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Toyota RAV4

Model/Engine size: 2.2 D 175bhp T180
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 40.4mpg

Summary
Looking for the greenest 4×4? The Lexus RX 400h hybrid may claim this title, but if you want a diesel, take a look at the RAV4. Toyota claims that 2.2 litre D-4D 180 ‘Clean Power’ engine is the cleanest and most powerful engine in its class. The combined fuel consumption of 40.4mpg is good, but it’s what the figures don’t tell you that supports Toyota’s claim.

Toyota’s D-CAT technology (in particular the Diesel Particulate NOx Reduction (DPNR) system) means that harmful diesel particulates are reduced to an absolute minimum by recycling the waste gases for a second time after they’ve already been through the system once. This is claimed to result in the lowest combined NOx and particle emissions of any modern diesel, far below the criteria specified by 2005 EURO IV legislation. This gives you a clear conscience, but unfortunately this technology doesn’t result in any savings at the fuel pumps, in any tax, or in congestion charging.

Our test produced some interesting fuel consumption results from real life driving. During a combination of fast motorway and stop-start urban driving, the fully loaded RAV4 struggled to return 30mpg (actually achieving 28.9mpg). In villages and with lots of slowing down and accelerating through the countryside, it returned 32mpg. However when a real effort was made to drive economically on A-roads, it managed an excellent 47mpg, beating the stated extra urban economy figure of 46.3mpg. This shows real promise that the car can be extremely economical if driven carefully, yet it also has good performance when needed, although the fuel economy suffers if the performance is used to the full. We would argue that this is an ideal that all cars should aim for – economical if desired, but also with good performance when needed.

So apart from all that, what’s it like to drive and live with? The RAV4 is obviously a ‘soft-roader’ rather than an out-and-out off-roader, but as the majority of 4x4s stay on the road for the vast majority of the time, designing the car primarily around on-road performance is obviously a sensible approach. Once you’ve got through the first couple of gears it feels refined, powerful, smooth and quiet. However every time you negotiate first and second gear it reminds you that you’re in a diesel – and a diesel with slightly robust 4 wheel drive transmission. Its 6 speed gearbox aids fuel economy.

Handling and the control of body roll on corners is excellent for a 4×4, and the suspension soaks up bumps well, including on off-road surfaces such as farm tracks. If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to negotiate a slippery hill, although there is no low range, there is a diff lock that can be engaged (on the front axle only). The RAV4’s ‘Integrated Active Drive System’ continuously switches between front drive and 4WD, with up to 45% of the power being distributed to the rear wheels if required. If you do live down a rutted farmer’s track then the ground clearance figure of 191mm may be important to you – the exhaust is the lowest point – closely followed by a couple of bolts that stick out from the bottom of the rear suspension!

The styling of this new RAV4 has definitely ‘grown up’, but you do feel you’re in a slightly bloated bodyshell, and the interior space, while good, doesn’t seem to offer the space benefits that the exterior design would suggest. The rear seats are clever as they can slide forwards and backwards, and the backrest can tilt at different angles, but there always seems to be some degree of compromise between rear seat space and room in the boot (although the boot is significantly larger than the old RAV4 model). The rear tailgate is side-hinged which isn’t to everyone’s tastes.

The front leather seats weren’t that comfortable on a long drive, and they’re rather devoid of a sculptured shape to hold you in position. On the top of the range T180 model, the interior has lots of equipment and gadgets such as keyless ignition, cruise control, rain sensor for the wipers, electric seats, satnav, and radio and bluetooth controls on the steering wheel – and we particularly like cars that show you a read-out of fuel consumption, as that can only encourage people to give more thought to driving economically. The T180 comes with standard run-flat 18 inch tyres, with a tyre pressure warning system that alerts you when a tyre begins to lose pressure.

As it’s a Toyota, you can expect its reliability to be excellent – a reputation forever enhanced by Top Gear’s failed attempts to kill a Hi-Lux pick-up. Features such as nine airbags, and the first car in the market sector with a driver’s knee airbag, help it to enjoy excellent safety credentials.

There is another diesel engine to choose from within the range, still a 2.2 litre but less powerful at 134bhp (as opposed to 175bhp in the T180). This does not have the extra particulate filtering of the T180, but it is slightly more economical at 42.8mpg combined. The 150bhp 2.0 litre petrol engine version doesn’t get great reviews – it’s slow, unrefined and noisy, and only manages 32.8mpg – as with most 4x4s, the diesel is the best choice.

Thanks to Oakmere Toyota www.toyota.co.uk/oakmere

Fuel economy extra urban: 46.3mpg
Fuel economy urban: 33.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 185g/km
Green rating: E
Cost per mile: 56p
Company car tax liability (2006): 27%
Price: From £17,806 (2.0 VVT-i XT3 5dr) to £25,241 (2.2 D-4D T180 5dr)
Insurance group: 13
Max speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 9.3 seconds