NEVER underestimate a cat – they’re surefooted, sleek and agile.
The words came from Makoto Arimoto, charismatic chief engineer of the totally restyled Toyota Rav4. And he should know, since he has 18 cats.
So it’s no surprise that the compact SUV has more than a touch of feline in its looks and performance.
The fourth generation of the super-popular Rav4 has just launched with two four-cylinder petrol engines, a 2.0 and a 2.5litre, and its first diesel, a 2.2litre.
Despite big improvements throughout, most models are at the same level, or less, than the outgoing version.
The GX 2.0litre 2WD manual is $28,490 ($500 less), the allwheel-drives are from $31,990 (same as the superseded models) and the top of the pops Cruiser AWD automatic is $48,990 (a saving of $1000).
There are 16 models, three up from 2012.
Gone are the three-door and the V6. The car has a dynamic look, which Toyota calls the ‘strong athlete’ but with its bright, narrow, slanted eyes and flared nostrils, it looks rather like a cat about to pounce.
It has a rearward-sloping roof and a character line, and the top-hinged tailgateand 17-inch wheels, alloys on all but GX, which add to the action image.
The petrol engines are a 107kW/187Nm 2.0litre and a 2.5litre 132kW/233Nm, while the debut turbo-diesel is a common-rail 2.2litre unit producing 110kW and 340Nm.
All three come standard with new six-speed manual transmissions.
Interestingly, the GX 2WD has the option of a seven-step CVT, said to be best for economy, but AWD models get a sixspeed automatic. Difference is 7.4litres/100km with the CVT, 8.4 with the auto.
The diesel is rated at 5.6 manual and 6.5 with the self-shifter.
There’s new suspension, too, Macstruts up front and a sophisticated double-wishbone set-up at the rear.
Oddly, the high-torque diesel has the poorest towing capacity: 550kg as opposed to the GX’s 800kg and the AWD 2.5’s 1500kg.
How so? It’s new and we’d rather be conservative, was the unconvincing answer.
All models get Bluetooth phone and music connectivity, a 60-40 split-fold reclining rear seat, roof rails, rear spoiler, cargo net and tonneau cover.
Here’s another thing about Makoto Arimoto: he was once a guitarist and vocalist in a Tokyo rock band, so the Rav4’s six-speaker audio system is also something not to be underestimated.
The GX grade is pretty well specced with 17-inch steel wheels, projector headlights, a CD thingo and fabric seat coverings.
The GXL has alloy wheels, reversing camera, display audio, sports seats, dualzone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, keyless smart entry and push-button ignition, and Cruisers add Satnav, a blindspot
monitor, power cargo door, high-intensity discharge headlights, eight-way power driver’s seat and a glass sunroof.
Most also get a sport button, which sharpens torque distribution and steeringand auto transmission response.
The new Rav4 has a stiffer frame that, with the new suspension, helps in the handling section.
The car, slightly bigger inside than before and a smidgen smaller outside, has 577 litres of cargo capacity. It is a pleasure on the road, and it can also handle a fair degree of off-road action.
Yes, the AWD did display surefootedness and agility on the twisty ups and downs of the Sapphire Coastal roads.
Looked jolly good, too, with its LED daytime lights aglow and with a gentle purr from its diesel motor.
The windscreen pillars are thinner, the bonnet edges a bit higher, which make for better forward vision and more precise parking.
Verdict: the cat's whiskers of the compact SUV class.
Toyota's Rav 4 for 2013 is now on sale.