by Liz Turner
When I watch Downton, one thought always strikes me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have staff? How much easier would life be with a valet who silently pre-empts your every wish, makes you feel pampered and generally irons out the annoyances in life.
During my week with the Toyota RAV4, my wish was close to becoming a reality. Whatever I needed, it seemed to be right by my elbow. One small example: I plugged in my phone, and the audio system instantly switched to playing the tracks stored on it. There was even a neat little smart-phone shaped tray under touchscreen. In my Mini, this function required an extra cable costing £40 quid and a teenager to explain the process of turning it on.
Most sat-nav systems need a teenager, geek or three year old to work out how to plug in the address. The system included in the RAV’s optional Touch and Go Plus system was not only simple enough for a luddite like me to use, but it took us where we wanted to go without suggesting a dirt track through a farmer’s back garden.
The RAV or Recreational Active Vehicle was one of the very first small SUVs when it appeared in 1994. I wanted to try this latest version, revealed at the LA Auto Show last year and on sale here in January.
My first impression was how svelte it looked, with its swept-forward nose and muscular sides; the previous model was so dull, it easy to lose in a car park. This is the first RAV4 to have a top-hinged tailgate rather than a side-opening door, and I preferred it; I appreciated the electric control for it, too, although it took a while to start working. I’m so used to my slow Broadband, so I knew not to keep hitting the remote button on the keyfob, but it’s tempting. The load area is huge, and the net slung between two poles proved useful for items of shopping I didn’t want squashed. The load floor is high, though, I wouldn’t want to load in anything heavy without some help.
Inside the cabin, the plastics are dark, but looked and felt good-quality. What really impressed me more was the number of thoughtful touches – places to put things, well positioned controls and a big comfy leather chair behind the wheel with plenty of adjustments.
We covered plenty of miles, from Wiltshire to Eastbourne to visit the excellent Towner Gallery, to Tetbury to another manufacturer’s driving day and to Buckinghamshire to take my folks out for lunch. My petite mum found it a bit of a clamber up into the rear seat, but my lanky dad appreciated the legroom, and both of them loved a ride in something so comfortable, sitting high, so they were afforded a fine view of the countryside. (This was an All-wheel-drive model, but I didn’t need to head off-road at any point.)
I found the RAV incredibly easy to drive, in particular because this was a six-speed automatic. It’s not as lively and agile as the Mazda CX-5, but the steering is precise, and the pedals are nicely weighted, with a precise action. The diesel engine has a decent amount of grunt, and never made me think twice about a potential overtaking opportunity, although it’s quite growly when working hard.
There were buttons on the dash to select either Eco or Sport mode, I tried Sport but it just seemed to make it noisier. Eco resulted in a fuel consumption of 40mpg on the motorway and my best average otherwise was 34.5mpg.
Toyota has a well-earned reputation for reliability, and this RAV would make a good choice for anyone who needs some stress taken out of their lives.
Toyota RAV4 Invincible 2.2 D4D Auto T&G
On the road £29,305
With options £31,000
6-speed automatic AWD
148bhp at 6300rpm
Combined economy 42.2mpg