THE vehicle feels like a normal saloon in traffic and on the open road. There are no funny quirks in the handling, and the permanent 4wd (as opposed to the part-time system of some of its competitors), gives the driver a feeling of confidence on slippery surfaces that's lacking in many run-of-the-mill saloons. The centre differential embodies a viscous coupling that locks up when wheelspin occurs, thus forcing at least one rear and one front wheel to spin together.

Powering Toyota's new RAV is an upgraded two-litre engine with VVT-i inlet camshaft timing control and TDIS, an ignition system using long-life iridium-tipped spark plugs that eliminate the need for ignition timing adjustment. Maximum outputs are 102 kW at 5 600 r/min and 190 N.m at 4 000 r/min. This is 8 kW and 17 N.m more than the figures claimed for the previous model, but has only resulted in a slight improvement in performance at higher speeds, although the total mass, as tested, is only 15 kg higher than the old model's. The benchmark zero to 100 km/h time has decreased from 10,6 to 10,32 secs, and it now takes 14,46 seconds to reach 120 km/h instead of 15,04. Top speed has improved from 173 to 178 km/h. These figures are excellent for a two-litre 4x4 and compare favourably with what you could expect from a hot hatch 1,6-litre . Overall fuel consumption is slightly worse than the old model's, but still on par with other off-road vehicles in this class.

What of its off-road ability Ground clearance of 190 mm is fairly low, but the short wheelbase and good approach and departure angles compensate in some measure for this. The lack of a low range is only a drawback under severe off-road conditions, but most hills can be negotiated without difficulty, because the engine has a useful amount of low down torque. Downhill is where you need a low gear most, and this is where the RAV could do with the kind of hill descent control used in the Freelander, which also has to make do without a low range. It is important to realise that the RAV is not really an off-roader, but a fun vehicle that is at home on all kinds of roads.

The brakes now take an average of 3,16 seconds to stop from 100 km/h, instead of the 3,54 seconds of the older model, which represents a worthwhile improvement of nearly two car lengths in stopping distance. Standard ABS plus EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), plus the change to wider and lower-profile tyres, must take most of the credit. The suspension is similar to the previous model's, with MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones at the rear. The front subframe is more rigid, and rear wheel travel has been increased by making the rear suspension arms longer.

From the front, the new RAV looks aggressive. A new small grille surmounts a row of vertical teeth-like bars that even a big number-plate can't hide. Styling of the three-door version features an attractive wraparound rear/side window that conceals the C-pillar and ensures that this short-wheelbase model looks different from the long-wheelbase five-door. Both models have a smart solid spare wheel cover that looks good and makes it more difficult to steal the wheel.

The spacious interior features a facia reminiscent of an ultra-modern home theatre system console. Its acres of black moulded plastic are relieved, at least in theory, by blobs of polished aluminium. It is not the sort of style that grows on you; you either love it or hate it, as the divided opinion of our test team confirmed.

Safety is taken care of by dual SRS airbags, front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force-limiters, and front seats that incorporate a whiplash injury lessening feature. This is a seat design that maintains body posture in a position that damps out the impact on the neck during low-speed rear-end collisions. However, the typically Japanese seatback adjustment lever allows only stepped adjustments, instead of the European stepless rotating knob. This resulted in some testers not being able to find a comfortable seatback position; others were happy with the adjustment.

The rear seats now slide further forward to increase luggage space, and the seatbacks can tilt backwards. The complete seats can also tumble forward or be removed. There is no cover over the rear luggage space, so the contents are open to prying eyes - a shortcoming we've been told is to be corrected soon.

Original article from Car