Updated: July 16, 2014
Some people like to have kids. Go figure. Anyhow, if you happen to be a parent, then one of your considerations for the purchase of a new car might be sufficient car interior space, in order to accommodate all the stuff that said kids require, like booster chairs, restraints and whatnot. A friend of mine, who happens to live across the pond and has managed to replicate some of his DNA, did indeed consider his children for his new ride. End result, Toyota RAV4, our review scapegoat for today.
I am not entirely privy into all the little details of why and how this car was chosen to be the primary family transporter, but I was happy enough to test the vehicle for a couple days, since his wife was away on holiday with their little replicant, hence freedom for him, hence the second household car, hence Dedoimedo gets to review this one. Yes, he might be reading this, entirely happy. Anyhow, this article is not about some guy, it's about Toyota RAV4, a Japanese medium-sized SUV. Well, Americans might call it small or compact. Follow me.
Something like our test model; courtesy of Toyota.
My mate bought his car second hand from a rent-a-car company, supposedly a jolly good and cheap deal, and so I was expecting to find blood and semen on the backseat bench. Surprisingly, the car is immaculately clean, without dents or scratches or any bodily fluids. No child vomit on the seats either, and no heaps of trash on the floor.
The evidence of the past ownership comes in the form of a hideous Bluetooth phone extension, rudely glued to the silvered plastic of the central console, plus a bunch of microphone wires and such, sticking everywhere. Another testament is the relatively high mileage, some 18,700 miles (30,100 km) for a vehicle just ten months old, privately owned these past two.
It reads AWD on the right side, just above the chill morning vapors gushing from the exhaust.
Regardless, this Toyota RAV4 comes in the most basic LE trim, with AWD and six-speed automatic transmission, powered by a 2.5-liter inline-four naturally aspirated petrol engine, delivering 178 HP and just 233 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. Not a lot, considering the vehicle's size and weight, the 4x4 drive and the fact you get more engine fiber from much smaller, turbocharged engines, like the ones installed in Audi A1 or SEAT Leon. The luxury level translates into a nice reversing camera, aircon with pollen filter but not climate control, an audio system with steering wheel controls and Bluetooth support, which makes the ugly extension mentioned earlier a complete mystery, so-called Eco and Sport modes, and 225/65 R17 tires. Some of the stuff mentioned in the brochure sounds a bit ridiculous, like three-blink indicators or a digital clock. Seriously.
The camera is quite useful for a car this size; oh, look what I did there, parked, in reverse, in the USA!
Now, the cultural differences between markets come to bear even more in the form of eight cup holders and the fact you cannot open and close the electrically powered windows with a single click. Except the driver's one, you must press the button continuously to get the glass to slide up and down. Old school. Oh, you also get no privacy lid in the boot, called cargo area tonneau cover, so you can't hide any bodies in there. Inconsiderate.
The fourth generation of RAV4 is not ugly, but you can't call it a beauty either. The firebrick-red color is very nice and helps a little, but it cannot fundamentally improve the innate lack of head-turning visual charm. Don't get me wrong, this SUV is not too ugly, and some might even call it lovely, but it sure has a lot to do before it can enter any beauty pageant. Compare it, if you will and you will, with either Skoda Yeti or Nissan Qashqai. Both these smaller cars feel and look more elegant without losing some of the offroad hints. RAV4 radiates large and bulky, and perhaps that was the intended idea. If so, mission accomplished.
Fair but that nose could benefit from some gentle rework.
The front view is rather puzzling. With those overhanging red arches that look like mustache, RAV4 has the same expression like the Me Gusta meme. If you compare it to a handful of other medium-sized Japanese SUV, it's very similar to Mitsubishi Outlander, but a deal prettier.
Aggressive lines, not bad.
Now, the interior is absolutely smashing. Fabulous. Provided you are in love with 1994. If not, your first reaction will be a handful of expletives. The dashboard is hideous, combining elements from el-cheapo cars more than a decade ago with pseudo-class in the form of a few pseudo-chromified elements that do not help, at all.
The reverse angle of the horizontal bar running across the dashboard really ruins it. Then, the central pillar feels cheap and nude and thin, and you have those two old-looking buttons, which activate the Eco and Sport modes, respectively. Further to the right, you get a 12V socket and a USB plug, and then, there's another 12V plug socket just underneath. Heavy duty, right, not. The multimedia system is pretty enough, but it's fairly outdated. The instrument panel is equally archaic, with the trapezoid shape that went out of fashion with Two Unlimited.
This is your work station; a slice of 90s nostalgia.
The seats are covered in a cheap fabric that does not belong in a car this size, price or class. Furthermore, they offer little to no lateral support, and they are not very comfy during long rides. If you want to open your windows, you will notice that the door handle is positioned behind the buttons, so you will most often as not bang your fingers against it, rather than reach the desired spot.
Not exactly the latest and greatest in ergonomics; notice the bottle in the door! Cupholders FTW!
In general, the interior materials all feel very plebeian. No soft rubberized plastic. Instead, you get hard shells in four different colors, none of which inspires in any sense, and you can easily scratch everything, regardless of the color or texture. Shame, but it's a serious letdown, even more so given the effort invested in the exterior.
