Crossover SUVs are all the rage today. There isn’t any automaker out there that does not have at least one CUV in its lineup. The growth of this automotive niche has been nothing short of phenomenal considering the fact that it was only created in 1994. Toyota’s original RAV4, or Recreational Active Vehicle, was the world’s first SUV with compact dimensions. For such a significant vehicle, the RAV4 has been one of Toyota’s most inconspicuous models too. Despite worldwide sales across four generations having reached more than 8.5 million, lackluster design and dreary dynamics prevented it from getting the attention or appreciation that it deserved.

With the latest generation, Toyota has sought to alter these perceptions and has given it a bold new styling that complements the all-new TNGA K platform. The design is origami inspired like most of the new Lexus models, with the exterior dominated by polygonal shapes and lines. Our tester being a hybrid variant, there are Prius-style blue accents on the badge that distinguishes it from the regular petrol-only models. Along with the low centre of gravity, a rigid chassis and optimum weight balance thanks to the repositioning of the fuel tank are among welcome changes in the new model.

The cabin is also a clear improvement over the preceding versions of the RAV4, with soft-touch material with a higher perceived quality used along the dashboard, console and door cards. Thanks to the TNGA platform, both passenger and cargo room is generous for the segment. With all seats in place, the cargo area has a capacity of 580 litres, 79 litres more than the previous generation RAV4. Although the shorter front and rear overhangs have reduced the CUV’s overall length by 5mm at 4,600mm, the 2,690mm wheelbase represents an increase of 30mm, and the overall width has grown by 10 mm, contributing to the cabin’s roominess.

 

Photos: Stefan Lindeque

While the previous four generations weren’t known for their drivability, the new one impresses with its overall dynamic behavior. Overall visibility, seating position, steering response all contribute to a much improved driving experience than before. The electric AWD-i system automatically optimises the torque ratio according to driving conditions, helping improve handling, stability and off-road abilities. The torquey 2.5-litre engine and electric motors with a total output of 219 horsepower make sure the RAV4 Hybrid is quick and nimble around town and on highways. The ride quality is on a par with the best in class, and sound deadening is particularly impressive, effectively keeping engine and road noise out. Fuel efficiency is right up there with established hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius or the Hyundai Ioniq, with the economy figures during our test period averaging at 5.5 litres per 100km.

It is also packed with safety and convenience features such as dual front-, side-, curtain- and driver knee airbags, Vehicle Stability Control, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry, tyre pressure monitoring system, panoramic sunroof and rear view camera among others.

The VXR Hybrid variant of the new RAV4 might appear pricey at Dh139,900, however the real-time fuel savings that it offers over a regular petrol engine version will easily offset that initial extra over the period of ownership. And the fact that none of its mainstream competitors in this class has a hybrid to offer makes the RAV4 a uniquely appealing proposition. Worth considering if you are in the market for a fuel efficient, compact, comfortable, good to drive utility vehicle with moderate off-road capabilities.