RAV4 joins top safety league

Author: Mike Ochonma

Barely one month after it was released in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre and political capital respectively by Toyota Nigeria Limited, the new generation of Toyota RAV4 has earned the International Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick following a recent crash- test.

With this development, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 has joined a number of compact crossovers as top safety picks. They include the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Subaru Forester, VW Tiguan, GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox. Others are Mazda CX-5, Jeep Patriot, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, after it was crash-tested recently.

The model was not considered for the Top Safety Pick + designation, because it was not tested in the new small overlap front test. As a quick reminder, the new RAV4 was first officially presented to the public late last year in the United States of America during the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The model has an updated version of the platform and is powered by a 2.5 litre I-4 engine, producing a total output of 176 HP, mated to a six-speed automatic. A critical x-ray of the vehicle indicates that, few bones remain unchanged from the old RAV4, even though the chassis shares a common lineage based on the current-generation Corolla.

In towing this part, Toyota’s goal was to make the RAV4 more fun behind the wheel without affecting the car’s versatility. Dropping the third-row-seat option might seem less versatile, but cargo capacity increases 0.4 cubic feet to 73.4 with the second-row seats folded. That is with the spare tyre housed inside the vehicle and with a smaller overall RAV4.

The 1995 RAV4 was the first car-based crossover, and it paved way for the auto industry’s move from truck-based SUVs to the gentler-riding, lighter-duty, and much more fuel-efficient vehicles of today. But as much respect as the RAV4 deserves, it has been rolling for six full model years without a facelift.

In terms of driving character, it only takes a few minutes behind the wheel of the previous, third-generation RAV4 to understand improvements made to this new one. The windshield, steering wheel, and driving position of the old car are all more upright. It is as though you are perched up high, driving a little bus. The steering feel is heavy and the car rolls quite a bit in the corners.

Typical of the familiar DNA running through most Japanese brands, the new RAV4 drives as though Toyota had borrowed a bunch of Mazda engineers and told them to zoom-zoom the entire vehicle. It is agile; corners fly by with the suspension keeping the little Toyota flat. And yes, pressing that little Sport button on the dash makes the experience even better.

It is another step in a recent trend of surprisingly fun Toyota ever produced. RAV4 has gained up to 75 pounds on base front-drive models, but the four-cylinder and six-speed automatic combination is sprightly enough for dicing through the city streets or slogging up a mountain road. And the 6-speed’s top two gears, both overdrive, make for a relaxed and quiet engine performance on the freeway.

The latest model is noticeably better in tedious bouts of freeway traffic as well. Interior is much improved, with soft-touch materials right where your hands and elbows want them and nourished with steering wheel that tilts and telescopes.

You can lower the driver’s seat, replacing the old RAV4’s bus-like driving position with one more suggestive of a sedan. The interior feels roomier than before, although the headroom is down by an inch or so in both rows, and legroom is now 1 inch less in the back seat. Hip room is also down by a sizable 3.5 inches for rear passengers.

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