The original RAV4 (Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive), which made its world debut in 1994, has icon status as it stirred up a new craze in the motor industry, which had lifestyle. It had fun and trend-setting as its core focus.
This new niche would become known as the SUV or softroader segment. And the RAV4 badge is now synonymous with it. The third generation is true to the original values of the first RAV4 but it is clear that the vehicle has grown up.
The new RAV4 features the latest Toyota family look and when parked next to the Yaris, the RAV4 appears a bit like a beefed-up version of its smaller sibling.
Its design is also an evolvement of its predecessor but it seems as if the vehicle has matured - it doesn't have the same funky and playful appearance as the original model. Instead its design is more conservative and clean-cut.
Unlike the previous RAV4s, the latest model is also only available as a five-door. There will be no three-door RAV derivative but according to rumours Toyota will launch a new smaller SUV range, based on the Urban Cruiser concept, to fill the gap left by the diminishing of the three-door version.
Toyota claims that the third generation is still true to the values of the original RAV4 saying that its owners will be "active, sporty and with a youthful outlook".
It does still have the typical crossover status of the first model as the RAV4 is still aimed at buyers who want a stylish boulevard cruiser with the option to go and have fun with their car.
As before the vehicle is a lifestyle booster as the RAV4 offers its drivers the ability to have an adventurous lifestyle too.
There are three models (2.0 GX, 2.0 VX and 2.0 VX Auto) in the new RAV4 line-up - all of them with a 2-litre petrol engine, which develops 112 kW at 6 000 r/min and 194 Nm of torque at 4 000 r/min.
This engine is linked to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Later this year a 2.2-litre turbodiesel derivative will join the RAV4 line-up as well.
Both on- and off-road safety and performance are enhanced by the Integrated Active Drive System. It also comes with VSC+, which adds electronic power steering to the mix and integrates all of the electronic functions, together with the Active Torque Control 4WD system, via a high-sped CAN communications interface.
Toyota claims that the real time interaction of all of these systems allows for better levels of vehicle control corresponding to driver inputs and vehicle behaviour resulting in enhanced running, turning, and stopping performance in all driving conditions.
The Active Torque Control 4WD system constantly monitors and controls torque transfer between the front and rear wheels. This allows the vehicle to continuously and seamlessly switch between front wheel drive and 4-wheel drive modes to optimise driving stability and under all conditions and to maximise fuel economy.
With this system the centre differential conventionally found in this type of vehicle is dispensed with. In its place is a computer controlled electromagnetic coupling, a new development from Toyota.
Electronic sensors monitor throttle opening, engine torque and speed, gear selection, vehicle speed and steering angle. Using inputs from these sensors the Active Torque Control system selects one of three control modes to switch torque from front wheel drive to all-wheel drive.
Naturally the latest RAV4 is bigger than before as it is 145mm longer and 70mm wider than its predecessor. This benefits interior space and the vehicle offers more than enough room for five passengers.
It also comes with Toyota's "Easy Flat" seat system, which was first seen on the Verso. This system is simple to operate and interior space can be increased without hassle. The 60:40 split rear seats can be folded flat with a one-touch lever.
The RAV4 features a number of standard comfort features and even the entry-level GX model comes with all the usual bells and whistles such as a multi-function trip computer, air conditioning and optitron instrumentation.
Furthermore the VX derivatives also get full leather trim, keyless access with a push-button start system and an electrically adjustable driver's seat.
Cabin This third-generation version is bigger in all ways than the model it replaces, and is a marked step-up with improved engines, better cabin quality and enhanced overall refinement. It's still not an all-out off-roader, but it was never designed to be.
With the new RAV4 Toyota also introduces satellite navigation in South Africa. Toyota refers to the navigation system on RAV4 as "Turn-by-turn" (TBT).
It is a basic system which makes use of arrows and voice commands to guide the driver. To activate navigation the driver can key in an address and/or coordinates of his destination.
The TBT sat-nav system is optional on the RAV4 and costs about R13 000 and will become available as an extra feature on other Toyotas such as the Corolla, RunX and Camry too.
Most of the times the TBT system is spot on with its directions but its ease of operation is not as good as VW's basic sat-nav system.
Behind the wheel
The overall impression after driving the latest RAV4 is that it has matured. Unlike the original model which was targeted at fun-seeking individuals the new RAV4 is more family-oriented.
It is an improved vehicle with better build quality and road manners but the fun factor seems to be missing. The RAV4 is now a more sensible vehicle, which will probably be great family wheels.
Behind the wheel the driver has a commanding position of the road but despite the ride height the RAV4 doesn't feel like a big vehicle and it acts more like a compact estate.
Naturally there is some body roll as expected from any SUV but the RAV4 still offers a well-controlled and comfortable ride.
It easily soaks up uneven road surfaces, and although the RAV4 is not designed to be a full-on 4x4 the vehicle can face some tricky road conditions.
On gravel the RAV4 is stable thanks to its Active Torque Control 4x4 system. The 2-litre petrol engine offers adequate power but on inclines one does have to gear down a bit to move the RAV4 forward.
The RAV4 is expected to continue the sales success of the previous model, of which Toyota sold 600 000 units since 1994. But the latest model is a much different vehicle than its predecessors.
Unlike the original RAV4 the new version also has a number of very compitent rivals.
The new RAV4 comes with all the right qualities to fight off its competitors as it is a capable SUV with good credentials. Its Toyota badge is also a big plus. But the original RAV4 "fun factor" and trend setter image is gone.
However, we suspect that Toyota is reserving this "fun factor" for the upcoming production version of the Urban Cruiser concept.
But the new RAV4 is a good buy and offers better value for money than its predecessor. Its high level of specification, space and solid build are impressive too. All these attributes make it a sensible buy if you are in the market for an SUV.
RAV4 GX 5-speed manual - R274 500
RAV4 VX 5-speed manual - R310 100
RAV4 VX 4-speed auto - R320 100