20 Feb 2014

2014 Toyota RAV4 Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the 2014 Toyota RAV4 Icon 2.2 Manual

2014 Toyota RAV4

Most mid-sized SUVs look similar, have similar engines and perform similarly.  0-60 in just under 10 seconds - check, 40-something mpg - check, 2 point something diesel engine - check, 150ish bhp - check, 150ish g/km of CO2 - check, 20 odd grand - check.

The Toyota RAV4 is no different.  On paper it is an average SUV with no stand out features.

It has 148bhp, a 2.2 litre turbo diesel engine, does 0 to 60 in 9.6 seconds, returns 49.6mpg, spurts out 149 grams per kilometre of CO2 and costs £26,500.  Bang in the middle.

But the Toyota RAV4 sells by the bucketload, and outsells the similar Mitsubishi Outlander four to one in the UK.

After spending a week with both, and having driven the competition, I have sussed out why.  We'll come to that later.

The RAV4 doesn't quite look bland by dint of it's sharp corporate grille and some funky lights at the rear.  Otherwise it could be any other SUV.  It looks good in black though.

Walk around, open some doors and you get two clues as to what makes the RAV4 stand out from the crowd.

Open the passenger doors and you notice that the door skin extends down and covers the sill of the car.  This is a Range Rover trick and prevent the occupants getting dirt on the sill and dirt from the sill on their trousers.  Clever, thoughtful, simple and effective.

Press the boot open button on the key and the door opens up by itself to reveal a much lower than normal boot floor.  Lower and wider than most.  This must have taken some serious engineering by Toyota (with a differential underneath) but it was worth the effort because a low, wide boot floor is exactly what buyers want.  It's easier for shopping, dogs and whatever you might want to put in there.
2014 Toyota RAV4

Lift the boot floor and you'll find no spare wheel but Toyota have used the space well and provided a huge space for shopping bags.  Chuck a load of food shopping in the boot of most SUVs and the bags empty themselves on the way home.  In the RAV4 everything stays where it's meant to be.  More cleverness, thoughtfulness and effectiveness.

Take a look inside and the first thing you notice is the cloth seats.  These are clad in a material that doesn't look or feel very good.  Leather seats are a £1,250 option.  Spec them or your RAV4 will be hard to sell in three or four years time.

Spec a £500 sunroof too.  All the RAV4's competitors have one.

Despite looking a bit naff, and being manually adjustable, the seats are comfortable and supportive.  After nearly 1,000 miles in the RAV4 I found them to be perfectly fine.

The cabin itself is delightful.  The design is a cut above the competition and the materials used are of unexpectedly high quality.  The overall design is another example of thoughtfulness.  The dash top is flat, so in the deep mid-winter the driver can chuck their hat and scarf on it, the info screen is super-easy to use and has an angled section underneath for you to rest your hand on whilst using the screen and the USB and 12v ports are under the dash and right next to binnacles where you can store whatever might be plugged in to them.

Somebody within Toyota had obviously thought about ease of use and guided the rest of the design and engineering team before they started work on the detail.

Take a look at the photos and you'll see the clear instruments ahead of the driver, although with a large fuel gauge on the right and revs on the left I kept getting them mixed up when glancing down.
2014 Toyota RAV4 interior

The info screen contains a satnav (average - I used my TomTom), some trip information and the most magnificently simple music controls.  Bluetooth (integrates quickly), USB, DAB, FM, CD - just select and get on with it without any faffing about.  Check out my Mitsubishi Outlander review to see how frustrating a duff sound system can be.

Climate controls sit under the screen and, again, are easy to use and simply laid out.  The whole central pod of screens and buttons looks attractive too.  In the dark it all glows in uniform reds and blues.

In front of the passenger is a cubby hole with a lip so your stuff doesn't fall out.  Under the glovebox and extending under the climate controls is a shaped section clad in soft leather.  This is what your hand rests on as you play with the screen and climate controls.  The position of this and use of the leather is key to understanding quite how much thought has gone into the entire interior.

The steering wheel is is clad in half-decent leather, has some straightforward controls and has more leather in the centre.  Even a Jaguar F-Type has black plastic in the centre of the steering wheel.

The driving position is just right, the doors look good but have too-small pockets, the glovebox is huge and there's a decent amount of storage space under the armrest.

The rear seats are fairly comfortable but are clad in the same material as the front.  There's plenty of head and legroom for three six-footers in the back.

The boot is also pretty vast and has that aforesaid low floor.

The test car was a 6-speed manual.  Fire up the engine via the key (no keyless go here) and with your foot on the clutch (it won't start without doing that) and it has a typical diesel thrum.  Reverse out of your parking space and the info screen turns into a large reversing camera.

The accelerator and clutch are light.  Snick it into gear and get going.  The engine, like any other turbo diesel, has some lag at the bottom and then vast reserves of torque immediately after the turbo kicks in.  It's not fast, it's not slow.  It's just about right for the car.
2014 Toyota RAV4

Being a manual you can deal with the initial pick-up that afflicts most turbo diesel automatics - particularly the Evoque - by bringing up the clutch in first gear once the engine is at 1200rpm.  Forget to do this and it takes an age for the car to get going from the off.

The gearbox is crisp and light - better than a BMW's, worse than a Porsche's - and better than most.

It pulls well in all gears and doesn't run out of puff at legal speeds.  Overtaking is possible if you've a large enough gap.  It cruises well on the motorway and has cruise control for those all too frequent average speed limit sections.  I spent a couple of long days in the RAV4 and couldn't fault its mile munching ability, although a lower car would be more stable at speed on a windy road.

By the way the economy figure is very optimistic.  Expect an average 38mpg with perhaps 42mpg on a long run.  This is no different to the competition.

The car does have a 'Sport' button which the handbook says improves engine response, but I didn't detect any difference.

The RAV4 corners well enough for an SUV.  Turn in is reasonable and it'll only understeer if pushed quite hard.  In normal use it'll run in two wheel drive and transfer power to the rear wheels as well if it detects slip.  You can manually select permanent four wheel drive.

I drove the RAV4 through several flooded roads. It has a 20 inch wading depth and handles floods with ease.  I covered that in more detail here.

On paper a Toyota RAV4 is no better car than any other mid-size SUV.  But drive one for a while and you really start to appreciate the small details that add up to make it a much better than anything else in the price range.

It has no rough edges, no annoyances or things you would want to change.  Sure, Toyota could have charged a bit more and fitted leather seats as standard but they chose to let buyers make that choice themselves.  Some cars hit the market with imperfections.  The Toyota RAV4 didn't.  It is the polished, finished, final product.

And that makes it the best in breed.  By miles.


Power - 148bhp
Torque - 251 lb ft
Engine - 2.2 litre turbocharged diesel 
Transmission - 6-speed manual 
0-60mph - 9.6 seconds 
Top Speed - 118mph 
Economy - 49.6mpg 
CO2 - 149 g/km 
Weight - 1,640kg 
Price - £26,500
2014 Toyota RAV4

2014 Toyota RAV4 interior

2014 Toyota RAV4

2014 Toyota RAV4

Review by Matt Hubbard