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2015 Toyota RAV4 Diesel – Car Review – Leadfoot Rally Car?

2015 Toyota RAV4 Diesel – Car Review – Leadfoot Rally Car?

Toyota’s RAV4 has been around for over twenty years and is now in its fourth generation. Over the years it has grown, and grown up, from a fairly small and basic crossover to a medium-sized SUV. It’s available in two or four wheel drive variants with either a 2.5 litre normally aspirated petrol engine or a 2.2 litre turbo diesel, and in three trim levels – GX, GXL and Limited.

Our test vehicle was the diesel 4WD in the base GX spec.

The week I had the RAV4 included Waitangi weekend, when myself, John and Mark from AutoClique were planning to head up to the Coromandel from Wellington to attend the Leadfoot Festival. We were camping for the weekend, so this would be a great way to test out the RAV4’s space and comfort.

If you’re asking yourself why we took a base model RAV4 to the ultimate NZ petrolhead event, there is a connection between the RAV4 and Leadfoot. Ryan Millen, who was racing at the event, rallies a RAV4 in the US, and his rally car started life as a white production car. It still has the stock petrol engine, stock automatic transmission and is even the 2WD version!

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First Impressions

Externally the RAV is a decent looking car. The roofline curves down towards the back, forming a pleasing shape with the windows and helping to disguise the SUV bulk. It’s way nicer to look at than the last (third gen) RAV4 and this facelifted model adds some extra nice details. Though I have to admit that the first thought I had when I looked at the front view on our white car was “Star Wars stormtrooper”.

The wheels were the subject of several discussions over the week, because they’re five spoke 17” steelies with a plastic five spoke hub cap. At first glance you might think they’re alloys but a proper look reveals that they’re not. They look pretty good though and will fool a lot of people.

Inside, the RAV is spacious, more so than I expected. There’s loads of head and leg room in the front and the back. The dash is pretty basic, with several blanked off switches in our GX model, but all of the essentials are there. The steering wheel is plastic, but it’s nicely shaped and textured and pleasant to hold. There are buttons on the wheel to operate the phone, stereo and trip computer, plus Toyota’s standard weirdly positioned (in my opinion) cruise control stalk. The instruments are clear and simple, with an LCD screen at the bottom for trip computer and other displays. Higher spec models get a 4.2” colour screen there instead.

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Toyota have done a nice job of the dash, plastic types and textures are more coherent and better matched than other recent Toyotas. The parts you touch feel solid and pleasant, and there’s moulded-in imitation stitching in a few places, which actually looks really good.

The bottom of the dash has a curve to it, which looks nice, but the disadvantage is that for taller people in the front passenger seat they end up with their right knee pressed against the bottom of the dash. As the shortest of us, it wasn’t an issue for me but John and Mark both noticed it.

Lots of cars are coming with automatically controlled features as standard but In this base model everything is manual – lights, wipers, air conditioning and cruise control, even key start. Higher spec models have features like climate control, radar cruise and keyless entry.

There’s a central touch screen for the reversing camera and stereo, and there are reversing sensors as well, which can be disabled if you’re towing. Our RAV4 came with an optional Toyota towbar, which costs $1140 fitted. The stereo has a CD player, plus Bluetooth for phone integration and music streaming. There are USB and aux inputs under a small cover next to a power socket and storage cubby. The glove box is really big with loads of space for the car’s manual plus lots of other stuff. An SLR camera fit in there easily.

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What’s it like to live with?

When we were planning our 1500km round trip to Leadfoot we weren’t sure if the RAV would do the job as we had three adults, and a lot of camping and camera gear to fit in. After a quick test we found that even with 6’4” tall John in the driver’s seat there was lots of room for myself and even 6’6” Mark to sit comfortably in the back. So the RAV it was!

On the day of the trip we loaded up our gear, using the back seat for some of it, and we all fit comfortably into the car. Our equipment in the back was covered by the load cover, which can be stored out of sight under the boot floor if needed along with a luggage net which can be clipped on below the cover. The charging sockets in the front and rear, plus the USB socket, gave us capacity to charge all of our devices, and there were enough cup holders for our coffees.

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The steering is very light, and it takes a bit of getting used to, especially at higher speeds where it’s easy to over-correct. But once you’re accustomed to it, it’s really good and very accurate. The RAV4 has pretty firm suspension – it’s not harsh or uncomfortable, not by any means, but occasionally a rut or pothole will make itself felt. The benefit of this is that the RAV4 handles very well indeed, with minimal roll and a car-like feel. Combining the steering and handling makes the RAV good fun to chuck around the twisty roads. It’s a shame it doesn’t have the performance to back this up. The 110kW 2.2 litre turbodiesel RAV4 isn’t slow, but it’s not exactly perky either. When setting off from a junction it needs a pretty firm prod of the throttle to get it going, and sometimes on the open road it needs to kick down a gear or three before anything happens.

