The last generation Toyota RAV4 was so good it received one of the higher scores handed out during a Tareqhassan.ca test drive. Sadly, the fifth-generation replacement isn’t quite as excellent, at least not yet, suffering from a malady of quirks that detract from its sharp new looks.
Oh, to be clear, I wanted to love the 2019 RAV4, which has undergone a complete makeover and borrowed design elements from one of our favourite vehicles of all time, the Toyota 4Runner. But a number of things about the new RAV4 came across as irritations. First and foremost was the growl from the engine any time throttle was applied.
“It sounds like my grandmother’s Scamp,” blurted my wife, who is never one to criticize. But she is not alone. Tareqhassan writer Brian Harper concluded the same thing twice, although he is far more sophisticated than me, pointing out the RAV’s 2.5-litre engine had “a rather discordant note.” I suspect much of the growl of this engine comes from the high-compression nature of the “Dynamic Force” four-cylinder. The engine produces 203 horsepower (up from 179) and is paired with an eight-speed automatic that shifts well. It’s odd, too, that it would sound so loud when it’s blissfully quiet during any kind of steady-state throttle. It was also highly efficient, registering 6.8 L/100 km during a 350-km highway drive at a steady 100 km/h. Our last “best” in the old model was 7.4.
But applying throttle became a game of “you go first”: Perhaps our press unit was in need of some ECU tuning, or something, but every time I took off from a stop, even when trying to be gentle, the engine torque grabbed the front tires and pushed the CUV ahead, making smooth takeoffs difficult. Even when I anticipated the rush, and tried to counteract, the engine was still too eager, prematurely rushing the throttle too early most of the time. Overall, the amount of power is good. Passing is easy; but throttle mapping needs to be smoothed out, or perhaps it’s something drivers will get used to over time.
The brake pedal also had a dishevelled feel — notchy from rest, too much travel before initial bite, then only moderate bite for the amount of foot force applied. Sure I’m being picky, but that’s the point here, to underline the things that aren’t perfect for a brand with such a high reputation, for a model at the top of its game, for quality in a segment with so much competition. So, not enjoying the braking or acceleration didn’t get us off to a good start. But the electric steering, too, didn’t erase those initial gripes. Nothing is technically wrong with the steering, it just doesn’t give much feedback or track as well as many other Toyotas.
And then an inconsistent buzzing — like an incoming text message on a phone set to silent mode (it wasn’t anyone’s phone) — came every now and then from somewhere under the driver’s seat, as though some module or some switch was sending current somewhere it shouldn’t. Either that or it could be part of the driveline. When AWD isn’t required, the RAV4 disconnects the rear driveline, sending power only to the front wheels, and the ratchet-type dog clutches on both the front and rear wheel-shafts stop the driveshaft’s rotations. Maybe that was what we heard. All I know is that the sound occurred with irregular frequency. This Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Rear Driveline Disconnect (a Toyota first) comes standard on non-hybrid Limited and Trail models. It can direct up to 50 per cent of engine torque to the rear wheels, as well as distribute it to the left or right rear wheel to enhance handling on- or off-pavement. Tire and road noise in the cabin was high too.
Far more pleasing was the new rigidity of the unibody structure, making the RAV4 feel vastly more sound thanks to a 57 per cent improvement over the old. This tighter structure also helps absorb impacts to the suspension, which delivered a highly satisfying ride, exhibiting little lean in the corners. Selectable drive modes (including normal, eco, snow, mud and sand, rock, and sport) can tailor the experience, but Sport seemed to bring out the best of the compact utility. With excellent visibility due to small A-pillars and side-mirrors placed onto the doors, the RAV4 soaked in some coily country roads with a vigour that helped quell those early distractions with the pedals.
Our Limited model also came with a camera-based rear-view mirror, which might be of use when the inside is so full of cargo you can’t see out back, but looking into the camera mirror can be disorientating. A bird’s-eye monitor along with a backup and forward camera is useful, but the screen resolution could be better.
While the new RAV4 looks bigger, and does ride on a 30.5-mm longer wheelbase, it’s not much different in size than the last model, although it does lose a bit of cargo space, down from 2,078 litres with the seats down and 1,087 with them up to 1976 and 1,064 respectively. That’s not really enough to notice, but an increase in hip and legroom in the rear seats is easy to see. The rear seats are heated too. The rear cargo area gets a reversible liner, plus side nets for storing small items, and the 60/40 folding rear seats are handy for carrying long loads, so cargo carrying remains a RAV4 forte. A power liftgate is handy but slower to open and close than doing it by hand.
Up front, the cabin has been simplified and looks interesting in new mocha-coloured Softex. Good sized knobs for the easy-to-operate climate system are a welcoming approach, as is the electronic hand brake that comes as standard. An eight-inch colour touchscreen and a JBL audio system with 11 speakers and 800 watts are very good. Apple CarPlay is standard, as is the second generation of Toyota’s Safety Sense, offering a big complement of safety systems, from radar cruise to cross-traffic alert and pedestrian detection.
All of which shows just how far the Canadian-made RAV4 has come — from pioneer in the segment to best selling CUV today. If only the 2019 Limited didn’t have all those quirks.