Skid Marks

Toyota Rav4: the safe and reliable crossover choice

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The Rav4 has a center differential lock for muddy adventures.

In today’s automotive scene, the market is slowly becoming more focused. The biggest segment belongs to the A and B cars (think Toyota Vios and Wigo, Honda City and Brio, Nissan Almera, etc.).

But once people in this segment become more financially capable, an SUV is always their next option.

It’s easy to see why: roomier, with better ground clearance to tackle our poor roads, as well as the constant threat of flash floods, and the ability to haul/carry more.

While diesel-engined, 7-seat ladder-frame SUVs also form a huge component of the overall market, they lack the refinement, finesse and comfort of a sedan-based crossover utility vehicle (not to mention the more sophisticated and luxurious feel).

In the past few years, the market has been spoilt for choice: Mazda’s amazing CX-3 and CX-5, Honda’s first diesel vehicle in the Philippines, the CR-V, which is also available as a 7-seater, straddling the diesel SUV and crossover SUV markets, and the Subaru Forester, which in turbocharged trim, has been the go-to choice for enthusiasts looking for a dash of sex appeal and performance matched with versatility and practicality.

Let’s not forget a left-field choice, Kia’s Sportage, which in diesel trim is amazing to look at as well as to drive, and Nissan’s value-packed X-Trail.

With all these new, sexy and sophisticated choices, it’s easy to overlook the Rav4, the original compact crossover that helped start the segment in the 90s.

Toyota’s current fourth generation Rav4 is still relevant as its competitors today, but is admittedly a tad expensive as it comes from Japan as a builtup model.

The engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder twin-cam 16-valve engine codenamed 2AR-FE with Toyota’s vvt-I variable valve timing wizardry, producing 180 hp and 233 Newton meters of torque.

Power is delivered to the all-wheel drive system via a 6-speed automatic transmission.

As with typical Toyota engines, it’s very responsive low down, but loses steam towards the redline.

Stop-and-go traffic driving is pleasant, as well as sustained cruising on the highway at legal speeds.

But when uphill winding roads beckon, the Rav4 feels a tad flat.

A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder twin-cam 16-valve engine

Thankfully, Toyota engines respond well to some aftermarket tuning—an air intake kit helps a lot, in my experience.

The interior is a very pleasant place to be in for long periods of time.

Driving position is surprisingly excellent, with the seats and steering wheel offering a myriad of adjustments.

It still feels a tad upright, compared to say, Honda’s CR-V or Mazda’s CX-5, which you can set low, more sedan-like, but the upright and tall driving position helps you see further ahead, and is actually more relaxing when you’re stuck in traffic for hours on end.
Leather and soft-touch plastics cover everything, but I feel Toyota could have used a softer grade of leather to give the Rav4 a more luxurious feel.

The multi-media system works well, syncing quickly with your mobile media device.
It offers GPS/SatNav, but the sound seems too digitized, lacking a bit of soft texture to make the aural experience better.

The two-level dash architecture seems to have been borrowed from other JDM-originating Toyota models like the Alphard and Land Cruiser, so it looks high-class, different from the typical Toyota sedans and PPV-based vehicles we commonly see.

I just wish it had mirror-imaging too, so Waze could be displayed on the large touch-screen directly.

On the road, the Rav4 has a slightly firm, initial damping feel, almost sport-like, but softens as the bumps get bigger, making the suspension feel a tad digressive rather than progressive.

As with typical Toyota suspensions, it’s a tad under-damped on larger suspension movements, such as hitting big potholes or going over speed bumps at speed (when you don’t see them).

In-city driving, though, is very good as noise and refinement levels are quite high.

On the highway, the initial firmness does give loads of confidence and stability.

It isn’t playful on winding roads in the same way a Mazda CX-5 or Subaru Forester feels, but is easy when cruising expressways.

It does show its age though as Honda’s much newer CR-V feels even more composed and stable at speed.

The smallish 17-inch wheels and tires might be a factor: the newer crossovers have larger overall diameter wheels and tires that help highway straightline stability further, not to mention improves the look.

In other markets, the Rav4 has bigger wheel and tire offerings.
Crosswinds on the elevated Skyway grade do affect the Rav4 more than other crossovers, probably because it’s more slab-sided and isn’t as wide as its newer competitors.
In the city, the full-time all-wheel drive doesn’t help as I only managed a best of 7.8 kilometers per liter with careful driving, something I do all the time as gas prices continue to soar.

On the highway, on my weekly trips to Tagaytay for work, I garnered a surprising 13.7 kilometers per liter based on the fuel consumption meter on board.

If you feel a bit adventurous, Toyota even fitted the Rav4 with a center differential lock for really muddy adventures, and a hill-descent control for rock-crawling downhill.

Two-level dash architecture similar to the Alphard’s and Land Cruiser’s

The cargo hold has 550 liters of space. Fold the rear seats flat to the floor, and you are bestowed an amazing 1,760 liters of cargo space.

If you have a family, you’ll know all this space will help. I used the Rav4 to carry some work-related items and car parts during the week, and the low loading deck helped immensely.
Seven airbags are fitted to the top-of-the-line model, plus ABS brakes. Surprisingly, traction/stability control, as well as electronic brake force distribution is absent, showing its age; its competitors now have these electronic aids as standard.

Since we mentioned flash floods, Toyota advertises the Rav4 to have a 500-mm wading depth, which is more than enough to get you safely across a flooded street crossing.

If you need to turn back, the 5.3-meter turning radius also comes in handy.

Overall, the Rav4 remains a safe, reliable choice. It does lack the sex appeal of its newer competitors, or the sporty vibe of the Subaru Forester or Mazda CX-5, or even the diesel engine option of the Honda CR-V and KIA Sportage.

But it’s still roomy, comfortable, fuel-efficient on the highway—and is a Toyota, which is and always will be as reliable as death and taxes, backed up with unmatched reliability, and solid resale value.

That the upscale Lexus NX200 luxury compact cross-over shares the same basic platform as the Rav4 is telling. And if you’re a bit ‘meh’ about the Rav4, trust me, your wife and kids will love it.

READ: Toyota reveals all-new RAV4



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