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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For Stylish, good to drive and easy to live with

Against Not cheap to buy, and road tax is pricey

Verdict The most reliable 4x4 also happens to be a good all rounder

Go for… 2.0 GX 5dr

Avoid… 1.8 NV 3dr

Toyota RAV4 4x4
  • 1. Sharp steering and little body lean gives car a hatchback feel
  • 2. 2.0-litre petrol is our pick, as diesel clatters at speed
  • 3. Sunroof is prone to leaking due to dodgy seals
  • 4. Rav4 won a five-star What Car? reliability rating
  • 5. Cabin is spacious, comfortable and easy to navigate
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Toyota RAV4 4x4 full review with expert trade views

Far sharper to drive than the original, this model marks when the RAV4 came of age.

The stylish design retained the flair of the previous model, but added more room and a better specification. A diesel engine was also available on this model, and set a trend for the future of mid-size 4x4s.

Despite its off-road looks, the RAV4 is not designed for off-road work, and is better suited to Tarmac. In fact, at times it feels like a hatchback, with little body lean through corners and sharp steering.

The cabin is spacious and comfortable, with well laid-out, clearly labelled controls.

It's harder to get to the back seats of the three-door version. In all models, the rear seats slide backwards to increase legroom, and tumble forward to increase boot space. They can even be removed for the bulkiest loads.

Only the side-hinged tailgate, with a narrow opening, compromises practicality.

Trade view

Great image, but some optimistic sellers over inflate the price.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

If you want 4x4 looks, but without the performance, there's a two-wheel-drive version with a 1.8-litre petrol engine. In reality, this is a little underpowered, and you're better going for the 2.0-litre with four-wheel drive, which came with the option of an auto gearbox.

The diesel engine introduced in 2001 has lots of pull at low revs, but clatters at speed and isn't available with an auto 'box.

Three-door versions look better, but you trade a bit of practicality. You're also limited on the specification of cars, because the three-door came only in low-level NV and NRG trims.

NV is basic by today's standard, but does include air-con, while NRG gets alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes and traction control.

GX is the best bet, though, because it adds electric windows and a sunroof. Hunt down the high-specification VX if you want leather seats.

There was a mild face-lift in late 2003, and a change of trim names, with XT3 replacing the NRG, and XT4 and XT5 replacing GX and VX models respectively.

Trade view

Great image, but some optimistic sellers over inflate the price.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

The petrols are far cheaper to buy than the diesel because there are about twice as many on the market. There are surprisingly few three-door cars around, but they are not worth much less than five-door models.

Fuel consumption is fair, and the 1.8-litre version gives an average of 38.2mpg, with the 2.0-litre at 32.1mpg and the diesel at 39.5mpg.

However, road tax is a sore point, due to the high carbon dioxide emissions. The 1.8 sits in band E for road tax, but the 2.0-litre falls in the second-highest band, F.

Toyota's reputation for reliability means that your RAV4 won't need repairs very often, but in the rare event that things do fail, parts can be expensive.

Toyota dealers can be expensive for servicing, and on average charge around £90 per hour in labour charges, with independent specialists costing just over half that.

Insurance ranges between group nine and 11.

Trade view

Great image, but some optimistic sellers over inflate the price.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

The RAV4 carries a five-star What Car? reliability rating and is the most dependable car in its class.

Transmission problems and electrical failures are the most common complaint if things do go wrong, with engine woes a rarer possibility.

The flywheel and clutch on early diesel models was known to be a weakness and could fail without warning, especially on towcars.

Dealers were aware of the problem, and will usually replace these items with modified components at no cost to the owner, as long as cars are under five years old and have covered less than 100,000 miles.

Diesel engines can also suffer a power loss due to malfunctioning airflow sensors.

Sunroofs can leak due to dodgy seals, but dealers can fix these. The electrics suffer due to the water ingress, and repairs are expensive, so make sure all the controls work.

Trade view

Great image, but some optimistic sellers over inflate the price.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor
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