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Toyota RAV4: The car that launched the compact SUV boom gets a major makeover

By Paul Connolly

It’s the car that ignited (or inflicted in some peoples’ view) the compact SUV revolution on us way back in 1994.

The Toyota RAV4 has just been unveiled in fifth generation guise – and it boasts a sharp new look that is a further evolution in direction and is in contrast with the rather rounded appearance of older models.

Yes, the RAV4 is back, and this time looking bolder and sleeker than ever, in a welcome refresh of the near-25-year-old brand.

The original RAV4 is seen as the car that ignited the small SUV segment, even if it did take a while for it to fully catch on.

There is no doubting that its concept - designed for customers who wanted SUV benefits like a high driving position and larger boot, along with the driveability and efficiency of a normal family hatchback or saloon – is still the driving force of modern compact SUVs and crossovers.

RAV4 stands for "Recreational Activity Vehicle: 4-wheel drive", because most versions offer four-wheel-drive options.

The RAV4 continued its reputation for innovation when it launched an all-electric model, the RAV4 EV, in 1997.

Unfortunately, it never really took off and only around 1,000 models were sold in California despite zero emissions, a 97,000km battery warranty and a 120-mile range.

The latest RAV4 was unveiled at the New York Motor Show recently. Like its Toyota siblings, the Auris and the Prius, it is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, which the manufacturer says brings “significant” benefits in ride, handling, safety and driver enjoyment.

The new RAV4 is said to remains true to its heritage as the original pioneer of the recreational SUV (“sport utility vehicle”) with big changes in powertrain technologies, dynamic performance, intelligent safety provisions and all-round quality.

The new model is slightly wider but lower than its predecessor. Vehicle width has been increased by 10mm, to 1,855mm.

Reductions have been made in the front and rear overhangs, but 30mm added to the wheelbase. All these stats should mean add up to a bigger and more  comfortable cabin.

Luggage space has been increased, too, and has versatility designed-in with folding rear seats, a double load floor and deck side nets.

The new RAV4 will be available with two TNGA powertrains, both more fuel-efficient and powerful than those deployed in the current model.

A new hybrid electric 2.5-litre powertrain aimed at delivering  fuel and emissions efficiency and quiet operation with more power and greater responsiveness looks like being the pick of the bunch.

A new 2.0-litre petrol engine will also be available, with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.

Driving dynamics have been greatly enhanced with significant improvements to the performance of the all-wheel drive systems.

For the hybrid version, Toyota has developed a completely new electric motor drive that makes efficient use of power from the car’s hybrid system, using a second electric motor to drive the rear wheels to generate high torque.

This reduces energy losses, contributing to greater fuel economy, the manufacturer says, and offers excellent All-Wheel Drive (AWD) performance in different driving conditions.

For the 2.0-litre petrol model, the new mechanical AWD system has also been improved, featuring a twin coupling and rear disconnect on the automatic transmission versions.

A low centre of gravity and optimised weight distribution, should further strengthen the RAV4’s dynamic capabilities, enabling a more rigid body construction and more precise, stable and accurate responses to driver inputs.

The car won’t be on our streets until 2019, and, with lots more vehicle data and details to be released, expect to hear lots more about the new RAV4 in coming weeks and months.

UK price and spec won’t be announced for a while yet, but we expect the new RAV will retail for similar prices to the outgoing model, which starts around the £27k mark.

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