We drove the Toyota RAV4: the car which invented the SUV…

The formidable RAV4 has now some 10 million enthusiast owners, and now enters its fifth generation. It has gained in style, and is as hybrid as ever on our shores: 85 % of the European buyers opt for the self-charging hybrid power drivetrain.

It rolls on the new GA-K platform, allowing the RAV4 to be sleeker with a lower center of gravity and increased body rigidity. This also means both better handling and ride comfort, a more spacious interior, ample load space (580 liters VDA with seats in place) and enhanced styling with lower roof and hood lines in combination with higher ground clearance.

Indeed, the new RAV4 has the looks, and the ride too…Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Self-charging hybrid, masterfully engineered…

The RAV4 continues the successful Toyota hybrid story. Under the hood purrs a completely newly redesigned 2.5-litre petrol hybrid “Dynamic Force” engine, offering 218 DIN hp in front-wheel drive form. Indeed, this RAV4 is loaded with state-of-the-art top tech.

What to think of the Atkinson cycle technology and a 14.0:1 compression ratio (compared to 12.5:1 for the previous unit). It comes with D-4S direct and indirect (!) fuel injection and intelligent variable valve-timing – electric VVTiE for the intake and hydraulic VVT-i for the exhaust. The valve-timing range for both intake and exhaust has been increased. There are still more clever solutions put in this engine. Be astonished with us…

The cylinder heads are designed to generate high tumble of the fuel/air mixture, with an enlarged valve included angle and laser-cladded valve seats. A variable cooling system with an electric water pump and electric thermostat is used to improve combustion by maintaining the required temperature. There is also a fully variable oil pump for efficient engine oil pressure management.  

Toyota’s fourth generation self-charging hybrid system makes its debut in the new RAV4, delivering multiple benefits. Key components, including the power control unit (PCU) and the nickel metal-hydride battery are more compact and lighter in weight, and the transaxle and transmission have been engineered to reduce electrical and mechanical losses.

The new battery pack is 11 per cent lighter than before and transmission losses have been reduced by 25 per cent compared to the previous system.

How does all this work in practice? The engine is very docile, and develops 221 Nm between a very large rev range from 3,600 – 5,200 rpm. Admittedly, these are rather high revs, but the low-end pulling power is of course greatly helped by the electric motor, which develops a healthy 202 Nm.

This means that this RAV4 will pull away always with very impressive power, and this we find is the very “zen” beauty of Toyota’s hybrid system. The electric motor alone is good for 88 kW, so you can imagine what happens when you put your foot down.

Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is absolved in merely 8,4 seconds. But in the lower speed ranges, the velvety power is overwhelming. The hybrid system carefully manages how both engines participate in the total power delivery, and engine revs are kept especially low at partial throttle openings.

Silk smooth progress is for you to be enjoyed: even at spirited driving the engine hums quietly, and all this contributes to let you relax behind the wheel. What is also pleasant is the total smoothness of the drivetrain, not the slightest jolt or shock will disturb you or your passengers. Not many (super)cars will reach this level of total smoothness.

Besides all this smooth power, the hybrid system warrants also excellent economy. The secret is to accelerate and decelerate smoothly, to drive with anticipation. This lets the hybrid system use the recuperation function fully when slowing down, and use the electric motor as much as possible at constant speeds below, say 70 km/h. This results in excellent economy, also and even more so in slow urban driving and stop and go traffic. It proved no effort to reach averages of 6 l/100 km. Toyota quotes 4.5/4.6 l/100 km as average consumption, with CO2 emissions being 102 g/km. Oh yes, the top speed is a good 180 km/h. More than enough for all, we would say.

Driving pleasure…             

The new platform enhances handling stability and precision. The RAV4 has improved the response of the Electric Power Steering by moving the assist motor from the column to the rack, and indeed this RAV4 steers accurately. The handling is neutral and predictable.

The RAV4’s GA-K platform also distinguishes itself in its use of a double wishbone rear suspension system. What’s more, thanks to the low center of gravity and high body rigidity, the suspension does not have to be rendered stiffer to meet dynamic targets. Indeed, we found the RAV4 quite comfortable too! Its suspension travel is wide, and we know of few cars in its class which takes the many potholes and bumps on our Belgion roads with such ease.

A strong point is also the good visibility. The TNGA platform allows the hood to sit 15 mm lower, adding two degrees to the driver’s forward field of vision, and the external mirrors have been moved to a lower position on the front doors. Luggage space is 79 liters more than in the previous, fourth generation RAV4.

Flexibility is designed-in so that the space can easily be adapted to gain more cargo room when required: with the rear seats folded down, the new RAV4 can accommodate a 29-inch mountain bike without any wheels having to be removed.

Well equipped, also for safety…

The new RAV4 offers generous equipment specifications across its range, with all models equipped as standard with the latest iteration of Toyota Safety Sense and an E call emergency contact function. Quite impressive!

The improved system features a single-lens camera and millimeter-wave radar, both with enhanced performance to expand the scope of hazard detection and functionality. The unit has also been made smaller, so driver gains an even wider field of vision. We found this RAV4 delightful with the wide range of safety features.

The Toyota Safety Sense unit includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control (iACC), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Road Sign Assist (RSA) and Automatic High Beam (AHB). In addition, it introduces Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), which provides more advanced driving support.

The system can determine collision risks at speeds from zero to 180 km/h. If it calculates an imminent risk of collision, it will alert the driver and prepare the brakes (PreCrash Brake Assist) for maximum stopping force. If the driver fails to act, it will trigger Autonomous Emergency Braking, which can reduce vehicle speed by up to 40 km/h, potentially bringing the car to a stop and avoiding an impact.

The new intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control (iACC) is also able to work in conjunction with the car’s Road Sign Assist system. When the car is travelling at a constant, pre-set speed, iACC can recognise new speed limits on major roads and let the driver adjust the speed to keep within the limit, simply by using switches on the steering wheel.

The intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Tracing Assist work together in slow, stop/go traffic, tracking the vehicle ahead within the traffic lane, maintaining a safe distance and speed, bringing the vehicle to a halt when necessary and moving off seamlessly when traffic flow resumes. We found this feature a delight to use and indeed it takes away quite some stress in urban stop and go traffic.

Roomy cabin and creature comfort

We found the cabin quite practical; it is purpose built with all the knobs and handles in the right places. The gearlever/selector is now totally classical in looks and feel, and this is maybe a good thing for many SUV enthusiasts. Seats are excellent, the lower, more dynamic seating position was appreciated. As said, there is plenty of room inside. Of course, excellent connectivity and an intuitive to use navigation system was appreciated and makes this RAV4 a pleasure in daily use.

Conclusion

A well styled, but above all superbly engineered SUV, which is sturdy, practical, mechanically refined, frugal, and roomy.

It has a very comfortable ride, and the smoothest of drivetrains. This SUV displays lively performance and surprises with excellent economy. Its unique hybrid system makes it truly stand out, and will make it also totally future proof in our ever-greener world. The RAV4 will continue to be a bestseller, and deservedly so…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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