In focus: Toyota RAV4
The initial allocation of new RAV4s for the Irish distributors was sold out before the car arrived. New orders won't be filled until April.
In looks the new motor has much more going for it.
There are cues from the highly-styled CH-R up front. The grille says 'I used to be soft, but now you're gonna look at me, bud'.
Details like reversing the line of the rear door windows add to the appeal and improve rear visibility for the driver. The look is lithe.
This generation RAV4 only comes with a petrol hybrid powertrain in western Europe (including Ireland) based on a 2.5 litre engine and an electric motor. A 4WD version due around April will have a second electric motor for the rear wheels.
Although the AWD version will be on sale, fewer than 10pc of buyers are likely to bother. Potential owners with a horsebox could be attracted because the rated towing capacity is more than twice the 800kg of the FWD model. This extra capability is due to the high torque from the rear electric motor.
Pricing for the new vehicle starts at €35,900 for the Aura grade. However, they expect that 90pc of buyers will go for the next three grades: Luna, from €37,590; Sol (€35,590) and Sport (€40,990).
The price for range-topping Platinum grade has yet to be confirmed.
The second generation 'Toyota Safety Sense' system is standard across all grades. This adds night-time pedestrian detection, and cyclist detection, to the pre-collision element of the system.
The enhancement also provides full range (eg, to a stop) adaptive cruise control to the speed assistance module, and a lane departure alert that doesn't depend on road edge markings.
The combined power output in the FWD car is 218hp, while the AWD provides 222hp. The 2.5 is the main driver and is a new, fourth generation of its engine family, with more torque and power.
The hybrid battery remains the Ni-MH system favoured by Toyota since its first Prius was the groundbreaker for hybrid cars. In part this is because it has been highly developed, and because it doesn't require as much rare minerals to make as does the lithium ion type.
The company believes acquisition of such natural resources could become problematical if there is widespread adoption of full-electric cars before new types of battery are developed which don't require them. The new car is lower and wider and has a longer wheelbase than before, which allows better accommodation for passengers. Shorter overhangs, in conjunction with a better ground clearance, improve the off-road capability.
There's greater structural strength than in the previous car, because this is the first RAV4 built on the Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA). Load capacity in the rear is also 69 litres greater, with the total of 580 litres claimed by Toyota to be class leading. In Ireland it's a bit less, down to 542 litres because the cars sold here will have a space-saver spare wheel.
I got an early chance to put the car through its paces in the mountains behind Barcelona.
Noise reduction measures are effective, though people who worry about the sound of how a continuously variable automatic transmission might be bothered. I'm not . . .
I felt the engineers have made a noticeable improvement in both comfort and handling. It was sure footed on twisty hill roads, solid at motorway speeds. I was particularly impressed with how work on the aerodynamics have made the new RAV4 stable in windy conditions.
We took the AWD version up high through forest and mountainside track terrain and the all-electric rear drive part worked seamlessly.
It can now take up to 80pc of the total system torque, a big bump up from the previous car's 60pc. There's also a 'Trail' button, which enables transfer of torque from a spinning wheel to the opposite one still with grip.
It's no true 4x4 like big brother Land Cruiser, but it makes for a good 'bridge' vehicle between that and a standard passenger car.
The driver's space felt good. Bright instruments, good big knobs for the blessedly straightforward climate control, a new take on seats which seems to bear out a claim of significant improvement.
A screen option on the rear view mirror allows the driver to see behind if the load or the passengers get in the way of the plain mirror. It's easily flicked back to the proper mirror - just as well, you simply don't get the same perspective from a camera.
The dash centre screen is a good size, but it should have been angled a little towards the driver.
There were glare and reflection issues in the low bright sun of Catalonia at this time of the year. When it was conceived, the RAV4 was relatively inexpensive and simple.
It opened up a whole new motoring space to its customers, and eventually its concept of a monocoque sports activity vehicle for everyone was copied by what has become a plethora of competitors.
Today the car is by no means inexpensive, but offers an awful lot more in size, equipment and quality in its space. It pioneered what was to become the charge of the compact crossovers. In its fifth generation, it can be argued that it has now driven out well in front of that self same pack.