This new four-wheel looks like an overgrown Matchbox, but under the rugged design and extra ride height is a drive that is smooth and car-like
The RAV4 puts the 'toy' in Toyota Toyota RAV4

DID Toyota poach the RAV4's designer from Matchbox or Mattel?

Had they tried any harder, they could not have made the RAV4 look more like an overgrown toy. But then maybe this did constitute a part of the design brief because the RAV4 is not only a lifestyle vehicle, but one of the first of the breed.

Nearly a decade ago, when the RAV4 name first appeared, the vehicle was derided in the press, particularly by the hardcore four-wheel drive set.

Their beef was that while the RAV4 looked like an off-road vehicle, it could not possibly perform like an off-road vehicle without the expected low- and high-range gearbox.

Drivers were never offered the option of very low gearing to tackle truly tough terrain.

Toyota has the last laugh though, not just because the RAV4 is still around, but also because that doyen of off-road toughness, the Land-Rover, now offers a lifestyle vehicle without low-range gears in the shape of the Freelander.

The toughness that is there in the RAV4 is more in the design cues than the anticipated usage.

The pod-like dash is partly attached with exposed chromed screws, imparting a rugged feel which is unfortunately let down by the occasional cheap-looking plastic part.

The cabin might appear a sea of plastic, but it is also spacious and clever as well.

The driving position is right from the get-go, thanks to the sporty-looking three-spoke wheel being adjustable for both reach and rake. The seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive, and storage options abound.

The rear seats are split 50 - 50, and can slide forward on their own rails, fold against the front seats or come out entirely.

By removing the rear seats, the load space is increased from 400 to 970 litres.

Access to the load space is easy as there is no lip to lift heavy objects over, but the giant one-piece tailgate should have a locking mechanism so it does not close unexpectedly.

The rough and tumble design cues make their way to the vehicle's exterior, thanks particularly to the big moulded bumpers and rubbing-strips.

The overall shape is more pleasing than the bulbous look of the original car to my eyes, and younger people, presumably those who were playing with Matchbox cars in the recent past, seem to find it particularly attractive.

Whether or not the design is appealing, certainly the build quality should be. The quality of the sheet metal and paintwork is rather what you might expect from Japanese built Toyotas these days: impressive.

Likewise, the drive experience is pure Toyota, and this is where the RAV4 is a winner.

There is a permanent four-wheel drive system underneath the bodywork, but to drive, the RAV4 is very car-like.

If it were not for the rugged design and extra ride height, you might be behind the wheel of a Corona or Camry.

The steering is light, but places the RAV4 quite accurately, the ride is smooth and fuss-free, the four-speed transmission shifts incredibly smoothly. The only let-down is an engine that gets a bit harsh when it is pushed hard.

While the RAV4 looks like a toy, at $142,988, it is certainly just for adults. It might be able to handle the occasional slippery dirt road with ease, but that ability is a bonus.

This Toyota is aimed at sedan buyers wanting a more rugged image without having to suffer to have it.

FAST FACTS

Toyota RAV4

Price: $142,988 with COE

Engine: 1,998 cc DOHC 16V in-line four

Gearbox: Four-speed automatic

Power: 147 bhp at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 192 Nm at 4,000 rpm

0 - 100 kmh: 10.8 seconds

For enquiries: Call Borneo Motors on 475-1288