The Toyota RAV4 was one of the first compact crossovers to reach the market, way back in the mid-1990s. Offering the raised seating position and chunky looks of an off-roader but with the handling and economy of a family hatchback, it’s a formula that hasn’t changed a vast amount in over 20 years.
That’s not to say the ingredients haven’t been altered over those past two decades. Toyota has learned that people who want the looks of a 4x4 don’t necessarily want the capability; many would much rather have enhanced economy than off-road ability.
With this in mind, Toyota has focused on reducing running costs for the 2016 facelift of the RAV4. A hybrid version is due to be released shortly, while this new 2.0-litre diesel engine gets not only more power but also a lessened thirst for fuel. The interior and exterior have been refreshed, too. Official combined economy is as high as 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions are 123g/km on 17in wheels.
What is the 2016 Toyota RAV4 2.0 D-4D like to drive?
We’ve previously criticised the diesel versions of the RAV4 for being noisy and being short on performance. Toyota’s answer was to replace the 2.0-litre and 2.2-litre diesels with a single 2.0-litre unit offering 141bhp. A 0-62mph time of 10.5sec may not send pulses racing, but it equates to performance that is more than acceptable in the real world.
Not only is it plenty quick enough for family transport but it’s also a pleasingly flexible engine. There’s usable shove from as little as 1500rpm, which makes relaxed progress easy, although it still makes a fair bit of noise approaching 3000rpm. You’ll also find there’s noticeable wind and road noise at speed, if never enough to make conversations a shouting match.
The RAV4's ride can feel a little firm over lower-speed bumps, but it's never unbearable. As speeds rise, it smoothes out and becomes a comfortable place in which to rack up the miles. Once you get to a corner, you soon realise why the RAV4 is quite stiffly sprung: body roll is minimal considering how tall it is.
Thanks in part to precise steering, it feels keen to turn into corners, although there's never a huge amount of feedback through the steering wheel. While surprisingly capable, you’d never say it was fun; a Mazda CX-5 is still the sharper SUV to drive.
What is the 2016 Toyota RAV4 2.0 D-4D like inside?
While Toyota has made a number of changes to improve the feel inside, there’s still plenty of hard plastic further down the dash. Even so, the majority of the areas you interact with feature plastic that's pleasant enough to the touch, while there’s some metal-effect trim and faux leather to lift things further.
All models receive a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, which proved easy enough to navigate with little to no lag when moving between screens. It’s just a shame that some of the icons are too small to hit accurately when you’re driving. In addition to the main screen, there’s also a bright, clear 4.2in display between the dials that provides additional driving information.
As before, the RAV4 scores highly inside for practicality thanks to its size. Up front it’s easy to get comfortable, although it should be noted that only higher trim levels get adjustable lumbar support. Rear seat passengers get plenty of leg room but anyone over six feet tall will find their head brushing against the ceiling.
All models get rear seats that can recline for comfort or split and fold forwards for particularly bulky loads. With the rear seats in place, luggage space is a sizeable 547 litres. Although the load bay isn’t totally flat, there's only a slight incline between the boot floor and the seat backs when they are folded. We also liked the low load lip and usefully wide rear opening.
Should I buy one?
There’s no doubt that Toyota’s changes have made it easier to recommend the RAV4. The new diesel motor may not be the most refined 2.0 four-cylinder unit on sale, but it’s quiet enough at a cruise and is now much more flexible at low engine speeds.
The front-wheel-drive diesel also proved economical in the real world; we saw more than 45mpg on a mixed test route. Claimed emissions are also better than those of many rivals, even if ultimately slightly higher than a 2WD Mazda CX-5 or the (admittedly less powerful) 2WD Honda CR-V.
Despite the improvements and the undeniable practicality of the Toyota, we’d still be more tempted by our old favourite, the Mazda CX-5. Not only is it better to drive and more spacious in the rear, but it should also prove to be cheaper to own for the majority of buyers.
What Car? says...
Toyota RAV4 2.0 D-4D Icon 2WD
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £26,995
Torque 236lb ft
0-62mph 9.6 seconds
Top speed 121mph
Fuel economy 60.1mpg