2019 Toyota RAV4 review: price, specs and release date
The fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 is a mixed bag, but read on to find out why it shouldn't be overlooked...
Priced from £29,635 | Release date Now
Hands up who knows what the acronym 'RAV4' stands for? If you’re currently arm extended and shouting “Me sir, me…” and busting to blurt out “Recreational Activity Vehicle (4-wheel drive)”, you’re wrong. It used to be that, but Toyota is aiming to make this fifth-generation model both more rugged and more family-friendly, so it has rebranded it 'Robust Accurate Vehicle (4-wheel drive)'. Marketing folk, aye.
Unusually for a new model, the new RAV4 is shorter than the outgoing car, for easier manoeuvrability, but by stretching the gap between its front and rear wheels, Toyota still claims more interior space and a bigger boot.
Fashionably, too, there’s no diesel engine – just a hybrid with front or four-wheel drive. That gives it an advantage (at present) over the petrol and diesel-only Mazda CX-5 and Peugeot 5008 (two of our favourite large SUVs) and puts it in direct competition with the Honda CR-V Hybrid.
Other highlights include more modern technologies, including many of the latest safety features and semi-autonomous driving capability.
2019 Toyota RAV4 on the road
The RAV4 is a regular hybrid, rather than the plug-in type, which have larger batteries to enable a longer zero-emissions range. Even so, press the EV-mode button and employ a light foot and you can tickle the car along for short stretches on electricity alone.
This, as you’d expect, makes for relaxing progress. But demand more than a light canter and the 176bhp 2.5-litre petrol engine kicks in, giving a total system output of 215bhp (or 219bhp if you've got the four-wheel-drive model). The transition is slick and reasonably quiet, until you ask the RAV4 to accelerate quickly. Then, while it responds with a turn of speed most diesel rivals can’t match, the engine becomes vocal and buzzes lightly through the steering wheel.
If you’re slowing down, the brakes are easy to modulate – something of a rarity for a hybrid. However, the CVT automatic gearbox is less praiseworthy. These are often a weak link compared with regular auto 'boxes – prone to sending the engine revs flaring the minute you encounter a hill or try to overtake. Toyota’s engineers have strived to make the RAV4’s CVT less problematic but, while it’s better than most, it’s not as well resolved as the CR-V’s.
The RAV4 matches the CR-V for ride comfort, though, by being well damped and compliant. It's settled on motorways and doesn’t bounce you out of your seat on undulating country roads; only harsh ruts and ridges in town make it thud.
Just bear in mind that if you’re after a large SUV with sporty dynamics, the Mazda CX-5 is a better bet. Although the RAV4 has nicely weighted and reasonably accurate steering, there's also a fair bit of body lean in corners and little grip, front or rear. Admittedly, the freezing temperatures on our test might have contributed to the grip issues, and the four-wheel-drive versions do improve traction out of corners and give the RAV4 some off-road capability.
2019 Toyota RAV4 interior
The top-spec models we've tried come with an electrically operated driver’s seat that includes adjustable lumbar support. Cheaper trims with manual adjustment miss out on the latter but still have height adjustment and a reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel. The seat is supportive, and all the major controls are easy to decipher and operate from its relatively high-set perch.
Less impressive is the standard 8.0in infotainment touchscreen. It’s mounted prominently, which is good, but the screen’s definition is low, the menus are fiddly and, from launch, it misses out on obvious technology, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. Even so, it’s leagues better than the CR-V’s woeful system.
It’s easy to see out the front of the RAV4, thanks to helpfully thin windscreen pillars. Although the rear pillars are substantial enough to hide a malevolent post, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are standard.
How about interior quality? Many of the materials look smart and feel plush, but if you’re searching for the spectacular, nothing at this price beats the 5008’s striking cockpit. In some areas, such as its wobbly centre console, the RAV4 feels less robust than the CX-5, too.
Front head and leg room are fine rather than amazing, so if you’re well north of six feet tall, the CR-V might suit you better. In five-seat form, the CR-V has much more rear seat space as well, although the RAV4 isn’t exactly cramped. The rear backrests recline for comfort and split-fold in a 60/40 arrangement. That's hardly exceptional, though; the 5008 offers three equal-sized second-row seats that slide, recline or fold flat individually.
It’s also worth remembering that some rivals, including the 5008, have two fold-out seats in the boot. The RAV4 is strictly a five-seater, but it offers a good-sized boot that’s roughly on a par with the CR-V’s, plus some underfloor storage.
2019 Toyota RAV4 verdict
There are cheaper, more practical and better-driving large SUVs, chief among which are the Peugeot 5008 and Mazda CX-5. They remain our top picks. But that’s ignoring the RAV4’s undoubted hybrid appeal. It’s priced competitively next to its direct rival, the Honda CR-V Hybrid, and comes similarly well equipped. And, although it’s not as roomy inside, the RAV4’s trump card is the potential for exceedingly low running costs.
You see, company car users will find the benefit-in-kind rates very enticing, with CO2 emissions as low as 102g/km – far better than anything in the class, the CR-V Hybrid included. Private buyers are looked after, too, with what are predicted to be gold standard resale values. And while overall fuel economy is unlikely to match the best diesels, we managed a respectable touring figure of around 48mpg, and if you live in the city, that’s where hybrids are notoriously frugal. More than ever, that’s why the new Toyota RAV4 shouldn’t be overlooked.
What Car? rating: 4/5
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2019 Toyota RAV4 rivals
The new Toyota RAV4 is entering a fiercely competitive class, so what other large SUVs should you be considering? Below we count down our current top 10 – and reveal the model that's best avoided.
10. Seat Tarraco
The Tarraco is Seat's largest SUV, and follows on from the smaller Arona and Ateca – both of which are very well regarded in their respective classes. Fortunately, there's plenty to like about the Tarraco too, with composed handling, a smooth 2.0-litre diesel engine and lots of equipment. It's not as practical as some other cars in this list, though.
Read our full Seat Tarraco review
Take the regular Volkswagen Tiguan, add some more space and two extra seats, and hey presto, you've made the Tiguan Allspace. Its high-quality interior and flexible seating are impressive, and it's good to drive.
8. Volvo XC60
Volvo used to be very much a step down from the models of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, both in terms of price and ability, but no longer. The latest XC60 is comfortable and well equipped and has a high-quality interior, plus it won the 2018 What Car? Safety Award, having performed brilliantly when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP.
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