spring had arrived. As you know, we like to delve into the minutiae, and we really liked the texturized rubber knobs used to operate the stereo and climate controls. And, we liked how the digital speedometer displays your speed legibly in kilometers with a discreet readout for miles per hour as well. One thing the current RAV4 shares with its predecessor is brilliant packaging for both people and their things. The shelf built into the dashboard is brilliant- what would otherwise be wasted space is now useful. Those looking for the latest in safety technology will be pleased to know Toyota’s comprehensive Safety Sense 2.0 is standard kit and comes with every assist available.
What might go wrong?
There were a couple of surprises we encountered during the RAV4’s tenure in the Carpages Garage. The main thing we noticed was the wind noise, which stood out because the cabin is generally hushed and refined at speed. There was also a jumpiness in the throttle that we discovered, and it didn’t matter if we were in normal or sport mode which made for some ungraceful starts when setting off from a traffic light. Our last gripe goes to Toyota’s Entune 3.0 which will not interface with Android devices and can exhibit clunky responses to your commands.
Should I buy a RAV4 Limited?
There’s a gaggle of choice in this segment and the RAV4 is now easily among the front runners for best in class honors. Shoppers will likely have the Honda CR-V on their list, a crossover that has many fans and to those we tell you that we think the RAV4 might be the better choice. In fact, we see Mazda’s CX-5 as being the only serious challenger for your hard-earned dollars. The margin of excellence separating these crossovers gets thinner with each passing model year, but it’s definitely worth a trip to your local Toyota dealer to check out the new RAV4. And now for our obligatory suggestion that a hotter version would be enthusiastically welcomed, with a zestier engine and chassis upgrades to match- after all, the RAV4 used to be available with a brawny V6 that turned it into a rocket ship of sorts. Perhaps the one that started it all could be the first to offer a version to satiate enthusiasts within the segment? We’ll say cautiously optimistic for that, but with Toyota’s renewed mandate to shedding its reputation as a purveyor of ho-hum cars, it could happen, right?
2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited— Specifications
- Price as tested: $42,891
- Body Type: 4-door, 5-passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/All-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.5-litre inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 203 @ 6,600 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft) 184 @ 5,000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,642 kg (3,620 lbs.)
- Observed combined fuel economy: 10L/100 km (24 mpg)