SINGAPORE – The Toyota RAV4 was once very much like the Toyota Corolla – take a person off the street and ask them to describe the typical car from each segment and you’d have a Corolla (sedan) or RAV4 (sport utility vehicle).
For the third-gen RAV4, which existed from 2006 to 2012, it was a formula that worked exceedingly well. It was a classic Toyota of the era: Not particularly good in any one area, but give it regular service and it’d survive the apocalypse with Keith Richards and cockroaches for company.
And while you can still see many examples kicking around Singapore’s roads, the fourth-gen, which debuted in 2013 is, in contrast, harder to spot than a live Merlion.
More’s the pity since it was comprehensively better in every respect and it looked good too: With its fighter-jet-esque front end it was a thoroughly modernised SUV for buyers who wanted a bit more than the middle line choice. Like so many other sub-premium cars at the time, it failed to take off because it cost $200,000 at launch in early 2013, with the Category B Certificate of Entitlement (COE) price taking up half of that eye-watering price tag.
Yet with the era of non-insane COE prices now upon us, the RAV4 rejoins the party just in time, returning with a major facelift.
It’s still got a slightly hawkish front end, but now entirely re-designed with a three ‘tiers’ of body-coloured bumpers and new LED headlights with signature daytime running light signatures. If the pre-facelift car looked like it had Gundam to call dad, this one looks a bit like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit thanks to its ‘displeased’ downward sloping maw and prominent faux bash-guard chin – even more so if you choose the metallic red paint option.
With its contemporary new face, brilliant blue paintwork and 17-inch wheels, the RAV4 gains the sort of presence its predecessors could only dream of – important because, we should add, that the data shows the key point for purchasing an SUV is, first and foremost, how the car looks.
But judging by appearance alone would be unfair to the RAV4, which was already criminally underrated because of its 2013 pricetag. If there is a downside to the car’s looks, it’s that the inside feels high shouldered, limiting visibility a little but only if you, like us, don’t enjoy driving with a raised seat position.
For 2016, the car receives start-stop technology, a CVT with seven instead of six ‘speeds’ (not that it matters hugely), and a new display screen for the driver nestled between the instrument dials that replaces the old single-dial instrument setup.
The start-stop system is the chief reason for the car’s improvement in efficiency, from 7.5L/100km to 6.5L/100km and a notably reduced CO2 output from 184g/km to 149g/km. In real life, a conscientious driver could easily achieve sub-9.0L/100km figures, which is good for a mid-sized SUV like this one. There are two buttons controlling Sport and Eco mode to help you suit the driving to your mood.
You can control the start-stop system’s functionality through the driver display. Opting for ‘Extended’ will make it operate for longer when stopped, for example. It’s a feature that also popped up on the Toyota Alphard, as well as the Lexus NX, with which the RAV4 shares a platform.
It’s no surprise the car is very well behaved and decently refined too, with the only noticeable noise being some road roar, probably a result of the car’s hugely vertical doors, though wind noise is very little at all speeds.
Driving it is an almost unchanged experience, with the damping quality spot on and neutral handling. Like many Toyotas it won’t egg you on, but neither will it protest when driven hard. You can choose to step through virtual speeds on the CVT gearbox (there are seven) with the paddle shifters too, though in practice plain old Sport mode is more than enough.
When it comes to daily living, the RAV4 has usefulness in spades: The tiered cockpit design is full of places to stash your stuff, while the cabin has three 12V sockets (although the boot, conspicuously lacks one), the steering wheel remote controls have been expanded. Toyota’s Android-based ‘Intouch’ infotainment system is much better than the previous ‘nameless’ version, it comes with Mirrorlink, app support, navigation and Bluetooth connectivity.
There’s a huge boot which can stuff 647-litres of cargo, but its real value lies in versatility. The second row seats, which already have lots of leg and headroom, can be adjusted for position and backrest angle, and if you fold them down it reveals 1,846-litres of total cargo room, which you can manage with the integrated cargo net and tonneau cover.
The new looks of the RAV4 highlight another aspect of the machine that’s never been immediately apparent. If looks more contemporary and upmarket now, then it’s simply reflective of the way it’s always been.
The facelift merely adds to that strong feature set: Besides what’s been mentioned there’s also keyless entry/start, full LED headlights, a reverse camera. There’s also a lock mode for the all-wheel drive differential and hill descent control, so you could conceivably take the RAV4 some distance off the beaten path, plus a notably large airbag count of seven, which is not something seen often even in more expensive vehicles.
With the comfy, well-made interior and an extremely long list of features, the RAV4 has always delivered punch commensurate with its price tag. Sure, a $200,000 Toyota is hard to bear, but even back then, it was hard to find a comparable-sized SUV that had as many features.
Now that it’s back with a saner price tag, better looks and even more features, it’ll even claw back some territory from the grey import Toyota Harrier (again, which has the same platform as the NX) since it’s now not that far off in price terms.
Engine 1,987cc, 16V, inline 4
Power 150bhp at 6200rpm
Torque 196Nm at 3800rpm
Top Speed 185km/h
0-100kmh 10.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.5L/100km
Price $148,888 with COE
Also Consider: Mazda CX-5, Nissan Qashqai
For more information flip to the CarBuyer Guide