2011 Toyota RAV4 2.5 AWD (USA)

 photo Picture042_zps7a3e6938.jpg  photo Picture043_zpsb79ea8b5.jpg  photo Picture041_zps8ec1ba26.jpg  photo Picture038_zps2e5824b9.jpg  photo Picture037_zps9c6df2b9.jpg
 photo Picture112_zpsd60c66f3.jpg  photo Picture060_zps44ccb30d.jpg  photo Picture108_zps8aecc784.jpg  photo Picture106_zps7e9f9efb.jpg  photo Picture105_zpsb0261a56.jpg  photo Picture096_zps4f297cff.jpg  photo Picture087_zps730603d4.jpg
 photo Picture111_zps70db456f.jpg  photo Picture110_zps70945ecc.jpg  photo Picture109_zpsbb973e71.jpg  photo Picture107_zpsd03ffdbf.jpg  photo Picture102_zpsf2422660.jpg
 photo Picture104_zpsa009d10b.jpg  photo Picture103_zps62a89631.jpg  photo Picture101_zpsd7f498af.jpg  photo Picture099_zps75a618b3.jpg  photo Picture100_zpsbf26b995.jpg
 photo Picture092_zps315306c7.jpg  photo Picture091_zpsc124c851.jpg  photo Picture089_zpsba36e871.jpg  photo Picture090_zpsa519329c.jpg  photo Picture064_zps8695bd53.jpg
 photo Picture080_zpsb92b294e.jpg  photo Picture085_zpsfa098eb2.jpg  photo Picture084_zps21b2545e.jpg  photo Picture079_zps6f68a55d.jpg  photo Picture078_zps593e310c.jpg  photo Picture077_zps9bff4684.jpg  photo Picture088_zpse9c92da5.jpg
 photo Picture070_zps4f6be7c1.jpg  photo Picture076_zps39ef5113.jpg  photo Picture001_zpse8ac23c0.jpg  photo Picture074_zps2a3c9f8b.jpg  photo Picture075_zps4f0ee6a3.jpg
 photo Picture057_zps8682e0dd.jpg  photo Picture056_zpsdaa9b1b3.jpg  photo Picture053_zps6b0202bd.jpg  photo Picture050_zpsa3d4d4b3.jpg  photo Picture047_zps24ab8f4f.jpg  photo Picture045_zpsae57eb81.jpg  photo Picture052_zpsc482f02d.jpg
 photo Picture049_zpsb6051183.jpg  photo Picture051_zps9c0a2cb7.jpg  photo Picture048_zps3fbe92ad.jpg  photo Picture046_zps54712adf.jpg  photo Picture036_zpsb16af7b4.jpg
 photo Picture027_zps652040f7.jpg  photo Picture024_zps8ee38fa1.jpg  photo Picture021_zps754c27c0.jpg  photo Picture029_zps2f067df6.jpg  photo Picture025_zpsfcb414f6.jpg
 photo Picture013_zpsf26558de.jpg  photo Picture018_zpsf9784109.jpg  photo Picture023_zps8d25a5cd.jpg  photo Picture017_zps29f01964.jpg  photo Picture016_zps98ea504f.jpg
 photo Picture002_zpsefc7a9c1.jpg  photo Picture020_zpse18f190a.jpg  photo Picture019_zps6ef0ee32.jpg  photo Picture015_zps7eb10f18.jpg  photo Picture012_zps1b5aa96b.jpg  photo Picture014_zps4591dc84.jpg  photo Picture040_zps4c4ebdce.jpg

In 1994, when Toyota presented the first RAV4, the automotive landscape looked quite different to the one we encounter in 2013. Mind you, you could argue that that first RAV4 was also a different sort of car. The production version of a concept car, this small three door machine was aimed at those who wanted a fun vehicle and either had got bored with the “hot hatch” or who had fallen foul of the massive increase in insurance premiums that had been seen in the previous couple of years. Memorably, Autocar magazine even ran a serious comparison of Toyota’s then new and rather pert offering against the Ford Escort RS2000 of the day. It did not take long, though, before a long wheelbase version of the RAV4 was presented and effectively Toyota had the world’s first compact-sized SUV. As is the way with these things, the second generation model, launched in 2000, took the same concept as the first but focused in a different way, so whilst there was a three door model, it was the five door that seemed commercially more significant, and by the time of the launch of the third generation model in 2005, the RAV4 had become a five door only model. It had grown noticeably too, as by this time, a whole plethora of rivals had sprung up, and Toyota needed to compete where volume sales were up for grabs. Nowhere has embraced the SUV as enthusiastically as America, so it was not a surprise to discover that US market third generation RAV4s would differ from those sold in Europe and Asia, principally in that they would be longer, as well as coming with different and larger engines. The extended wheelbase version was subsequently offered for sale in Japan, as the Vanguard. Ignoring the hiccough in sales in 2010 caused by the floor mat saga that hit Toyota hard for a while, the RAV4 has sold very strongly, with only the Camry and Corolla achieving more annual sales for Toyota in America and it has always scored very well in comparison tests published by the US press. I sampled a Swiss spec RAV4 back in 2009, and was not so favourably impressed, finding it a rather bland machine which although lacking serious fault also lacked any really compelling reason why you would want one over its competitors, so on the eve of sales of an all-new and even larger fourth generation model, thought it time to grab the keys to an American market model to see how it fares in the continent that bought over 171,000 of them last year.

