Text and photos by Marc Lachapelle
The least you can say is that the RAV4 has been rather popular, recently. In fact, its global sales have literally doubled in the past half-decade, making the stubby compact sport-ute Toyota’s best-selling model worldwide, no less. In Canada, the RAV4 became the best-selling SUV two years ago when a new Hybrid version gave it an appropriate push.
It topped the charts once again last year, against several newer contenders, in a wildly competitive segment, despite being in the fifth year of its 6-year cycle in the market. You can just imagine what rival carmakers thought when Toyota rolled out three distinct versions of an all-new RAV4, designed and built on Toyota’s New Generation flexible architecture (TNGA).
With a monocoque structure said to be more rigid by 57% and a fully-independent, multilink rear suspension, this new RAV4 is lower and shorter by 5 mm but wider by 10 mm and stretched over a 30-mm-longer wheelbase, with wider wheel tracks, front and rear. All of which means more space for passengers and cargo alike. The good news, for RAV4 Hybrid buyers, is that the cargo bay is now just as spacious as in other models, since the electric drive battery now resides under the rear seat.
As mentioned above, this new RAV4 is offered in three distinct versions, each with its own grille and design touches. The Trail is an all-new model that plays up its (mild) off-road ability with more rugged looks. The neatly-chiseled grille evokes resemblance to the Tacoma pickup’s, while the larger fender skirts are more 4Runner. The new RAV4 does have an extra half-inch of ground clearance. Shorter front and rear overhangs should also help in prudent off-road excursions
Limited models are again the most luxurious, with their sunroof, 8-way electrically-adjustable front seats with memory, a new 7-inch touch screen and Toyota’s first, full-field, digital rearview mirror, among a plethora of additional features, systems and accessories. Hybrid models have a similar, silver-coloured grille and stand out with exclusive LED headlights and an abundance of shiny black trim on their front fascia, fender surrounds, mirror shells and lower body trim.
The XSE Hybrid is now the quickest and sportiest of all RAV4s, which is sweet irony for the new SUV’s most eco-friendly variant. With handling and agility enhanced by its sport-tuned suspension, the XSE Hybrid also gets the most in horsepower and torque from its upgraded hybrid powertrain, built around a fresh version of Toyota’s 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder thermal engine, mated as always to a constantly-variable transmission (CVT).
All other models are powered by a similarly revamped 2.5-litre, Dynamic Force engine, mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Base models come standard with front-wheel-drive and all versions are either delivered or available with one of three different 4-wheel drive systems.
Custom-tailored traction and efficiency
In addition to a revamped iteration of the current 4-wheel drive system, the RAV4 can be equipped with an all-new, torque-vectoring, all-wheel drive system with ‘Driveshaft Disconnect’. The system can send up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels and then split it between the two, for the best possible combination of traction, agility and handling.
On the highway, at constant speeds, ‘dog clutches’ will stop the rear driveshafts to reduce fuel consumption, noise and vibration. This system is standard on the Trail, with a knob to select between various driving modes, several of which are aimed at specific off-road conditions.
The AWD-i system, standard on all Hybrid variants, can now shift 30% more torque to the rear wheels, this motive force generated as always, by an electric motor. The system is designed to enhance on- or off-road driving by constantly optimizing the torque split between all four wheels, in accordance with the drive mode selected.
All new RAV4 versions get the latest version (TSS 2.0) of Toyota Safety Sense, the standard and comprehensive suite of safety systems, plus a plethora of connectivity facilitators, including Entune 3.0 and the popular Apple CarPlay. All RAV4 will now be built in Toyota’s multiple award-winning Cambridge and Woodstock plants, in Ontario. Gasoline-powered models will be available next fall and Hybrid versions in the spring of 2019.