There are three driving modes – Eco, normal and Sport. Eco makes a noticeable difference to the throttle response, softening it to make the car accelerate more slowly and use less fuel. Sport on the other hand only seems to turn on the word “Sport” on the instrument cluster. We tested this pretty thoroughly on the journey and none of us could detect any difference. We’ll give a Chocolate Fish to anyone who can show us that it actually does something!

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I drove the first 300km of the trip until we stopped in Turangi for lunch and diesel, and getting out of the car I felt fine. No stiffness or tiredness: the RAV4 is a comfortable car and is really good on long trips. You might be surprised that we stopped for fuel so soon – so were we! The fuel gauge seemed to be going down faster than expected. Toyota quote 6.6l/100km combined, so we expected to get a similar figure on a long trip. We achieved between 8 and 9l/100km on the whole trip, and most of it was spent cruising at 80-100kph. Granted, the car was fully loaded, but modern diesels are usually very efficient, especially on long trips.

We made a quick detour up towards the skifield near Mount Ruapehu. Not a taxing track for a serious off-roader, but it was pretty bumpy with some deep ruts and big bumps. The RAV4 took it in its stride, negotiating the rough surfaces and sandy ground without issues. And this is with three adults and plenty of gear aboard. If you want to do more serious offroading the RAV4 has a diff lock button to set the torque to 50/50 front and rear. Plus there’s hill descent control to get you down those steep slopes.

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I spent the second half of the journey as a passenger in the back, and it was spacious and comfortable, though not as comfortable as the front. The rear seat backs seem to have a convex curve to them which starts to feel a bit tiring after a few hours.

We finally arrived at our camp site in the early evening, just late enough to test the LED lights, which are excellent, and standard across the range. The RAV4 had performed really well, and continued to do so throughout the weekend. It’s solid and well built, spacious and quiet inside. More standard equipment would be nice, but overall it’s a good car.

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What it’s up against

Brand / ModelEnginePowerDrivetrainFuel L/100km0-100km/hPrice Highest to Lowest
Kia Sorento LX2.4l 4 cyl petrol126kW/225NmAWD9.911.5s$49,990
Mitsubishi Outlander XLS2.2l 4 cyl turbodiesel112kW/366NmAWD6.2N/A$49,990
Honda CRV Sport2.4l 4 cyl petrol140kW/222NmAWD8.7N/A$49,800
Hyundai Tucson1.6l 4 cyl turbo petrol130kW/265NmAWD7.78.8s$47,990
Mazda CX-52.2l 4 cyl turbodiesel129kW/420NmAWD5.7N/A$47,195
Toyota RAV4 GX2.2l 4 cyl turbodiesel110kW/340NmAWD6.69.9s$46,990
Subaru Forester2.0l 4 cyl turbodiesel108kW/350NmAWD6.39.9s$46,990
Ford Kuga Trend2.0l 4 cyl turbodiesel132kW/400NmAWD5.4N/A$45,990
Hyundai IX352.4l 4 cyl petrol136kW/240NmAWD9.8N/A$44,990
Jeep Compass Limited2.4l 4 cyl petrol125kW/220NmAWD9.0N/A$43,990
Holden Captiva LT2.2l 4 cyl turbodiesel135kW/400NmAWD8.2N/A$43,490
Nissan X Trail2.5l 4 cyl petrol126kW/226NmAWD8.3N/A$42,490

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The good and the bad.

ProsCons
  • Spacious
  • Solid and well built
  • Great steering
  • Handles well
  • Not much standard equipment
  • Performance a bit disappointing
  • Fuel usage higher than expected
  • Seemingly pointless Sport button

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What do we think?

The RAV4 GX Diesel is a comfortable, spacious, family-sized SUV. It feels solid and well built and has some nice features. It even handles well enough to have a bit of fun when driving. A little more standard equipment would be nice to have, and that diesel engine seems less torquey and efficient than it should be. It holds up well against its competitors, especially with Toyota’s current five year warranty and servicing deal.

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Rating – Chevron rating 4 out of 5

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Vehicle TypeMedium SUV
Starting Price$46,990 + On road costs
Tested Price$48,130 + On road costs
EngineDiesel, 2.2L, 4-cylinder, In-line, turbocharged front, 16-valve Double Overhead Cam (DOHC) and D-4D Common Rail Direct fuel system with Piezo Injectors
Transmission6-speed Automatic transmission with Super Intelligent Electronic Control (Super ECT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Sequential S mode.
0 – 100 kph9.9 seconds
Kerb Weight1630-1640kg
Length x Width x Height4605 x 1845 x 1705mm
Cargo CapacityWith rear seat up – 577L
Fuel Tank60 litres
Towing CapacityBraked – 1800kg

Unbraked – 750kg

ANCAP Safety Ratings5 stars
WarrantyAll Toyotas currently available with 5 year warranty/servicing/breakdown cover and WOFs

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