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Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD petrol 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
6
Craig Jamieson road tests and reviews the updated Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD Petrol with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

If you're familiar with the five stages of grief, you'll know that people tend to deal with unhappy – and unavoidable – things in life in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

You may well be wondering how this applies to the Toyota RAV4, or SUVs in general, but think about this: back in the 1990s, the family car was either a sedan or a station wagon. Then, seemingly overnight, four-wheel drives weren't called four-wheel drives anymore; they were SUVs, and apparently a viable replacement for FalconsCommodores and Camrys.

Since then, many motoring journalists have rallied – fruitlessly – against the SUV juggernaut, undergoing an experience akin to those five stages. We denied that SUVs would replace sedans, became furious when they cropped up everywhere, bargained with friends and family to buy something else, and fell into depression when our pleas went unheeded.

In 2016, we're well into the acceptance stage. Thanks to pioneers such as the Toyota RAV4, high-riding, spacious SUVs are now the default choice for multitudes of modern families. However, with fiercer competition than ever, the RAV needs to move the game forward if it's going to remain a family favourite. So, is the recent 2016 facelift enough?

Design

Toyota's most recent updates to the RAV4 have added a bit of longevity to what's already a three-year-old design. New, 18-inch alloy wheels for the GXL suit the RAV's angular lines, teaming especially well with the gun-metal grey metallic paint, a $550 option.

Moving inside, you'll find that soft-touch surfaces extend to more of the cabin than previous RAVs, but there's still an acre of Tonka-tough plastic that feels hard enough to cut glass.

There's no adapting to a lack of controllable rear seat vents.

In typical Toyota fashion, the buttons and switches feel like they'll still function long after the rapture has come and gone. However, in what might be the biggest insult imaginable to Toyota, there doesn't seem to be enough logic behind how the buttons are arranged, especially on the steering wheel.

In reality, you'd be able to get used to the layout over time, but there's no adapting to a lack of controllable rear seat vents.

If I could break with this review for one moment and pen a short open letter to SUV makers everywhere, it'd be to say: "Dear SUV maker. Please remember that these things are bought as family cars and as such, will tend to have rear-seat passengers who are quite young and probably prone to being carsick. Directional rear air-conditioning vents, at least in the minds of nauseous infants (and the parents who clean up after them), are probably more important than airbags."

Happily, the RAV4 does have rear door pockets which are large enough to store any number of sick bags and face wipes.

About Town

As a family hauler, running around town should really be the RAV's forte. And, thanks to a voluminous, 577-litre cargo area (with the standard spacesaver spare) and comfortable seating for five, there are no black marks against its name in that regard.

The RAV is well-suited as a sedate highway cruiser.

That said, even though Toyota has worked on road noise, harshness and vibration for the RAV's most recent update, it's still not up to par with the Forester. Due – at least in part – to the large, 18-inch wheels, it's easy to hear the thuds and bumps from expansion joints as well as a harsh roar from coarse surfaces. Worse still, the vibration and knocks tend to find their way through the steering wheel and base of the seats.

A centrally mounted, 6.1-inch touchscreen handles media duties, but satnav and other helpful apps rely on 'Toyota Link', which requires an app on your smartphone, a Bluetooth link to your car and, crucially, the use of mobile data on the go. Kudos to Toyota for thinking outside the box, but regular satnav, as on offer in the top-spec Cruiser model – and its competition from Mazda and Subaru – is the better option.

The GXL-spec RAV4 also misses out on the standard safety tech available on its equivalent Forester. AEB is available as either a $2500 option on the GXL or as standard on the top-tier ‘Cruiser' spec, a hefty $8000 whack over the GXL.

On the Road

The combination of a four-cylinder petrol engine with a traditional six-speed auto certainly isn't what keeps schoolboys awake at night. That said, Toyota is pretty canny when it comes to engine and gearbox tuning, eking solid – if not hair-raising – performance out of the 2.5-litre unit.

Should you drive the RAV4 the way it's intended – and the way that 99 per cent of buyers will – you won't have much cause to gripe. Apart from an odd, elastic feel in the steering, the RAV is well-suited as a sedate highway cruiser, with far less wind and engine noise than its predecessors.

Under duress, the RAV just isn't as planted as it could be

If, on the other hand, you forget what car you're in and ask the RAV to lift its skirts and run, you'll be greeted by a level of enthusiasm so low that only teenagers can match it.

The RAV's all-wheel drive system is a proper, torque-vectoring setup that shuffles torque around to make sure that wheel slip moments are few and far between, regardless of road conditions.

As admirable as that is, the whole side is let down by the suspension, which allows a huge amount of weight transfer when braking and turning. This means that under duress, the RAV just isn't as planted as it could be, forcing the all-wheel-drive system to work overtime.

The upshot of all this is that any questions you might have about speedy back-road touring should be directed towards the Subaru Forester, because the RAV doesn't have the answers.

Verdict

Thanks to its space, practicality and reputation for reliability, the RAV4 will still make the shortlist of anyone in the market for a new family hauler.

However, Toyota needs to address the RAV's suspension and interior ambiance if it's going to claw sales from the staggeringly popular Mazda CX-5.

Let's not forget, either, that the equivalent Subaru Forester is better to drive, quieter and offered as standard with a suite of active safety equipment.

Is the RAV4 a contender for your preferred SUV? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Toyota RAV4 pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$23,990
Based on 570 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$15,950
Highest Price
$38,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Cruiser (4x4) 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $25,990 – 38,990 2016 Toyota RAV4 2016 Cruiser (4x4) Pricing and Specs
GX (2WD) 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $15,950 – 26,399 2016 Toyota RAV4 2016 GX (2WD) Pricing and Specs
GX (4x4) 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $17,980 – 27,999 2016 Toyota RAV4 2016 GX (4x4) Pricing and Specs
GXL (2WD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $23,480 – 30,000 2016 Toyota RAV4 2016 GXL (2WD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6
Pricing Guide

$15,950

Lowest price, based on 570 car listings in the last 6 months

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