- What's Good: Tacoma Looks
Over the decades, Toyota has created some legendary trucks. The 4Runner, the Land Cruiser, the oh-so-creatively named Pickup which then evolved into the seemingly everlasting Tacoma. And then there’s the one that’s the best-selling model for the company in North America. Destroying every other model in the lineup, and in Canada outselling all those trucks added together. The much more car-like RAV4. So of course when they go to redesign that best-seller, they make it look less like a car and more like a truck.
That’s just sheet metal, though. What about on the inside? Has the new RAV stayed true to its pioneering crossover roots, or has the rugged exterior styling translated into a more truck-like user experience?
It’s hard to believe that this is already the fifth-generation of the RAV4. What was one of the very first compact crossovers, it arrived on our roads way back in 1996. Since that quirky first-gen model (remember the three-door option) it has flowed from rugged to more car-like styling. The last one had the nose of a large Corolla or Yaris.
This time, Toyota has embraced its inner Tacoma and made the RAV4 rugged. Though just how rugged depends more than a little bit on which trim level you’ve chosen. Get a base model and it looks a bit like a Stormtrooper. And not in the way that every SUV rear hatch does, this nose is 100 percent Star Wars. Get the Trail, like my tester, and you get a nose that is going to look right at home parked next to a Tacoma or 4Runner. This looks the part of a proper SUV, even if it’s probably not going to see more off-roading than the gravel parking lot at soccer practice.
With plenty of cladding, that nose with the heritage grille flanked by LED headlights across the board, and the two-tone roof, this crossover makes me feel like I’m about to get in a real truck. Which I’m not ashamed to admit, I like. Toyota, it seems, is banking that more than 55,000 Canadians a year will feel the same way.
That rugged look, and the Trail-specific faux-skidplate, might be a touch misleading. The Trail – dubbed the RAV4 Adventure in the US – doesn’t offer up any significant extra ground clearance (5mm). It does, though, offer the ability to tow up to 1,588 kg. More than double any other RAV4 trim, and a nice carryover from the previous model. It also gives you a special torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system that uses clutches to send power to the rear wheel with grip instead of using the brakes like most of the rest of the class. Though if you just want the trick AWD, it’s also on the Limited.
The engine definitely feels more like a truck motor. It’s a 2.5L four that offers up 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Both good figures, and it moves this crossover along well, but this is not a quiet engine. And once the RAV’s rev’s climb above 4,000, it gets even louder and even harsher. It’s a bit of a mixed blessing, because the engine has very quick response to the throttle, and the eight-speed (thank-you, Toyota, for not subjecting us to a CVT) auto is very quick to drop gears and let the engine rev. Which means that even if you aren’t a led foot, it’s going to spend a good deal of time in the loud part of the rev counter. If you want silence, you might be better off looking at the hybrid trims.
At least it was frugal. Despite being so eager to spin while sounding so unhappy doing it, the engine, and the AWD system’s ability to disconnect the rear driveshaft, saw my mixed driving return 7.4 L/100 km. That’s about the same number I got in the new (and much smaller) Corolla hatch.
Take a look inside, and you might think that Toyota and Subaru engineers have been spending a lot more time together since the 86 and BRZ sports cars were penned. It takes some cues from the Subaru Sport trims, like the orange accents and lighter fabrics, and really runs with it. The colour palette is dubbed Mocha, but it adds bright cement-coloured accents to the dash, light fabric for the seats, and then there’s the orange.
Bright orange stitching and embroidery on the seats, and even brighter orange surrounding the extremely convenient dashboard cubbies and the cup holders. If you want a more sedate option, you can have black with orange, but this bright option is a breath of fresh air in this segment.
Once you get in the doorway, everything is well laid out, and close at hand. Great big knobs for the climate control, that have a chunky rubber trim on the dial. So you can turn them wearing mitts, or I suppose, if your hands are muddy from all that Trail-running you were doing. Some controls, like the front-wiper de-ice and the heated wheel, are low on your left and can be hidden from view by the steering wheel, but shouldn’t take long to develop muscle memory for their locations. The seats get ventilation on top of the almost expected heating, but the fans doing the ventilating are quite noisy when they’re spinning.
The infotainment is a 7.0-inch screen that uses Toyota’s latest Entune software. It’s got Apple CarPlay, and it’s got three USB ports that link up to it and two that are charge-only (plus wireless charging), but it still doesn’t have Android Auto. And if you want GPS using your Android phone you need the Entune app and the Scout GPS app. I found the nav confusing to use, and never did get USB audio to work. Fortunately, Bluetooth setup was easy.
Entune’s interface, especially if you don’t have nav, is dull. And with that big screen perched high on the dash, it’s not exactly an eye-pleaser.
That’s all, of course, once you get in. And I found that to be a bigger challenge than I expected. The compact crossover has gotten most of its success from being a car that’s easier to get in and out of. Because of the higher seat.
The new RAV4 has that higher seat, but it also has a high door sill. And a small door opening. With not much room between sill and cap, getting in requires some flexibility. A doorframe that curves down very quickly means that you’ll need to bend sideways, not forward, because you’ll hit your head on the A-pillar instead of the roof. Now I know I’m a lot bigger than the average driver, so I had other people get in. And ranging from short to tall, most had similar issues. So the first time you get in, watch your head.
Once you’re in, that high seat means low headroom. Especially in trims like the Trail that come with a sunroof. It’s a tight fit for a small crossover. Which makes cargo access even more strange. Because the doorway into the back is huge. With plenty of room for stuff. And a tailgate that might be the only one in the class I can walk under without hitting my head. Plus it’s adjustable if you don’t want to have to jump to reach the power close button. The engineer that set the tailgate height should have had more input on the rest of the cabin.
On the road, this is typical compact crossover. Stiff, but not overly so. With steering that’s light and moderately responsive. In hard cornering it can feel a bit on tiptoes, squirming around on the suspension, but up to that point, roll is well controlled for the segment. Still, like the engine, this is a noisy ride. Wind noise, to start, accompanied by a sharp wack over bumps that sends impact noise into the cabin. The ride feels more in-tune with the new styling. It’s a bit truck-like in here.
The all-new RAV4 seriously changes up the look, inside and out. And it’s a good look. Plus this is absolutely packed with active safety features and driver aids like radar cruise, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane tracing, blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and steering assist all on even the base model. Like RAVs past, it offers plenty of kit and what feels like a solid build.
It also offers lots of noise, from the engine and road. Though the original RAVs were never all that quiet. So for buyers of this compact who want a less overly styled futuristic look than the segment sales leading CR-V and real gears in the transmission, that’s probably not going to stop them. Because now, after all, the RAV4’s existing reputation will combine with the Toyota truck reputation thanks to the new styling. And that might make it unstoppable on the sales floor.