Who remembers the original Toyota RAV4 as it appeared on Aussie roads and bush tracks back in 1994? Cute and chunky, on a short wheelbase, Toyota's baby off-roader could barely carry four occupants and had so little luggage space the spare wheel hung off the tailgate. However it was a competent vehicle for beach fishing or bush-bashing and owners understood its limitations.
Designated ACA33R, the third Generation RAV arrived locally in early 2006 and immediately asked buyers to amend their perceptions of Australia's favourite soft-roader. The new lineup was physically bigger and much roomier than preceding versions. Rear leg-room was the big winner, and luggage space was enhanced.
Short wheelbase RAVs remained available in other markets, but Australia was inexplicably denied a modernised version of the chunky three-door which had endeared itself to so many 1990s buyers.
Gone too was constant all-wheel drive, replaced by a part-time 4WD system which drove via the front wheels until a legion of sensors decided traction was diminishing and up to 45 percent of the torque needed to be sent rearward.
Initial versions retained the proven 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, hooked to a five-speed manual transmission or the ageing four-speed automatic. Pricing for the five-speed CV model began at $31,990 before climbing steeply as equipment levels increased.
But even in basic form, the RAV offered a decent package of full electrics, cruise control, a stereo with CD slot and multi-function steering wheel. A $1250 Safety Package added knee, side and curtain air-bags, plus a climate-control upgrade for the a/c system.
Topping the range at $43,990 was the Cruiser L automatic - a glamour with its 17-inch alloy wheels, nudge bar and roof spoiler, full leather seats, a six-stack CD, electric seat adjustment and a sunroof.
Despite the Cruiser L and Safety Pack versions coming with a raft of air-bags, EBD, ESC and ABS, the best ANCAP score the third generation RAV could muster was four stars. Nevertheless they still represent viable buying for novice drivers seeking a versatile car with decent dynamics and good crash protection.
Increased size and enhanced levels of equipment made for a roomier, more comfortable RAV, but also a chunkier one. In automatic form, the top-spec Cruiser L weighed 1590kg and, with 1500kg (the legal maximum) hanging off its towbar, hills were going to be a struggle.
But things improved in 2007 when the RAV scored the most powerful petrol engine fitted to a compact crossover model in the Australian market at the time.
The 3.5-litre V6 was lifted from the larger and only marginally heavier Kluger. Output of 201kW made these RAVs more powerful than an SV6 Commodore and much more potent than the turbocharged Subaru Forester.
Weight due to the extra engine capacity increased by only five percent, and the towing capacity climbed to 1900kg. However prices were steep, with CV6 and SX6 models asking at least $5000 above equivalent four-cylinder models.
For those who liked the idea of owning a RAV, but avoided driving over anything more daunting than wet grass, good news arrived in 2010 with the launch of a 2WD-only model. These required $3000 less in CV model form than the 4WD, but included the same gear and rugged looks.
On the road
Car shopping with a female teen demonstrates just how deeply the RAV has embedded itself into that particular demographic. 'So cute', 'nice seats', 'you can see out of it so easily' are just some reasons why RAVs have been the soft-roader of choice for so many younger folk for more than 20 years.
Fuel consumption won't be an issue for most people, with the 2.4-litre engine averaging 9.1L/100km and the V6 10.5L/100km for Combined Urban/Highway running. Not surprisingly the V6 is a mid-range rocket and the 2.4 isn't a slug. Pitted against comparable rivals, a manual RAV CV was the only one - out of Honda CR-V, non-turbo Forester and a range of others - to crack seven seconds for the 80-120km/h acceleration test.
Handling around suburban and semi-rural environments is best described as 'unobtrusive'. Push a RAV into a bend and it will let you know it’s unhappy a long time before things get ugly. Body roll isn't bad for a tall, fairly heavy 4x4 so, if you choose a sensible entry speed and balance the car with the throttle, the RAV will get along pretty well.
The side-opening rear door can be a boon in some situations, but a hazard as well. That's particularly the case if you're trying to load from the 'wrong' side, or if there's a high wind and whoever is in control of the door isn't very strong.
Once revered as a genuine little bush-basher - provided you could deal with the short-wheelbase pitching - the third generation RAV delivered bad news for intending rough-runners. Ground clearance, unless you specify restrictive side-steps, is adequate for bumping over a steepish inner city gutter, but marginal if you're wanting to tackle soft beach sand or bush-track washaways.
Cruising at 80-100km/h on unsealed rural roads you may not even notice the unobtrusive arrival of all-wheel drive. Higher-spec versions include the 'Downhill Assist' feature which is so smart and dependable on slopes it might encourage even novice off-roaders to tackle steep descents.
With seats folded there is space for multiple large dogs or lots of cargo. Cabin height is good for accommodating even the likes of large removalist cartons or a pallet of potted plants. The cloth-trimmed front seats in the mid-spec Cruiser model were well-shaped and supportive and the optional leather reportedly is just as comfy and heated too.
That latter feature will be welcomed by the many RAV owners who see their soft-roader as ideal transport for Alpine getaways. Without the clearance issues which hamper serious beach driving and with the ability to lock the transmission at speeds of up to 40km/h, a RAV should deal comfortably with snow and icy roads.
>> The vast majority of owners who responded to on-line polls regarding reliability rated the RAV4 as at least 'Good', with more than half the participants in one poll rating 2006-13 models as 'Excellent'. But, ensure you have the opportunity for more than just a quick test drive. After sustained mistreatment even the best designs can degenerate into buckets of bolts, so arrange a professional inspection of any RAV which passes your initial evaluation.
>> Car-based off-roaders like RAVs are sometimes taken into places they should not go. Before delving any deeper into a car's history, slide underneath looking for a crushed or scraped undertray and sills, exhaust damage and floors with missing underseals which can allow rust to fester.
>> Where the spare wheel is externally mounted, ask for it to be removed or at least glance underneath looking for paint damage or cracks around the mounting plate. And remember the weight of a wheel/tyre can bend hinges and make the door hard to close.
>> Deterioration of suspension bushes and other components is best detected during a professional on-hoist inspection. However a car which feels wafty in the steering when travelling on a straight road and creaks and thumps over minor surface imperfections will need some suspension work - so factor that into your purchase price or find one which doesn't exhibit these problems.
USED VEHICLE GRADING
Design & Function: 16/20
Value for Money: 13/20
Wow Factor: 12/20
Technical assistance courtesy of Redbook Inspect
RedBook Warranties are available for this car. Click here to find out more.