Originally a trailblazer for the compact SUV breed, the Toyota RAV4 has grown up to become one of the most rounded cars on the market.
It’s also among the more populous cars, which is good news for used buyers because it means plenty of choice. Toyota has sold more than 10 million RAV4s worldwide since its launch in 1994.
For its latest and fifth generation, the practical SUV moved to the Toyota New Global Architecture modular platform, which is also used by the Toyota Highlander, the Lexus NX and Lexus RX.
Although it arrived in early 2019 with a new exterior design, the RAV4’s most significant changes were under the bonnet. In place of a selection of purely petrol and diesel engines, the new car was launched with a ‘self-charging’ hybrid powertrain.
With 25 years of electrification experience under Toyota’s belt, it’s no surprise that it’s an effective unit. Consisting of a 2.5-litre petrol engine and an electric motor, it produces 215bhp and emits 102g/km of CO2 in front-wheel-drive guise. That’s good for 0-62mph in 8.4sec, which is quicker than the equivalent hybrid Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. Four-wheel-drive cars, meanwhile, have 219bhp, emit 103g/km and cover 0-62mph in 8.1sec.
For a potentially even more economical proposition, look to the RAV4 plug-in hybrid, which was added to the line-up in 2019. It’s our favourite of the two powertrains and made up of the same 2.5-litre petrol engine but this time paired with a stronger electric motor for a hefty 302bhp.
As well as an impressive all-electric official range of 46 miles, it offers hot hatch pace: 0-62mph is completed in just 6.0sec – significantly faster than the Land Rover Discovery Sport P300e and the Volkswagen Tiguan eHybrid.
Despite its rapid acceleration, the RAV4’s best qualities shine through at more reserved speeds. When driven conservatively, the car is relaxing, comfortable and efficient, particularly in plug-in guise.
Refinement and drivability are commendable for a car of its size. It handles smartly, rides smoothly and has accurate, well-weighted steering. In short, it’s sufficiently capable and assured to be an enjoyable car to drive on long schleps, across country and in town.
The interior is family friendly, too, and offers a high-quality yet robust feel. Visibility is good for most driving positions and the cabin is spacious. In addition, there’s around 500 litres of boot space, which rises to 1600 litres with the seats folded.
As for equipment, the RAV4 was launched with four specification levels: Icon, Design, Dynamic and Excel. Entry-level models are well kitted out, with an 8.0in infotainment display, rear parking sensors, 17in wheels, LED headlights, a rear-view camera and Toyota Safety Sense 2, which includes pre-collision detection, adaptive cruise control and blindspot monitoring.
Excel is worth seeking for more high-end gear, such as more powerful LED headlights, heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel and windscreen wiper de-icer.
Dynamic, meanwhile, offers sporty design features such as 18in wheels and other kit seen on the Excel spec. It’s only worth seeking if you want to stand out from the crowd.
Need to know
When it was launched, the front-wheel-drive RAV4 in Icon trim was priced from £29,635 and the PHEV cost from £47,395. Today, you can pick up a Mk5 RAV4 from around £25,000, which is a good saving on an excellent all-rounder with a brilliant reliability record. Used plug-ins start at under £40,000.
The RAV4 was the second-most-reliable hybrid car in the 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey, behind the related Lexus NX.
If you want to use the RAV4 as a tow car, look at the four-wheel-drive version. It can tow a braked trailer weight of up to 1650kg, compared with the 800kg limit for the front-wheel-drive model.
Phone mirroring: Early Toyota RAV4 models did not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring. You’ll need to pay £150 to have it retrofitted, or it’s a £50 add-on when having your car serviced at a Toyota dealer.
Suspension arms: Some 790 RAV4s were affected by a recall prompted by cracks on the front lower suspension arms. If you suspect a problem, contact your Toyota dealership. The remedial work will be carried out free of charge.
Hold the line, caller: A total of 3483 cars were recalled in 2019 due to problems with the emergency calling system, which might not have been activated. It’s another free repair at a Toyota dealer.
2.5 Plug-in Hybrid: It may be slightly more expensive to buy, but that 46-mile all-electric range is too good to miss – and so is the rapid performance.
Our top spec
Design: Design is a more affordable trim level yet still comes with 18in wheels, keyless entry, an electric tailgate, front parking sensors and sat-nav.
Hyundai Tucson Hybrid: The Tucson is available for a similar price and offers decent performance in its own right, with 226bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8.0sec, as well as combined economy of 49.6mpg.
Ones we found