WATCH: Why Toyota's RAV4 remains an SA SUV favourite

<i>Image: Net Car Show</i>
<i>Image: Net Car Show</i>

A decade before Fortuner was launched, Toyota’s dominance of the mid-sized SUV market was already complete.

Although the gravel travel, safari and lifestyle motoring segments all venerate Toyota product such as Land Cruiser and Fortuner, the unheralded hero has always been Rav4.

Toyota's 'soft-roader'

Launched locally in the early 1990s it was an audacious design and the first true urban-friendly SUV. Toyota’s immense dealer network and established reputation for product reliability ensured that Rav4’s daring design was not met with doubt.

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

In little more than a month, the fifth-generation Rav4 will start shipping to local dealerships and the question is: how strong is demand for Toyota’s longstanding 'soft-roader'?

Rav4 has been one of the most anonymous SUV success stories of all time. Despite trading in a segment which has seen a proliferation of credible rivals over the last decade and a half, Rav4 sales have never stalled.

Fortuner might be South Africa’s most popular SUV, but that doesn’t mean the Rav4 trades in mediocre volumes. Last month Toyota sold 410 Rav4s, making it the second best-selling SUV in its class, despite a new model pending – which usually sees inventory thin and demand taper.

Still a popular choice

Only VW’s Tiguan sold more (485 units), but ordinarily, Rav4 sits atop the sales chart for its sector. The new one features an advanced platform, which should make it feel a touch more responsive into corners and surefooted on gravel.

Greater structural rigidity will make it a bit quieter too. But what gifts the Rav4 its reputation and destiny of success, is that Toyota has been doing this longer than anyone else.

1996 Toyota RAV4

                                                                               Image: Net Car Show

From those first Rav4s, with their Camry mechanicals and patterned seat fabric, South Africans have evolved with the notion that if want a family car that can gravel travel, and retain a competence at commuting and urban driving, you buy a Rav4. 

When it first launched here, there were no rivals. Today there are many, as the segment options total CR-V, Kuga, Grand Vitara, Tucson, Sportage, X-Trail, CX-3 and Tiguan.

Despite an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, Rav4 sales have just kept churning along. Not even the tidal wave of success from within Toyota’s own SUV portfolio, from Fortuner, have influenced it.

2019 Toyota RAV4

                                                                        Image: Net Car Show

Why? Well, it’s partly attributable to the unique blend of attributes. Toyota’s original Rav4 perfectly projected that unique Manga design sensibility onto a global market.

I doubt that any other brand would have made something such as Rav4 work in 1990s South Africa: a mid-sized SUV which wasn’t evolved from a rugged bakkie platform – and looked like a Japanese cartoon-car. 

The reason why Rav4 works and continues to elicit strong demand from the local market is that it combined charmingly domestic Japanese design awareness with an unwittingly reliable and proven mesh of Toyota components.

Think of Rav4 as a Camry SUV with bold design – and considering they both share Toyota’s latest TNGA-K platform, that comparison is hardly surprising. 

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