On the bright side, you get a lot of room for your stuff and anatomy, and you can seat three adults fairly comfortably on the back bench, or should you feel so inclined, children. The boot is also quite sizable, and it will take a bunch of suitcases, but you can't really leave them there, because everyone can see what's inside, since you have no top, not even a flimsy cardboard covered in fuzzy nylon. The engine bay comes packed tight with metal, plastic, rubber, hose, and whatnot, not making it the prettiest of compartments to hold an internal combustion apparatus. But you won't be looking inside that often really.
The engine bay is a bit boring, but that's ok; courtesy of Toyota.
The tested Toyota RAV4 is a large, tall 4x4 vehicle weighing a solid 1,600+ kg. With less torque than most European cars and approx. 40% more weight, you can imagine it's not designed for races. Indeed, the high ride is fairly wallowy, with quite a bit of body roll in tighter corners. Nothing too dramatic, but you sure won't be clipping the apex any time soon. AWD gives you fairly restrained starts, and the power delivery is tame, and you will not be able to spin the wheels unless they tread on the white stripes of pedestrian crossings.
The way the instrument panel is designed is a good indicator of your performance.
But there's a difference between massive and ungainly. Toyota RAV4 may have the characteristics for a good, sedany drive, but you can never bring this quality to bear. The six-speed automatic gearbox is a joke really. It feels like any 90s machinery, with a solid 2-second delay between shifts. Floor it and wait for it. Then, there's a lot of noise, high revs, fuel burning, and nothing spectacular happens.
You might be tempted to shift manually. No worries. Slam the ugly lever left, and the D letter will change to 4. Always 4, for some reason. Even if you slow down completely, it will still show 4. But then you can flick it up and down anywhere between 1 and 6. The car will change gears, but the little digital display will not reflect your choice in any way. I have no idea what the poet had in mind when he designed this.
You might also be tempted to try the Eco or Sport modes. What the former does is merely make the car even more lethargic than it is without any noticeable improvement in fuel consumption. The latter will make the throttle jittery, making RAV4 accelerate on its own, even when you don't intend. Sort of makes for very nervous driving, and adds no pleasure or finesse to the ride. In a sense, the gear level and the rest of the stuff are there because the automotive regulation mandate them, but as far as the average buyer is concerned, the car would be ideal with just the steering wheel, if that.
Not bad for American multi-threaded, I mean multi-laned roads; courtesy of Toyota.
Now, if you look at the official spec sheet, you will notice that there's no mention of the top speed or acceleration figures. Apparently, the American market does not care about these things, at all. Accordingly, you get non-caring performance. I'd assume, something like 12 seconds to 100 km/h, and looking at the instruments, no more than around 180 km/h top speed. Unimportant in a country with stringent speed regulations, but still a valuable metric for car enthusiasts.
You might wrongly assume that a gentle approach to speed would result in favorable fuel figures. Nope. This car averaged just 24 mpg (10 l/100 km) during its one week of torture, and covered just about 350 km of tarmac, in a mixed urban and interstate conditions, with little to no use of air conditioning. Finally, I would assume European models, with diesels and manual can probably achieve a fair dose of grace, but not this model.
I must admit I had no time or opportunity to test this car offroad like the Yeti, so I can't comment on the DTCS system, so you will forgive me. However, I will give it the benefit of doubt and assume that it carries with elegance on unpaved roads.
I did not encounter any beyond the obvious ergonomic deficiencies in the design. The steering wheel provides little feedback, the seats are not very supportive, the ride is comfortable but aimed toward a casual driver rather than someone who appreciate metal and rubber, and the performance was mediocre. None of these can really be called problems, now can they? If so, apart from the Bluetooth phone mystery, which I would account to bad wiring or connectivity to the steering wheel pad, I could not find anything untoward. Robust in a simple sense.
Toyota RAV4 sure is not a car for me. Not by a long shot. But I am also not the intended audience. If I ask my mate what he thinks of his recent purchase, well naturally he will defend his choice, because that's what we call rationalization in psychology, but he will also praise the reliability, comfort and cheap price. It's no worse than most American cars in terms of fuel consumption, and the performance is truly irrelevant unless you want to transform a child-carrier into a vomit comet.
The family man does not mind the gearbox, because it's not meant to be used in the USA, and the steering wheel is adequate for the eight-hundred-lane freeways. The engine output is sufficient to keep pace with the 55/65 traffic. When you combine all these parameters, you can forget what Dedoimedo thinks and focus on the sheer practicality needs of someone burdened with a mortgage and sleep deprivation. When I try to force my brain to consider facts thusly, then Toyota RAV4 becomes a sensible choice for the common man in the land of the free. Now, true, with a diesel and manual, it would most likely automatically improve a billion percent, but some things are just not meant to be.
If anyone cares what I think, I believe Toyota should focus all their effort in making the interior look more modern and relevant, because it's remained behind two or three generations, while the exterior has made some solid progress. That would make the car far more palatable for everyone, and then the bulk, the all-wheel drive and an okay overall behavior become a reasonable commercial bargain. Still, we can't ignore all that's been said and writ here, therefore, RAV4 deserves 6.5/10. There we go.