For the automotive industry, the 1990s are well remembered as the period of the crossover vehicles - cars developed to serve more than one niche market. In most cases, this could be a sedan or a wagon with high ground clearances, or a plain Jane sedan with a modified engine and suspension system. As with most people from the era, cars attempted to be capable of doing more than one thing at the same time, much like a minivan participating in weekend races.
Naturally, Toyota threw in its share of crossovers during the era, its legacy being the RAV4. The RAV4 (Recreational Active Vehicle, 4 Wheel Drive) was the first few SUVs derived from an existing sedan platform; in this case, it's the Corona and the Celica platform giving its genes. All mechanical bits and pieces from the aforementioned car were carried out, including the engine used. Aside from the sleek and handsome sheet metal for its time, what's unique with the RAV4 is the inclusion of a permanent all wheel drive system, which is indispensable when tackling unpredictable road conditions. With these innovations, the compact SUV segment was born.
The original RAV4 was undisputedly successful in attracting a large chunk of the new segment: young, dynamic individuals who wanted more out of their current vehicles, but liked to keep things frugal at the same time. Also, the RAV4 attracted those in search of a versatile vehicle to upgrade, but doesn't need the footprint of full size SUVs.
After ten years and two iterations, the new RAV4 grows in every aspect, as it again sought to dominate the market it created and once pioneered. The increase in exterior dimensions translated to a 21% increase in cabin space. The larger sheet metal also needed more power from the engine; hence the displacement increase from 2.0 to 2.4 liters, and in other markets, a 3.5 liter V6 is available. The 2.4 liter now packs 170 Hp and 224 Nm while maintaining excellent fuel economy. In the quest for better fuel economy and overall drivability, the new RAV4 shifts to an intelligent 4WD system, otherwise known as Active Control 4WD. This new system now propels the rear wheels in certain conditions when needed, in contrast to the full time 4WD setup of its predecessors. This, therefore, makes the RAV4 front-wheel drive by default.
The upgraded cabin of the RAV4 is highlighted by plush leather upholstery. Rear passenger space is maximized via sliding and reclining second row seats. The driver remains king of the RAV4 as the driver's seat can be fully adjusted via power controls, allowing one to dial in the perfect adjustment easily. Complementing this feature is the fully adjustable steering wheel, which not only adjustable for reach but for rake as well, a welcome surprise for this writer. Further touches to the RAV4's steering wheel include a larger horn pad and integrated audio controls.
The RAV4's air-conditioning system boasts of a dual zone climate control, which allows for a distinct cooling temperature between the driver and front passenger, if one desired. Quite contradicting this feature, however, is the standard front seat heater, which may prove to be of no use given this country's tropical setting, but it's nice to have nonetheless, if one took this car on a spin to the colder areas of the country like Baguio or Tagaytay. Those allergic to dust and pollen need not fret inside the RAV4 thanks for the built-in pollen filter, which can be activated or deactivated at a touch of a button. Overall, the cabin appointments scream high technology, from the vast array of buttons for different functions, from the brushed metal accents of the radically-designed center console, to the Optitron gauge cluster. To further enhance driving comfort and convenience especially on long trips, the RAV4 has a cruise control feature. Together with drive-by-wire throttle technology and a smooth-shifting automatic transmission, this is the smoothest cruise control available in the market so far. Honestly though, using this feature require a steep learning curve, especially on the timing of when to use it and when not to use it. But if fuel economy is one's utmost concern, one must learn it, as this feature is already proven to increase fuel efficiency, especially at highway speeds.
This writer can dedicate the entirety of his article on the RAV4's excellent interior, but doing so won't give justice on the similarly commendable exterior. Albeit similar to the generation it replaces, given the similar cues of the grille, headlights, and taillights, giving this car a second look enables one to further appreciate its refreshing, futuristic looks. Projector type headlights and front fog lamps give it a distinct and a mean character during night driving. Taillights, on the other hand, now sport LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), thereby making illumination time even faster. What else? The stock 17" alloy wheels is a welcome complement to the overall exterior scheme, and looks better even when left unchanged. Rear cues include an LED spoiler as well as a sleek spare tire cover.
Even though this very handsome SUV has grown in all aspects, it is very surprising that it has preserved its good handling characteristics. In short, handling remains to be a very good RAV4 trait. Despite the engine being "only" a 2.4 liter, power-to-weight concerns are addressed by the excellent selection of gear ratios of the silky smooth four speed Super ECT automatic transmission. Gearing configuration remains an excellent Toyota trait, not only in the RAV4, but in all other Toyota vehicles as well. Because of the excellent gearing, and intelligent variable valve timing engine technology, the RAV4 returns a very-frugal-for-its-segment 8.22 km/l in city driving.
Toyota indeed has another bestseller in the third generation RAV4, as it is a living proof that big need not be cumbersome, uninspiring, and guilt-laden. It is the antithesis of everything associated with the word "big". It may be big compared to its predecessors, but deep inside it remains to be that cute and handsome compact SUV that this writer's contemporaries have grown up with. But, just like anything big, the RAV4 may need some trimming to keep its price down, in order to compete fairly in a price conscious market like the Philippines. Price notwithstanding, there is no way that the RAV4 won't again be the pioneer in this segment it pioneered a decade ago.