 photo Picture069_zpsf8e1c96f.jpg  photo Picture068_zpsdcbab6c4.jpg  photo Picture066_zps7dbb63d9.jpg  photo Picture067_zpsba8ee4c0.jpg  photo Picture065_zpsc665f9c5.jpg
 photo Picture098_zps47c5e9f5.jpg  photo Picture097_zps07564fb5.jpg  photo Picture095_zps5f7e6460.jpg  photo Picture093_zps7bdc6bf5.jpg  photo Picture094_zpse9bdc921.jpg

When you dig a little deeper, it would seem that one of the main reasons that the American press like the RAV4 is because it is available with a class-leading potent 269 bhp 3.3 litre V6 engine, which apparently endows it with quite lively performance. Needless to say, rental spec models don’t have this powerplant as they come with the big-selling 2.5 litre 4 cylinder unit instead, an engine that also sees service in the Camry. The test car did sport the optional four wheel drive, though, readily identified by a badge on the back and a diff lock control on the dashboard. Developing 178bhp, this is no ball of fire, but nor is it embarrassingly slow. In fact, it gives you the first clue to the RAV4, if the fact that it is a Toyota does not get you there already, in that it is perfectly fit for purpose, no more and no less. It is decently refined until you work it hard, and once you reach steeper inclines you probably will need to do so, especially if the RAV4 were fully laden, but one up and in the cut and thrust of ordinary traffic it is fine. Toyota must be one of the last to persist with the sort of automatic gearbox that everyone else moved away from years ago. There is a simple PRNDL set of markings alongside the lever, with no choice of Sport mode and no manual shifting possible. The 4 (yes, 4!) speed transmission is smooth enough, but it did feel like a relic of a now bygone era. Because of the deal I had with Hertz, I did not need to buy fuel for the RAV4, so the only clue I have to fuel consumption is that recorded by the on board trip computer, which advised that during my tenure I achieved 25.4 mpg (30.3 mpg Imperial), which I thought was not that impressive compared to other recent test vehicles and noting that I did not subject the Toyota to any urban crawl and it did get the benefit of plenty of steady speed running. Where I did get a surprise, and a pleasant one at that, is with the steering feel. This is a Toyota and yet it actually had some. Yippee! It must be the first example of the marque that I’ve driven for ages where the steering is not so ridiculously light and vague that you are convinced that if it is not telepathy connecting the steering wheel to the road wheels then it is probably cooked spaghetti. Don’t rejoice too much, as I would not say that the steering feel is very good, but at least there was some way of getting feedback on where the steered wheels were going to point. With any aspirations at conquering the one time hot hatch buyer gone, then handling prowess is clearly not high on the “must achieve” list for the engineers and the RAV4 whilst feeling perfectly safe is not a car that you would ever take on a winding road, “because it is fun”. It understeers a bit, but unless you do something stupid, you should not get into trouble with it, either. You might  just get there with the brakes, though, which although fine in gentle use, seemed to require quite a hard push of the pedal when travelling more quickly to come to the requisite halt. A conventional pull-up handbrake lever sits between the seats. No such problems with the ride, with the Toyota coping well with the smooth surfaced roads of Arizona. And nor is visibility an issue. There is plenty of glass, the mirrors are of a good size and with the top part of the spare wheel evident in the rear window, you know that you have the depth of that behind you when reversing.

 photo Picture009_zps8b366d4a.jpg  photo Picture082_zps6e4d8a15.jpg  photo Picture083_zps6bbabf85.jpg  photo Picture081_zpse03b89eb.jpg  photo Picture086_zps4da762a7.jpg  photo Picture073_zps12a29830.jpg  photo Picture071_zps84285122.jpg

Open the door, look inside and what do you see? Grey. Lots and lots of grey. Admittedly in several different shades, though thankfully not as many as 50 feature. The seats are in a sort of grey velour type material, with a light pattern on the central parts, and the dash and door casings are a mixture of the same grey, with a much darker, almost black colour on the top surface, and a dark grey inlay around the audio unit in the centre of the dash. The door casings comprise the same combination of hues. The dashboard is essentially the same as that in the European spec cars, as I found out when I refreshed my memory and looked at the pictures of that Swiss test car, though there are differences around the installed audio unit. The instruments look like three slightly overlapping circles, with the central one, containing the speedometer slightly larger than the outer pair which contain rev counter and ancilliary gauges. They are clearly presented and easy to read, though. The rather basic audio unit sits high in the centre of the dash, astride a pair of air vents, on what looks like a vertically mounted plinth. This is because the lower part of the dash has an unusual curvature to it, which I guess was a stylist’s attempt to add something slightly out of the ordinary to the appearance. The lower section contains three rotary knobs for the air conditioning and a small and rather awkward to see digital display for the clock. Twin column stalks operate indicators, wipers and lights. There are only a couple of buttons on the steering wheel boss, for radio volume and channel, and there is a separate column stub for the cruise control. Unusually, the switches for adjusting the door mirrors on the centre console, and they point forwards so you do not instantly see them when you first get in and want to adjust things. Apart from this, everything else is all very intuitive to use, and feels solid enough, but lacks any visual flair at all.

