10m Toyota RAV4s sold to date

Andrew Mhizamindo: Analyst

IT is one of the best-selling cars in the world.

It has taken almost 26 years and five generations to hit the milestone. The Toyota RAV4 is a compact cross-over SUV (sport utility vehicle) produced by the Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota. This was the first compact cross-over SUV. It made its world debut in 1994.

Back then in the 1990s, the Toyota RAV4 was a diminutive lifestyle machine, akin to Suzuki’s Jimny in size, but less utilitarian in execution. Five generations later, the latest RAV4 has become much larger and much fancier.

Global sales of Toyota’s RAV4 SUV have passed the 10 million mark this year, 26 years after the model first went on sale. The car, which is currently in its fifth generation, hit the landmark figure in February, just a year after the current model went on sale in Europe.

Launched in 1994 at the Geneva Motor Show, the first-generation car is described by its maker as “the original recreational SUV”. Power came from a 2,0-litre petrol engine, which sent 127 hp to all four wheels. At first, Toyota expected to build just 4 500 units a month, but the Japanese company was forced to double that after 8 000 orders were taken in the first month alone.

The Toyota bigwigs had taken some persuading to put the 1989 RAV-Four (Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive) concept into production, but across the whole of 1994, Toyota sold 53 000 RAV4s. That figure doubled and then tripled over the next two years, and the manufacturer expanded the range to include two-wheel-drive and five-door models. There was a three-door soft-top, too, and even an electric model.

Come the millennium, though, the car underwent an even bigger revamp. The second-generation car was a bit bigger than before, and two gasoline engines were offered. There was a 121-hp 1,8-litre and a 148-hp 2,0-litre, alongside a 2,0-litre diesel with 114 hp. The full-time AWD adopted a centre limited-slip differential, and customers could specify a Torsen rear differential as a factory option.

Six years later, it all changed again, and the 2006 RAV4 grew even more noticeably, in a move Toyota claims reflected “changes in customer preferences”. It was almost 8 inches longer than before, and the engine range grew again. It was also Toyota’s first car with a part-time four-wheel-drive system.

That car soldiered on until 2012, when it was killed off, only to be replaced with the 2013 model. Another growth spurt ensued, and the new platform eventually hosted a hybrid powertrain — a system for which Toyota had form. Officially, the gas-electric car could do 0-62mph in 8,3 seconds.

In 2018, Toyota revealed the fifth-generation RAV4, which hit the roads early last year. Hybrid technology featured even more prominently, and Toyota says it will soon begin to sell a plug-in hybrid version with more than 300hp. Last year, Toyota sold 17 times more RAV4s than they sold in 1994, hitting 130 000 sales.

The 2020 Toyota RAV4 is a very good compact SUV, and it is easy to see why it is one of the best-selling nameplates in the world. It delivers impressive fuel economy and comes loaded with plenty of standard features. The first thing that strikes you about the new Toyota RAV4 is how big it is. One cannot help but visualise its progression from the original one. This latest RAV4 seems almost too large to fit the “compact” bill. It’s certainly among the biggest in its class: At 4,6m long, 1,86m wide and 1,69m tall, this RAV4 easily eclipses the Hyundai Tucson and is also more corpulent than the Mazda CX-5, generally considered one of the biggest in this sector.

The new RAV4 is built on Toyota’s contemporary TNGA platform, and offers two normally aspirated engine options.

The two-litre engine produces 127kW and 203Nm, and it can be mated to either a six-speed manual or CVT continuously variable gearbox. Most models are front-driven, but there is a 2,0 GX-R derivative that gets all-wheel-drive as well as beefier styling.

The 2,5-litre petrol engine, good for 152kW and 243Nm, is mated exclusively to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and upgraded all-wheel drive system that features dynamic torque vectoring that can distribute torque individually between the left and right wheels.

I have driven the all new RAV4. It is a comfortable car on the highway as well as off-road. Two modes are available: “mud and sand” and “rock and dirt”.

The AWD integrated management system, according to Toyota, alters the steering, brake and throttle control and where torque is distributed while navigating different surfaces.

Standard features in the 2020 RAV4 include a seven-inch touch screen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa integration, a Wi-Fi hot spot, satellite radio, a USB port, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker stereo.

The standard touch screen has sharp graphics. It’s also easy to use, thanks to straightforward menus and quick processing times. Physical controls are large and clearly marked. They are also mostly easy to reach from the driver’s seat.

The RAV4 is set to keep conquering its class for years to come. — andrew@muzamhindo.com

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