Toyota RAV4 2.0 D-4D review

With this improved fourth generation Toyota RAV4, improved diesel power comes mated only to 2WD. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

Do you need all-wheel drive in your soft-roading SUV? Probably not. If you agree, then you're target market for this much improved diesel-powered Toyota RAV4, which boosts its power to 141bhp in this improved form and is driven only via the front wheels. It's economical too at 60.1mpg, so you're a winner all the way. Just budget for a set of winter tyres and you're all set.

Background

Car makers sometimes do the most puzzling things. Take this fourth generation Toyota RAV4. At its original launch in 2012, the suits from Japan reckoned that the volume diesel version would sell mainly in 4WD form. They were wrong. Just how wrong is illustrated by the fact that this heavily revised facelifted version is available to diesel customers only in front-driven form. This improved RAV model is a smarter take on a well-established theme. More stylish, more efficient and better value, it aims to bring Toyota's soft roader back to its previous position, front and centre in the compact SUV marketplace.

Driving Experience

When this fourth generation RAV4 model was first launched, diesel customers were offered both 2.0 and 2.2-litre D-4D units. The expert consensus though, was always that the smaller powerplant was the sweeter one, so it's no great loss that the old 2.2 has been ditched as part of the most recent model updates. Particularly given that the 2.0-litre unit is now more powerful anyway. Slightly more surprising is Toyota's decision not to offer diesel buyers its 4WD system that petrol variants still get. So D-4D buyers now have to do without the all-wheel drive car's surprisingly effective Dynamic Torque Control system which instantly directs 10% of drive to the back wheels as soon as the steering wheel is turned. On the move, this car is reasonably brisk, getting to 62mph in 9.6 seconds and onto 121mph but the ride still isn't the best, being stiff in its springing yet somewhat soft in roll. The ergonomics aren't perfect either. While the six-speed gearbox is fairly crisp in its action, it's also an uncomfortably long reach away, which makes it annoying that there's no auto transmission option. On the plus side, this car is significantly more refined than it was before. Overall, the RAV-4 has grown up and become a little less fun. While that may be a cause to lament, the RAV-4's buyers have also greyed a little around the temples and desire something bigger and less frenetic. This is it.

Design and Build

This heavily revised fourth generation RAV4 gets a smarter look than before - and in particular, a sharper front end. The upper grille is more slender and is flanked by restyled halogen or LED headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights. The middle grille has been made wider and the lower, trapezoidal grille has been made significantly larger. Inside, the cabin still doesn't have a truly premium brand feel but it has been tidied up quite a lot. The instrument binnacle, the centre console and the gearshift surround get a slightly smarter look. Plus the centre console has been redesigned to accommodate the latest Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system touchscreen. Otherwise, things are much as they were in the original version of this MK4 model. All the instrument and switchgear is backlit in cool blue and the dash features strong upper and lower beams, interrupted by a curved, metal-finished spar to frame the instrument binnacle, steering wheel and driver's footwell. The front-to-rear seat couple distance remains a best-in-class 970mm. Combined with a thinner front seatback design, this increases rear legroom. Thanks to Toyota's Easy Flat system, the rear seats can be quickly and easily folded flat (the seats dividing 60:40) and each section can be reclined independently. The load space is long, increasing capacity to 547-litres, and there's also a 100-litre undertray.

Market and Model

Your perspective on RAV4 pricing will depend upon what kind of car you perceive this to be. The motoring mags will tell you that it competes with family Crossovers like Renault's Kadjar and Hyundai's Tucson - but against these cars, it looks quite expensive, with D-4D prices pitched in the £24,000 to £28,000 bracket. Toyota though, perceives this as something more than a Crossover: yes, the RAV4 can appeal to that kind of buyer but traditionally, it's also been something more sophisticated, a more capable compact SUV too - a car like Honda's CR-V. It's certainly priced very similarly to a CR-V. The 2.0-litre diesel engine that most customers choose is available in all four grades, 'Active', 'Icon', Business Edition' and 'Excel'. It seems strange though, that Toyota isn't offering diesel buyers all-wheel drive or auto gearbox options. All models get the brand's latest Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system that includes Bluetooth, a DAB radio and a reversing camera. Other standard features run to cruise control, a sunglasses holder, a shark fin antenna and a leather steering wheel cover. This is in addition to 17-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, rear privacy glass and electric door mirrors. Plus, if you avoid entry-level trim, you get the option of the brand's latest 'Safety Sense' package of electronic features.

Cost of Ownership

Toyota's decision to discontinue the 2.2-litre diesel used in top derivatives of the previous version of this car is all to the good in terms of economy. The freshly upgraded 141bhp 2.0 D-4D unit manages 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, which is about 10mpg better than the old 2.2 could manage. The CO2 figure's better too - 123g/km on 17-inch wheels. It's interesting to compare these figures against those of the petrol/electric 2.5-litre Hybrid variant. This derivative manages 57.6mpg on 17-inch wheels and 115g/km of CO2 in 2WD form. Or 55.4mpg and 118g/km in AWD guise. Go for the conventional automatic 2.0-litre Valvematic petrol model and the figures are 43.5mpg and 152g/km. So the diesel stacks up well against its range counterparts. As for residual values in the range overall, well these have always been good for RAV4 buyers, in most cases bearing comparison with the models from premium brands and there's little reason to doubt that they'll only improve this time round.

Summary

Perspective is key to judging this improved fourth generation RAV4 D-4D. If you'd never heard of a Toyota RAV4 before and just jumped behind the wheel of this 2.0-litre D-4D diesel model, you'd probably come to the conclusion that it was a little generic but very nicely executed. It would be a wholly practical and enjoyable thing to own. If, however, you're steeped in old-school RAV4, we suspect you might just find it slightly plain. There's little doubt that the 2.0-litre diesel is still the best engine found under the bonnet of the RAV-4 though, which is a bit of a fix for those who need four-wheel drive. Or an automatic gearbox, come to that. Nevertheless, if you can make do with front-wheel drive and a stick to change gear, this is where the value's at. Certainly, the fact that this is such an economical and clean variant does its chances no harm at all. It's just a shame that Toyota don't seem keen to talk it up a little more enthusiastically, the sales emphasis at present being on the pricier petrol/electric hybrid version. Still, there are any number of cars that over-promise and under-deliver. Here's one that needs teasing out from under its bushel.