 photo Picture006_zps319c8eef.jpg  photo Picture011_zps4751fbbe.jpg  photo Picture003_zps37d6b804.jpg  photo Picture004_zpse0eab501.jpg  photo Picture010_zpsb932583e.jpg

RAV4 is what the Americans call a “Compact” SUV but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is small and pokey inside, as it is not. Thanks to the longer length of US market cars, there is an option for two additional seats in the rear of the Toyota, though I don’t think anyone bigger than a midget would want to ride far on them. They were not fitted to the test car, which had a couple of underfloor stowage areas in their place. But even as a five seater, this is a decently roomy vehicle. That said, the centre of the rear seat of this model was similar to that in the larger Highlander I sampled a few days earlier, in that it comprises a fold down armrest which has an array of cup holders on its upper surface. When this element is clipped in place against the seat backrest, it looks like it would be far less comfortable than the rest of the seat. The asymmetrically split seats are on sliders, and the angle of the backrest can be adjusted from very upright indeed to modestly reclined. Even with the seats set forward, there is decent leg room and headroom is not lacking. Thanks to that extra length, and the fact that the spare wheel is mounted on the rear door, there is a good sized boot even when the rear seats are in use, but if you fold them down, there is a lot of luggage space indeed. One very distinctive feature of the RAV4 is that rather than a conventional tailgate there is a side hinged rear door. This can prove a real challenge, as to open it you need far more clearance from any obstacle (another parked car, for instance) behind you, and whilst the door is easy to open, and not heavy despite having the spare wheel mounted on it, is clearly a feature that even Toyota noted no-one copied and have abandoned on the fourth generation model. Inside the cabin, there is a split level glove box, though the top half is not very big, and there are pokey door bins for front seat passengers. Rear seat occupants get just a bottle holder on the doors, and have to content themselves with map pockets on the back of the front seats. There is also a deep cubby on the dash under the air conditioning controls and a split level cubby under the central armrest.

 photo Picture005_zps7760ed1b.jpg  photo Picture007_zps03368792.jpg  photo Picture008_zpsdf83589c.jpg  photo Picture062_zps33d968f8.jpg  photo Picture061_zpscc1f4c06.jpg

As well as the choice of 4 or 6 cylinder engine, and front or all-wheel drive, Toyota offered the RAV4 to its American customers in three distinct trim levels: base, GS and SE. The test car was a basic one, and basic is really the operative word, as there were no luxuries or fripperies at all in evidence. All US market RAV4s had an automatic gearbox – the antiquated 4 speed for 4 cylinder models and a 5 speed on the V6s, and the test car featured cruise control, air conditioning, a rather old tech looking AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio unit, roof rails and that is about it. Higher spec models offer dual zone automated climate control, leather seats, a back-up camera, power sunroof, navigation system and an upgraded audio unit including satellite radio.

 photo Picture055_zpsa50c2f75.jpg  photo Picture054_zps90fdf10c.jpg  photo Picture059_zps3a1d3c4d.jpg  photo Picture058_zps8def026f.jpg  photo Picture026_zps5cc9ef5e.jpg

The American press and people may have taken to this RAV4 in a big way, but I’m afraid I did not. There is not really anything wrong with it, but nor is there anything that stands out. I am sure it would prove a reliable vehicle to own over many years, and as it is decently practical, that is all that many people want, but if this is all about Recreation and Activity, as in the name of the thing, then I think that buyers have a right to expect a little more. Especially when vehicles such as the Mazda CX5 and latest Ford Escape deliver it. They are just as practical, but by all accounts they are also good to drive. Comparing those new designs with the 7 year old RAV4 may be a little unfair, but nothing I’ve read suggests that the all new 2013 RAV4 will be anything more than a competent appliance just like its predecessor. With global sales of 428.414 RAV4s last year, though, it is clear that there are an awful lot of people who like automotive appliances with a small SUV packaging.

 photo Picture035_zpsc1332534.jpg  photo Picture039_zpsf3729ba1.jpg  photo Picture034_zps775c651d.jpg  photo Picture044_zpsd9fd0cfb.jpg  photo Picture033_zpsec27e7f6.jpg  photo Picture028_zpsbea4e370.jpg  photo Picture030_zps49b798f8.jpg
 photo Picture072_zps8808fc72.jpg  photo Picture022_zps1f09b8b9.jpg  photo Picture032_zpsfb4c5538.jpg  photo Picture063_zps1d00972e.jpg  photo Picture031_zpsc764d0a7.jpg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *