FIRST DRIVE in Barcelona: Toyota launches a new era of the RAV4


In a city draped with beautiful architecture, one that's capable of giving stunning Cape Town a serious run for its money, attention to detail is its biggest selling point. 

Antoni Gaudi masterpieces capture the inspirational magnificence of this exquisite place, as even the lamp posts are works of art; sensational tapas is a gastronomic experience for your taste buds, and the breathtaking simplicity of life, makes for the perfect setting for Toyota to launch its new, fifth-generation RAV4. 

READ: 10 things you should know about the new SA-bound Toyota RAV4

Despite its rich ancient heritage and culture, Barcelona is a trendy, innovative city, and home to one of the greatest football teams in the world, with the Camp Nou facility right around the corner from Gaudi's La Pedrera and 'House of Bones' further down the road. It's no surprise Toyota chose such a complimentary city to launch its all-new fifth-generation RAV4 to global media for the next couple of weeks.

Toyota launched its funky, go-anywhere, rugged SUV 25 years ago and at the time it raised many eyebrows for its extremely compact dimensions. RAV4 stood for Recreational Active Vehicle 4WD and was engineered to serve the purpose of a compact SUV and passenger car.  

The new RAV4 has grown leaps and bounds since the quirky-looking two-door with the bulbous spare wheel mounted to the boot was launched in 1994. Now, it's a stylish, full-on family SUV.

The automaker has taken an aggressive stance with it's latest model's styling and it looks mighty impressive from where it first began. The Rav4 is no longer an insipid-looking vehicle, but a stylish SUV that urges you to get behind the wheel and drive.

2019 toyota rav4

Hybrid for SA?

The automaker has been known as a pioneer of hybrid technology when the Prius has launched as the first hybrid vehicle from Toyota decades ago, it was then gradually extended to various other models in its stable while Lexus had already introduced several vehicles too. And while the RAV4 Hybrid has already been launched in the previous generation, it will most certainly be new to South Africans. 

WATCH: Here's why SA will only see the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid in a year or two

The hybrid won't be available yet to the South African market but hopefully, it will be confirmed for the local market within the next year or two. Instead, SA will receive a 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre petrol versions at launch. 

The five-model assault will arrive in South Africa in March 2019. The range has been slightly altered, but the engines are all new, built on the automaker's new GA-K platform for the first time in one of its SUV models. This, in turn, has ensured improved safety, capability, and performance.

What's in store for Saffers?

There will be three trim levels, namely GX, GXR, and the VX. The latter will be available in the 2.0-litre 2WD CVT or with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the 2.5-litre AWD will be mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Yes, there are no turbo-charged this time around, and most South Africans might be upset about that, but these engines are completely new, and more powerful, and should be given the benefit of doubt.

Toyota South Africa has indicated that the GX model will be the 'entry-level' variant and considered as the 'value for money' model. The GXR (also known as the Adventure model) is for the outdoor crowd looking for a more rugged vehicle for offroad escapades. The VX is the cherry on the cake and considered the 'luxury' grade.

2019 toyota rav4

What's it like to drive?

The 2.0-litre petrol version was available to drive at the launch, three vehicles in a sea of 40 Hybrids, for the South African media.

Getting used to left-hand drive vehicles is like taking to riding a bicycle though emerging from an underground basement and navigating bustling, claustrophobic city traffic is something else. Luckily the RAV4's satnav could guide us out of some serious heart palpitations.  

However, later on, the new satnav redirected the guidance back on a 50km reroute for not passing a way-point unbeknown to us. Groundhog day became a very real fear for unfamiliar foreigners. 

Sadly, SA versions will not feature a navigation system, or Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, as it is yet to be developed in-house for the new model. It will be available in newer models down the line.

Once traversing the open roads, the 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine proved itself to be an adequate-powered unit. It's not as enthusiastic as what I had anticipated, but one has to remember that even though we were driving in a Mediterranean area, we were at quite high altitudes at times. With that said, it still feels a lot sturdier behind the wheel with more refined driving dynamics than its predecessor. This is thanks to the new torque vectoring system. 

There's a definite improvement in handling, stability and off-road performance, especially through some slippery and muddy conditions during a proper off-road stint as part of the drive.

Toyota says the mechanical all-wheel-drive system on the 2.0-litre direct injection petrol CVT model is equipped with the automaker's first dynamic torque vectoring system with Rear Driveline Disconnect. 

It features twin couplings on the rear axle that manages torque distribution between the left and right rear wheels to give a stable performance and accurate response to the driver' steering inputs when cornering, in any condition. 

2019 toyota rav4

The disconnection features the world’s first ratchet-type dog clutches on both the front and rear wheel shafts, says Toyota. These clutches stop the driveshaft’s rotations, thus transmitting the driving force to the front wheels when AWD isn’t required, significantly reducing energy loss, improving fuel efficiency, and reducing rotational vibration making for a smoother ride. 

Off-roading feels absolutely natural to the RAV4, whether climbing steep inclines or going into tight bends on a rugged, rocky trail with torque being sent to the right wheels when it's needed.

The 2.0-litre I drove is mated to a CVT transmission and while that whining drone is expected it hardly is noticeable in the new Rav4. It also has a start-off gear so that initial delayed response in pull-away has been taken care of too. This too adds in making the new model so much more exciting than the currently available generation in SA.

2019 toyota rav4

So much to like

It's just not the new stylish exterior design or the much-improved driving dynamics that makes new RAV4 worth it. The interior has been amplified to transform the RAV4 into good all-round SUV package.

There are items such as five USB ports to keep the entire family sane on a long trip when mobile devices need to be charged and connected. There's a new climate control system, a more attractive gearshift, and even the mechanical handbrake has been replaced with an electronic version. The latter also contributes to more interior space in the front, along with the storage compartment in front of the gear lever which has increased by 35mm in size to store even more goodies such as mobile phones, keys, and smaller necessities. 

The cup-holders are deeper and even the dashboard is lower all resulting in a much more spacious cabin.

It's really no surprise that the RAV4 has been the world's best-selling SUV and since 1994, it has sold 9 million units worldwide.

I'm eager to drive the RAV4 when it arrives locally, especially down in the Western Cape with that naturally-aspirated engine.

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