IF THE Australian motoring industry replicated our seedy underbelly, Toyota would be the kingpin.
Number one in the sales race, the Japanese brand has a target on its back with some killer products in key segments.
Yet Toyota is poised to land another roundhouse on the chins of its competition.
The fourth generation RAV4 has arrived with a modern overhaul which gives extra firepower within a booming sports utility vehicle market.
Toyota has addressed the main issues with the outgoing RAV - moving the spare from the back door to under the boot floor, upgrading interior finishes as well as improving fuel economy and introducing a turbo diesel variant.
The thirsty V6 has been given its marching orders, with the mid-size SUV now exclusively powered by four-cylinder engines: a 2.0-litre petrol, a 2.5-litre petrol also found in the Camry and the tried and trusted 2.2-litre oil-burner.
Sixteen models are available across three trim levels, entry-level GX, GXL and range-topping Cruiser.
Prices have dropped by $500 for the base model, starting from $28,490.
Welcome to the new age.
Cabin finishes have been improved with a modern carbon-fibre look trim on the console.
Even the trademark Toyota green digital clock has been ditched in favour of a contemporary design.
There are less nasty plastics, with mid and top-spec having soft finishes across the dash and doors. The GX has a plasticky feel, although has a leather-look trim styling.
The driver has a better view of the road and reduced blind spots with smaller A-pillars, as well as higher bonnet line for improved field of vision, along with telescopic steering wheel reach at a more ergonomic angle.
Seating comfort has improved across the range, but the GLX and Cruiser variants have bucket styling with great support laterally and at the base.
Interior space remains one of the best in class.
The RAV4 has in fact shrunk, it's 10mm narrower, 15mm lower and 55mm shorter than its predecessor, but there is excellent head and leg room front and back.
Additional knee room is available in the back courtesy of thinner front seats.
On the road
The two new petrol engines offer more power with better fuel economy.
Some drivers may find the 2.0-litre underwhelming in comparison to the 2.5-litre petrol. The latter is a willing performer, smooth in its acceleration and cruising comfortably on the highway.
Yet it's the newcomer which is our pick of the bunch. The 2.2-litre turbo diesel is strong with excellent mid-range punch.
For those who like the option of stepping off the bitumen the RAV4 is an able companion. We sampled some testing tracks which the RAV conquered with ease. It's aided by hill-descent control which takes over the braking and acceleration and just requires the driver to steer.
All-wheel drive models power the front wheels primarily in most conditions, but torque split can be 50-50 when required.
Sport mode is also standard on AWD models, which adds a 20% load on the steering and quickens throttle response.
What do you get?
All RAV4s have seven airbags, stability control with anti-lock brakes, reverse parking sensors, roof rails, rear spoiler, Bluetooth connectivity and a CD stereo with six speakers.
The GXL adds alloys, better internal finishes, reversing camera, display audio, sporty seats, dual zone air con, auto wipers and keyless entry with push-button start.
At the top of the range sits the Cruiser, which also gains leather trim, sat nav, blindspot monitoring system, power rear door, high density headlamps, power driver's seat and a sunroof.
There's the number one selling Mazda CX-5 (from $27,800), Kia Sportage (from $26,990), new Honda CRV VTi (from $27,490), Nissan X-Trail (from $28,490), Mitsubishi Outlander (from $28,990), Subaru Forester (from $30,990) and Suzuki Grand Vitara Urban (from $26,990 drive-away).
All powerplants are relatively thrifty in operation, but they're not setting benchmarks. The new diesel is the best of the lot, averaging under six litres for every 100km with the manual box.
A new Eco mode regulates engine output and air-conditioner operation for those who want to be ultra frugal. Servicing is capped at $170 for the first six scheduled maintenance checks.
Dropping the split-fold rear pews is made simpler by the lever now mounted at the seat-side base.
The heavy, side-hinged tailgate is gone, along with its mounted spare wheel for a more conventional top-hinged boot lid. Those who pay $300 can get a full-size spare, but that does take about 70 litres off the 577-litre boot capacity.
Two cup holders are up front, one in front of the shifter and another behind. Those in the back have two holders in the centre armrest.
There are some good spots for phones and other trinkets under the bulbous dash, as well as a small shelf on top of the glovebox.
Braked trailer towing capacity varies, from 800kg for the 2.0-litre petrol to 1500kg for the 2.5-litre petrol.
Strangely, the diesel is rated at just 550kg for the manual (500kg auto) - but this is the official conservative figure from the Japan head office and Toyota Australia is working on getting it revised.
Styling is more athletic, with the front-end adopting the corporate look. Its raised beltline follows the latest trend, with a more muscular stance. Toyota always walks the conservative styling line - the 86 coupe aside - and the RAV4 is no different.
You can spot the up-spec models via the chrome front strip and real fog lamps, unlike the GX's plastic fills.
Nine colours are available, including three new options: bronze, deep green and blue.
The writer was Toyota's guest on the Sapphire Coast.
What matters most
The good stuff: Improved interior appeal, quiet cabin, back seat space, ability to go off-road, surprisingly fun to drive.
What we'd like to see: Full size spare as standard without affecting boot space.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is capped at $170 for the first six services over three years or 60,000km.
Model: Toyota RAV4.
Details: Five-door mid-size two- and all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 107kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque of 187Nm @ 3600rpm; 2.5 four-cylinder petrol 132kW @ 6000rpm and 233Nm @ 4100rpm; 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel 110kW @ 3600rpm and 340Nm 2000-2800rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual, continuously variable automatic (on 2.0 model only) and six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 2.0L - 7.7 litres/100km (m), 7.4 (CVT); 2.5L - 8.6 (m), 8.5 (a); 2.2L - 5.6 (m), 6.5 (a).
CO2: 2.0L - 179g/km (m), 173 (a); 2.5L - 200g/km (m), 198 (a); 2.2 - 149g/km (m), 172 (a).
Bottom line: 2WD - GX $28,490, GXL $32,490. AWD petrol - GX $31,990, GXL $35,490, Cruiser $42,990. AWD diesel - GX $35,490, GXL $38,990, Cruiser $46,490.
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