Pioneering a standard does not necessarily guarantee a permanent spot at the top, unless it’s backed up by constant innovation and adaptation to change. Take Nokia for example. It pioneered mobile telephony and introduced many concepts that are now common in smart phones including internet access using a webkit-based browser. But somewhere down the line it got stuck in its past glory only to see Apple and Samsung steal its thunder.
The Toyota RAV4’s story isn’t much different. When the Japanese giant introduced the RAV4 (Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive) in 1994, it also created an all-new class of vehicles; the compact crossover.
The combination of car-like manoeuvrability, SUV-like utility and off-road capabilities made it an instant hit with more than 4.5 million sold around the world. Although it grew in size with subsequent models, its design remained a mild evolution of the original, making it look staid and unappealing among the hordes of stylish, modern and technology-packed rivals from other carmakers.
The fourth-generation RAV4 is a result of Toyota’s realisation that it’s high time
to break from tradition and go for a total revamp in design and technology. So, what’s new in here?
The biggest change is in the design, which has been comprehensively redrawn with a more dynamic and sharper look compared to the bland lines of the previous generations. It also sports the new Toyota family face with the same grille as seen in the new Camry flanked by sleeker projector headlights and new LED daytime running lights.
Out back, it chucks the swing-out door for a roof-hinged lift-back tailgate. This also means the previously door-mounted spare tyre now moves under the cargo floor. This, together with the overall improvement in aerodynamics, apparently contributes to a five per cent improvement in the car’s fuel economy.
The fourth generation RAV4 comes only with one powertrain option; the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that powers the Camry, putting out 176bhp and 233Nm of torque. The transmission has been changed, with a new six-speed automatic replacing the previous four-speed box, and sending the power to all four corners through a new system called Dynamic Torque Control 4WD.
There’s also a front-wheel drive version available that comes with a limited slip differential. There are two driving modes — Eco and Sport — although you’ll find it hard to discern any significant difference between the two modes. The four-cylinder is refined and adequately powerful for most day-to-day situations, gathering pace impressively before settling down to a smooth drive at highway speeds.
Overall, it feels much sprightlier than the previous model, with negligible body roll, while wind and road noise are kept to a minimum. The electrically assisted steering is light and easy with just the right amount of feedback you’d expect from a car of this size and type. The suspension feels stiffer than before, and the car feel more planted around bends and highway loops. The ride quality, although not harsh by any measure, is not as well-cushioned or plush as I had expected it to be.
The cabin has also seen a thorough revamp, with the two-tone beige/black dashboard and door trims giving it a more upscale look than before. It’s easy to find a perfect seating position irrespective of your height. The rear seats are also fairly spacious and comfortable.
The front-wheel drive variants are available in EX and EXR trim levels, while the AWD version comes in three variations — GX, GXR and VXR, following the same naming convention that’s used in the Land Cruiser and the Prado. Prices start at Dh89,900 for the base model, going up to Dh124,900 for the top-end model.
Although Toyota’s claim that the new AWD system makes the RAV4 a more capable off-roader is reassuring, the undeniable fact is that 99.99 per cent of owners will never venture off the beaten path in it.
But the new RAV4 is also a much improved urban runabout, with a significantly more modern exterior and interior and a host of new features.
Whether the changes are good enough to keep the RAV4 near the top of the sales list in the segment it created, and save it from going the Nokia way, remains to be seen.
Specs & ratings
Engine 2.5-litre four-cyl
Transmission Six-speed auto, AWD
Max power 176bhp @ 6,000rpm
Max torque 233Nm @ 4,100rpm
Top speed NA
Price Dh109,900 (base)
Plus Comfortable interior, good head and legroom all-round
Minus Engine could use a bump up in power