2015 Toyota RAV4 – A new look for the original mini-SUV

When the Toyota RAV4 first made an appearance back in 1994 (yup, we celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014, can you believe it?) it was a real oddity. There simply weren’t any SUVs out there that looked like it, with off-road capabilities in such ‘petite’ dimensions. Turns out that Toyota must have had a crystal ball because not only was it a commercial hit, but it was a visionary idea – one that has become increasingly popular with time.

As we now see, mini-SUVs and crossovers are the most in-demand category of vehicles from a public that wants the best of both worlds – extra space and urban cool combined with off-road capability.

Pioneering the mini-SUV

The first-generation RAV4 (RAV stands for Recreational Active Vehicle) was launched in Japan in April 1994 as a two-door, four-seater model with a 2.0 litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine – small but powerful! Most interestingly, it offered permanent four-wheel drive transmission, with either a five speed manual or four speed auto gearbox. A locking centre differential was an option, though due to the car’s road bias a low-range gearbox was never offered.

The RAV4 reached South African shores in 1995 and was an instant hit with the South African public, always interested in a vehicle that could handle our challenging terrain. The only thing people didn’t like was the limited cargo space in the two door version and so Toyota added a four door version the following year.

It took a few years more for other manufacturers to realise that Toyota had something really good going and it was only in 2001 that similar vehicles like the Land Rover Freelander, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara and Honda CR-V made an appearance.

Since its launch over 5.5 million units of the four generations of RAV4 have been sold in over 150 countries, and since the launch of the fourth generation in SA in April 2013 Toyota have grown their market share in the compact SUV segment to 12% – making the RAV4 the current sales leader in the small SUV class.

Facelifted for a new generation

Accelerate forward to the present and Toyota releases the latest version of its ground-breaking concept at the end of 2015. The 2015 RAV4 isn’t all-new but Toyota are no doubt paying attention to current motoring trends and the facelift brings their pioneering mini-SUV more into line with the move towards car-like SUVs. Tech features are also increasingly in demand from consumers and Toyota have delivered on this score as well, although you’ll have to shoot for the mid or top spec models to enjoy them.

Car-like design

The latest design overhaul is more a refining of its DNA rather than a significant shift. The front facia has been totally redesigned to the  point that it’s almost car-like, with a slimmer grille, the now-familiar angular headlights offering an aggressive sportiness that echoes both the new Corolla, Yaris and Auris.  

The rear end has also been revamped but it’s not as dramatic a change back there, with a re-shaped lower tailgate, tailgate garnish and painted bumper. The rear fog lamps are also revised, a stylish shark fin antenna has been added.

There’s also a rear spoiler to reduce drag and add cool factor when you hit the beach and a pair of built-in roof racks for quick loading of the long boards when the surf is really ripping (standard with all models – the roof racks, that is, not the ripping surf). As far as the exterior goes, there are also two new paint options – Pure Blue Metallic and Dark Red Mica Metallic – to choose from.

There’s a whole new set of alloy wheels to choose from – the GX model has a 17” five-spoke design with split spokes, and the VX models have a newly refined 18” wheels. There have been some improvements in the cabin too, with better ambient lighting and upgraded materials adding to the feeling of comfort and luxury. The area for the gear shift and cup holders has a revised layout and there’s a new spot to stash your shades worked into the overhead lighting cluster.

Touch 2 connectivity

The top of the range model now gets a 4.2” colour display added to the instrument binnacle which is coordinated with the 7” Toyota Touch 2 touchscreen multimedia system (only on VX models) that has a new high-res screen.

The Touch 2 package is multi-featured and includes Bluetooth; a rear-view camera; all the trip data you could want; climate control info and settings for locking the doors and controlling the lighting to your preferences. You can also use it to run the audio system and to hook up your iPod and the like via USB or Bluetooth.

Convenience and safety upgrades

The VX models now have Front Sonar with a warning buzzer and the GX models add a Back Monitor with guidelines. All models also gain an additional 12V socket in the rear.

There’s new safety spec for the GX models which includes an auto door locking feature which automatically locks all doors once a specific speed is reached. The rear centre seats also get auto locking retractor seatbelts. If you’re towing a trailer, you be able to make use of Trailer Sway Control with an alarm system.

Further safety features includes seven airbags and all the active safety systems you can name, including ABS with EBD, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control. The AWD version has VSC+.

What hasn’t changed is that all GX models still come standard with manual air conditioning, power windows, a six-speaker Display Audio sound system with Bluetooth Connectivity, seven airbags and VSC stability control. The flagship VX adds full leather trim, automatic dual-zone climate control, cruise control, keyless start and powered tailgate.

Three engine options

The RAV4 comes in three engine options:

•    The entry level 2.0 litre Valvematic petrol engine is available in either a 6 speed manual or Multidrive S transmission. A 2WD, this engine has 107kW of power at 6200 rpm with torque of 187 Nm at 3600 rpm.

•    Next up is the 2.2 litre diesel with a 6 speed manual transmission or the 2.2 litre diesel automatic, both of which drive an AWD system. These engines shove out 110 kW at 3600 rpm with torque of 340 Nm at 2000 - 2800 rpm.

•    Top of the range is the 2.5 litre petrol model producing 132 kW of power at 6000 rpm and torque of 233 Nm at 4100 rpm. It drives a 6-speed automatic transmission with AWD.

Competitive pricing

What about pricing? The new RAV4 range starts at R327 700 for the entry level 2.0GX and tops out at R487 400 for the 2.2 D-4D VX. This is very much on a par with other options in this segment, such as the Ford Kuga (which ranges from R329 900 to R449 900), the VW Tiguan (R340 900 - R499 200) and Mazda CX-5 (R324 900 to R474 400). So, basically it boils down to your particular personal preference and a thorough test drive is always the best way to help to narrow it down.

Of the range, in our opinion the pick of the bunch would be the diesel, in particular the 2.2D AWD GX with a manual gearbox. The diesel is both economical and its low-end torque allows you to handle gravel or dirt roads with ease.

2.0 GX MT - R327 700
2.0 GX CVT - R338 800
2.2D AWD GX MT - R409 900
2.5 AWD VX 6AT - R457 000
2.2D AWD VX 6AT - R487 400

The RAV4 comes with a three year/100 000km warranty and five year/90 000km service plan and ToyotaCare Roadside Assistance.

Find your nearest McCarthy Toyota dealer here.


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