The guys backstage must have known that the odds were against them. History is littered with ill-conceived or badly timed vehicles and the Rav4 - or Fun Cruiser as it was known in concept form the year before - could have easily ended up as one of them.
These days though, it’s hard to imagine a world without the compact SUV. In 1994, the Rav4 had no direct competitor, but now - almost 20 years and 4.5 million units later - it has to share the stage it built by itself with 19 other competitors.
In South Africa it will go head to head with the Korean manufacturers that have been chipping away at their support base for a few years now. This won’t be an easy task, but after two days behind the wheel of the all-new Rav4 in a cold and dreary Spain, I can reveal that it’s more than up to the task of getting a few of those chips back.
The first thing you notice is its size. It’s a few sizes up from the original Rav4 and currently much closer to the ever-popular Fortuner.
At the front it features the new face of Toyota, as seen on the latest Yaris and recently launched Auris. It works best on the Rav4, in my opinion.
It’s no longer a cutesy urban cruiser that dads would be embarrassed to be seen in. The new car looks like an overinflated Auris, with muscles bulging out of every surface.
The new Rav4 will be made available in four models, consisting of three petrol engines and one diesel powertrain.
The line-up kicks off with a 2.0-litre petrol 4x2 in GX specification, with either a six-speed manual or CVT transmission. With 112kW and 194Nm on tap, it easily matches the performance credentials of its main competitors.
Next in line is the diesel option, also in GX spec. The 2.2-litre is a common-rail unit with an intercooled turbocharger, developing 110kW and 340Nm of torque. Mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, it offers the best combination of power and efficiency.
The daddy of the range is equipped with an all-new 2.5-litre petrol engine mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. The powertrain is silky smooth and easily the most refined in the line-up. Rated at 132kW and 233Nm, it offers more than enough oomph to the power-hungry South African consumer.
On the narrow lanes of the Spanish countryside, the Rav4 felt nimble and not even slightly uncomfortable when driven in a spirited fashion. As you’d expect, the latest electronic nannies are included as standard, which means it should have no problem achieving the full five stars for safety in the Euro NCAP safety tests.
On the road, the new Rav4 is a joy. Refinement levels are on par with some of Toyota’s more lavish products from the Lexus stable. The quality of the interior materials is equally impressive and ergonomically superb. With this in mind, the Rav4 might even steal sales away from luxury offerings like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.
A generous amount of standard specification is included, even on the base model. Standard GX specification includes alloy wheels, roof rails, multi-information display, audio system with Bluetooth- and USB connectivity, daytime running lights, seven airbags and Isofix seats.
The luxurious 2.5-litre VX offers other luxuries like climate control, automatic headlamps- and windscreen wipers, an electrically operated boot lid and full leather interior.
Pricing has yet to be finalised, but a spokesperson for Toyota has revealed that prices will start at under the all-important R300 000 barrier. Expect the new Rav4 to create quite a stir when it arrives in South Africa in a few weeks.