Bulks Up To Emulate Land Cruiser
Audi, VW, Skoda, Volvo, Others Will Soon Offer Similar “Cute-Utes”1
Million Compact SUVs Expected By 2009 As Family Hatches Dwindle
**** out of 5
The RAV4 also features in my search for the perfect SUV for £20,000. This apparently endless and fruitless search has taken so long I’m tempted to raise the price to £25,000. The RAV4, a terrific SUV in almost every way, fails to make the grade. It is too expensive, and doesn’t offer a prime requirement a diesel with an automatic gearbox. My next SUV test will be the Kia Sorrento. Watch this space for the verdict.
Between now and 2009, compact utility vehicles are expected to be the faster growing segment in Europe, and Toyota’s market leadership will come under attack from new entrants like the Audi Q5, Volvo XC-50, a Mercedes and maybe even a Jaguar.
Despite all these new vehicles, the RAV4 is likely to stay in first place.
Toyota originated the compact utility 4x4 sector when the first RAV4 (stands for Recreational Active Vehicle) made its debut at the Geneva car show in 1994, and since then, despite being taunted from the sidelines as a “cute-ute” or “soft-roader”, the vehicle has scored a remarkable success with sales of more than 1.8 million worldwide by the end of 2004, with about 650,000 in Europe where it has been the best-selling SUV. Market share was a leading 21 per cent in 2005, down from 26 per cent in 2004, as more models appeared. The plan is to expand global sales from the current 190,000 odd to about 300,000 a year.
For the last 4 years, sales have hit around 100,000 in Europe. Toyota says sales in 2006 will also reach 100,000 again, after this 3rd generation RAV4 hits dealer forecourts across the region in February.
Car market analyst JDPower agrees with Toyota’s RAV4 sales projection for 2006, and expects the market as a whole to hit 650,000, rising to break through 1 million in 2009.
Compact SUVs, crossovers
Current competition includes the Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, and Land Rover Freelander.
Bedwell reckons that the RAV4 sales will remain steady through 2009 at about 100,000 a year and will retain its market leadership, but its share will have dropped to around 10 per cent. By then the Honda CR-V will be in second place with about 6 per cent, followed closely by the Golf, Nissan X-Trail and BMW X3.
“Buyers will be moving away from conventional family cars like the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra and Ford Mondeo, and maybe from the class above like the BMW 3-series. This is pretty much the fastest growing sector between now and the end of the decade,” Bedwell said.
Premium compact SUVs
“The quality, performance and high specification of the new T180 model (top-of-the-range RAV4) moves the RAV4 firmly into the premium market, where the BMW X3 is established as the key player,” Toyota said.
“Comparing price and equipment levels, the Toyota represents exceptional value, without compromising quality. In terms of on-the-road price, it is virtually identical (in Britain) to the X3 2.0d, but when like for like equipment levels are taken into account, the Toyota leaves the BMW standing,” said Toyota, and listed features which the RAV includes which would cost £5,500 more for the BMW.
Toyota’s claims quality for the new RAV4 which matches the best, and it’s hard to argue. The interior is beautifully constructed with the best materials. The design of the dials and controls are understated, practical and attractive. Cubbies are everywhere. The rears seats fold flat.
Improvements over predecessor
Toyota was proud of its new Integrated Active Drive System (IADS), included in all models except the entry level, which combines the alphabet soup of computerised controls of the car’s dynamics and helps the driver keep control if the onset of a skid or slide is detected. Toyota says this is a first in the sector, and hired part of an air-force base north of Lisbon with enough space to allow road-testers to explore the power of the RAV4’s new technology on a skid-pan without harming themselves, or others.
The flagship T180 is powered by a 2.2 litre 175 bhp 4-cylinder common rail diesel engine with piezoelectric injectors which zips the car from zero to 62 mph in 9.3 seconds. Combined cycle fuel economy is said to be 40.4 mpg (7.0 l/km). This motor provided excellent acceleration and quiet cruising ability.
No diesel automatic
All models have 9 airbags, including one protecting the driver’s knee.
Prices start at £18,995 (€27,800), for an XT3 2.0 litre petrol engine without IADS, and peak at £26,995 (€39,400) for the T-180. Other designations are XT4 and XT5. The T-180 includes sunroof, leather seats, cruise control, satellite navigation, smart entry and start, and heated electrically adjusted seats. The T-180 also has run-flat tyres, and you can recognise this model by the lack of a spare wheel mounted on the rear door, which hinges from the side, not the roof.
The RAV4 is an impressive machine with looks, and prices, that suggest a strong link with its bigger family member, the Land Cruiser. All those new entrants at least know what they have to beat.
Neil Winton January 28, 2006
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