When it first came out back in 1994 it was as a result of a ‘light-bulb’ moment at the Japanese giant when the company realised there was a market for rugged looking vehicles for people who wanted such things, but did not want the Neanderthal handling characteristics or the agricultural comfort levels that invariably went with them.
Modestly, Toyota claims to have discovered the compact SUV segment by building the RAV4, but if that was the case — and I’m sure there are those in Suzuki, for example, who might like to quibble with any such assertion — then the company has strayed far from the original starting point for the car.
In this latest incarnation the RAV4 has gone further from the rugged, practical and able starting point from which it began life, to becoming much more of a machine that will feed the needs of the urban cowboy than Jesse James. That is not necessarily a bad thing, reflecting as it does how consumer tastes have gestated down the years.
And, with the compact/medium SUV segment set to become even stronger in the coming years the Toyota is among the best placed cars in the class to benefit from the popularity of the genre. When you put it in against competition such as the Nissan Qashqai, the Skoda Yeti, the Ford Kuga and the Mazda CX-5 — good cars all, it has to be said — the RAV4 is a very recognisable presence.
Having had a very recent make-over, it is still very much a child of the genus ‘compact SUV.’ It looks smart, has plenty of intelligent kit, will do anything a family needs it to do and still performs well to class norms and economics.
A relatively handsome member of the clan, the RAV4 has actually grown up considerably from its’ origins.
The thing is though that a number of the styling cues which stood the RAV4 out from the pack have been ditched and, effectively made the car a lot more anonymous. The characteristic rear door-mounted spare wheel, for instance, as well as the side-hinged rear door.
Toyota might argue that these are things which have been done in the name of practicality, but such things gave the car an individuality it has now lost.
Potential owners will undoubtedly welcome a boost in all things safety, comfort and entertainment - although it has to be said that the bloody lane-change warning system is a head-wrecker, particularly on country roads.
In times past I’ve railed against the trend of 4x4s losing all reference to their origins by becoming mere city cars, but I’ve been wasting my breath on that one, judging by public tastes. The fact of the matter is that the public gets what the public wants and the reality of the RAV4 is that it is aimed at pleasing a large number of buyers.
It will do just that, thanks to Toyota’s largely bomb-proof reliability, a two litre diesel engine which is as nice to drive as it is economic and an overall practical demeanour with which it is hard to find fault.
It performs well, is nice to drive and is without any handling, grip and ride flaws I could find. That makes it a very easy car for many families to buy.
The Cost: from 29,950.
The Engine: a familiar but decently performing diesel.
The Specification: quite good even from entry models.
The Overall Verdict: smack dab in the middle of the compact SUV segment.
Star Rating: HHHII