17 April 2019

Car Launch: Toyota's all-new RAV4

The first RAV4 back in 1989 was a likeable compact SUV that in our experience could foot it off road more capably than expected, thanks largely to light weight and agility. Following generations became larger, softer and, dare we say it, far more dull.

RAV4 Image 1
Toyota RAV4 2019
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Toyota RAV4 2019
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Toyota RAV4 2019
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Toyota RAV4 2019
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Toyota RAV4 2019
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Toyota RAV4 2019
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Toyota RAV4 2019

But with the SUV market now at around 36 per cent of the total – up from 15 per cent in 2008 – it’s vital even a large player like Toyota gets it right, and if the launch of this fifth generation RAV is anything to go by, it most certainly has.

Toyota says this RAV4 is new from the ground up, including a new platform allied to a wheelbase extended 30mm, width by 10mm, and overall height that’s actually lower for the 2.0 and 2.5 hybrid, by 15mm and 20mm respectively. Fortunately ground clearance is up, by 15 to 46mm over the model’s predecessor, depending on variant. All deliver improved visibility – with a larger rear quarter glass and a lower belt line best appreciated by rear-seat passengers, along with increased rear width and leg room, and a narrower rear pillar. Seat hip point is 15mm lower, which improves head room – good for taller folk, though they may still find those models with sunroofs brush their thatch, especially if they’re a front passenger and therefore don’t have seat height adjust. The longer wheelbase among other benefits imparts a bigger load bay, up 36 litres on the outgoing RAV4.

The range includes three powerplants – including a hybrid, plus 2WD and AWD and three specification levels – four including the Adventure. How that’s defined will vary from country to country, and this is no mud-plugger, capable of climbing any mountain and fording every stream. But it is capable of going that bit further than its siblings, is 10mm longer and along with the 2WD Ltd shares a 5mm lift in ground clearance and overall height, and half a degree improvement in approach angle. It’s also the only RAV to get the torque-vectoring AWD system.

The other AWD RAV4s send up to 100% of drive to the front wheels, with a maximum shift to 50:50 front:rear. Adventure’s torque vectoring also sends up to half the urge to the rear axle, but its electronic coupling then splits it left or right, according to which side requires more traction. The hybrids instead have an electric motor on the rear, which can cut in and out to add urge to the rear wheels when and as needed, thus acting rather like a limited slip diff. Overall, this hybrid system is similar to that of the Lexus UX, but it’s a bit more off-road oriented as the UX doesn’t have that hybrid ‘LSD’ effect.

All three powertrains are new to RAV4, the 2.0 being sourced from the Corolla range, the 2.5 hybrid first appearing in Camry and now with AWD for the first time, while the 2.5 petrol makes its NZ debut in this vehicle. And all deliver more power than the outgoing equivalents, less thirst, and of course a better emissions rating.

Those wedded to diesel may be taken aback to discover there isn’t one now, but they should try the hybrid, which actually costs less. Sure, the launch drive suggested slightly less feedback from wheels and steering, but that’s offset by the additional torque – the hybrid works with less apparent effort to achieve its shove than the conventional petrol motors, despite weighing at least 65kg more. And all versions, no matter which powerplant, have a 1500kg braked tow rating – including the hybrids.

As for other spec, all models start out with a pre-collision system with auto emergency braking tuned to recognize pedestrians, day or night, and bicycles during daylight. All have Lane Departure Alert, Steering Assist, and Lane Centering. All have dynamic radar cruise control, auto high beam, road sign assist, a reversing camera with static guidelines and front and rear park sensors, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, active cornering assist, and trailer sway control. All have rain-sensing wipers, plenty of bottle and cupholders, satnav, Mobile Assistant and voice recognition.

Obviously as you go up the scale you get more features, topping out with extras like leather accents and heaters for seats.

The Adventure then adds a unique bumper and grille, 19-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, larger fender flares and a unique interior trim, in the launch vehicle sporting flourishes of vibrant orange to set off the largely black scheme.

Briefly sampling a few of the variants over an extended and convoluted back-roads drive from Palmerston North to the Central plateau and return, including a stretch of hilly farm tracks, we discovered reduced body roll, in part due to a lower centre of gravity, handling that reflected greater stiffness, well-controlled road and exterior noise, acceptable levels of comfort, and an ability to cruise comfortably or tackle back roads with aplomb.

The new design is more attractive and characterful inside and out, and there are enough storage cubbies and slots to please most. We’ll be surprised if a longer test drive of sample variants on home roads dents our appreciation of this much improved RAV.

Potential buyers who haven’t been into a Toyota showroom for a few years should note the brand’s new pricing model – the RRP includes the drive-away costs we’re more used to seeing added to published prices later, and the fact they can opt for a four-year capped servicing price. And they should also note how many more features they’ll get as standard than in days of yore.

RAV4 may not be the cheeky little dancer it started out as, but at last it can stand on its own merits, and not just on the back of the brand’s solid reputation.

At a glance


Toyota RAV4 2.0 petrol GX, GXL, Limited; 2.5 petrol GXL, Adventure; 2.5 hybrid GX, GXL, Limited


1986cc in-line four petrol, 2487cc in-line four petrol, 2487cc in-line four petrol with petrol-electric hybrid system


$34,990 (2.0 GX), $37,990 (2.0. GXL), $44,990 (2.0 Ltd), $41,990 (2.5 GXL), $48,990 (2.5 Adventure), $38,990 (hybrid GX), $42,490 (hybrid GXL), $47,990 (hybrid Ltd)

ANCAP safety rating

Not yet tested (previous model was 5-star)

Power and Torque

127kW at 6600rpm and 203Nm at 4400 to 4900rpm (2.0), 152kW at 6600rpm and 243Nm at 4000 to 5000 rpm (2.5), 131kW at 5700rpm and 221Nm at 3600 to 5200rpm (hybrid)


Direct shift CVT (2.0), eight-speed auto (2.5), electronically controlled ECVT (2.5 hybrid)

Fuel economy

6.0l/100km (2.0), 6,7l/100km (2.5 petrol), 4.8l/100km (2.5 hybrid)

Towing capacity

800kg braked (2.0), 1500kg braked (2.5 petrol and hybrid)


2WD (2.0), AWD (2.5 and hybrid)

Seating capacity


Luggage capacity/payload

542 litres, all seats in use

Safety systems

  • Autonomous Emergency Braking
  • Lane Tracing Assist with Lane Departure Alert, steering assist and lane centring function
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Trailer Sway Control
  • Auto High Beam
  • Road Sign Assist
  • Reversing camera
  • Blind spot monitor
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