Changes direction neatly enough but engines are a bit weak and the ride can be unsettled
Good visibility but touch-screen can be hard to read and the seats lack support
Everything you'd expect, and five stars from Euro NCAP
Comes with Toyota's reassuring reliability record
One of the most practical five-seat SUVs
Great if you go for the mid-level trim
The RAV4 is easy enough to manoeuvre with decent precision, and on the whole it feels securely planted on the road - only if you push it hard through a series of twisty bends does it feel at all sloppy. It feels a bit jittery over poorer surfaces at low speeds, but smoothes out nicely when the pace quickens. However, both diesel engines require too many gear changes to keep them lively: the 2.0-litre diesel - which comes with two-wheel-drive - runs out of puff at higher revs while the 2.2 diesel - which comes only with four-wheel-drive - lacks punch at low revs and gets noisy when you rev it. Both diesels send vibrations into the cabin, and there's quite a bit of wind and road noise. A 2.0-litre petrol engine is also available.
There's plenty of space for four adults to sit comfortably in the RAV4, with more rear legroom than in a Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5; the narrow central rear seat means a raw deal for a fifth passenger, however. Boot space is impressive, and the rear seats fold almost flat for carrying large items.
Despite the use of leather-look upholstery on parts of the dashboard, the RAV4's interior is nothing special, with too many drab plastics and a tiny, old-fashioned digital clock. Meanwhile, the screen for the touch-screen infotainment system is hard to read in bright conditions. The main instruments and controls are easy enough to use, though, and forward visibility is excellent. It's a pity that lumbar control is available only on top-spec cars as on the other models the driver's seat is short of lower-back support.
Entry-level Active cars come with air-con, alloy wheels, and electric windows front and rear, but we reckon it's worth upgrading to the mid-level Icon trim, which adds a a reversing camera, DAB radio, cruise control, an electronically operated tailgate and dual-zone climate control. We wouldn't bother with the range-topping Invincible trim.
Toyota has a very good reputation for reliability and it finished fifth in What Car?'s latest reliability survey, and you also get the reassurance of a five-year warranty. It achieved the maximum five stars in crash tests by Euro NCAP but, with 89% for adult safety and 82% for children, it didn't do quite as well as the Mazda CX-5. Still, every model comes with stability control and seven airbags, including one that protects the driver's knees. Like most of its rivals, the RAV4 comes with deadlocks and an alarm to fend off thieves.
With its spacious cabin, big boot and rear seats that fold almost flat, the RAV4 is a particularly practical SUV and comes with Toyota's reassuring reliability record. However, the version you're likely to want costs thousands more than a similarly equipped Mazda CX-5, which is also better to drive and cheaper to run. Depreciation will also be quite heavy but Toyota offers good finance deals and What Car?'s True MPG tests show that the RAV4's real-world fuel economy is quite good.