By Stuart Johnston
Toyota was first out the blocks in South Africa with a compact SUV, when it introduced the cute little three-door RAV4 in the early 1990s. That little car set a whole new wave in motion in terms of buying habits: the early adapters that tried the RAV4 raved about the fact that it was so stress-free to drive in traffic because of its increased ride height. And, what’s more, the higher centre of gravity didn’t seem to affect the road holding in any measurable way.
Fast forward two decades and compact SUVs and cross-over type vehicles look set to make the traditional sedan and hatchbacksredundant, at least in the more premium categories. People love the extra space provided by theSUV format, especially in terms of in-cabinairiness, and they also like the associations of a carefree, adventurous lifestyle that a compact SUV imparts, even if they never tackle anything more challenging than a climb up onto a kerb, when parking at the sports stadium is at a premium.
Toyota has increased the presence and the size of the RAV4 since those pioneering days, when the little three-door model somewhatresembled a motorised sneaker. Yet there is still an element of compact cuteness about the latest rendition, especially the top-of-the-range VX models.
A recentstylistic refresher has given the RAV4 VX a rather Star-Wars-like appearance, with extreme angles delineating the front section, in terms of radiator-air intake cut-outs and lights. Yet there is nothing frivolous about the latest RAV4, as, on a practical level, it remains right at the cutting edge.
This is particularly noticeable in what is one of the most important design areas of this type of car – the luggage area. The RAV4 offers some 440 litres of luggage space with the rear backrests in the upright position, and this figure is, in some cases, over 100 litres greater than some of its high-profile rivals in this market segment. It also offers very generous rear leg room and sensible headroom. Having “invented” the mini-SUV, Toyota is not about to let high style challengers divert it from the essentials here.
The interior is perhaps more rugged and bush-wacky than some , in this market, and while the materials used in someareas are more utilitarian than luxurious, Toyota is still renowned for superb build-quality and there is an overall feeling of confidence, rather than frivolity to the cabin.
The same goes for the engine and rive-train. The diesel version produces 110 kW, which is an output that isn’t best in class, yet the power delivery is solid and purposeful. The VX All-Wheel-Drive model also boasts a differential lock for serious off-road use, and hill-descent control, so this VX is not just a pretty face!
For those who want more power (at less of a cost) , there is the petrol version with a 2,5-litre engine producing 132 kW. This too is fitted with all-wheel-drive and both models utilise a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The RAV4 VX AWD remains the best-selling compact SUV on the South African market by some margin, and it exudes that typically feeling of unfussed Toyota dependability. Pricing isR515 600 for the petrol model and R549 700 forthe diesel. A Saving of some R34 000 is not to be sneezed at, and in this case, we would opt for the petrol model!