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Toyota Rav 4 maintains the lead

Meet South Africa’s top selling soft-roader – the Toyota Rav 4. Officially, not only did Toyota’s Rav 4 start the soft-roader trend, more than two decades ago, but it has also sustained year-on-year sales to be the market leader in a segment that is highly competitive.

The first Rav 4 came out in three body styles – a five-door, three-door and a three-door cabriolet that showed the funky side of Toyota, featuring stylish designs in a compact body. The go-anywhere vehicle captured the imagination of especially female drivers and soon went on to become a bestseller.

It didn’t take long for rival manufacturers to latch on to the undeniable fact that Toyota was on to something big. Today the mini Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment, also known as the soft-roader, is the fastest-growing segment around the world. Every manufacturer, from entry level to premium brands, have one.

The motoring world is in love with them and why not? They represent all things to all people, offering high riding position and loads of space to cart kids to school during the week and a rugged persona with freedom to explore off the beaten track over weekends.

The SUV/soft roader segment has all but killed the sedan and estate segments as it offers practicality and versatility in an attractive package.

The last three variants of the Rav 4 were typical Toyota – vanilla-flavoured boring looks with unbeatable reliability and durability. Competitors like Hyundai’s Tucson, Kia’s Sportage, Ford’s Kuga, VW’s Tiguan, Renault’s Keleos, Chevolet’s Captiva, Nissan’s Qashqai and Mazda’s CX-5, amongst others, began making serious in-roads into its territory.

In the process, Toyota learnt a tough but slow lesson that being durable and reliable were not enough. It had to design cars that also looked good against some very attractive competitors. The latest Rav 4 is proof of this new bold design philosophy adopted by the global motoring giant. Sharp, angular, bold, dynamic and muscular are words that come to mind when describing the exterior.

Having taken the flagship Rav 4 on an epic, four-day road trip to some of the places of interest in Mpumalanga, the flagship 2.5 litre Rav 4 AWD more than covered itself in glory over both tarred and gravel surfaces.

The interior remains classy and stylish with quality materials and excellent build quality. Driving on corrugated surfaces at a steady speed revealed no rattles, creaks or groans from anywhere which attest to the “build-it-right-first-time” Toyota way of doing things that has made it a reputable brand around the world.

The 2.5 litre petrol engine power-plant with eight-speed gearbox provides adequate, but not spectacular, power. Somehow, one gets the feeling that if there was a turbo-diesel version, things could have been a bit more sprightly.

As it is, there are only two engine variants – an entry-level 2.0 litre and the top-of-the-range 2.5 litre, which comes in VX guise, costing just a little under R600 000. For the price you get all the bells and whistles that make travelling safe and comfortable. Toyota still does not offer you sunroof, folding mirrors or SATNAV as standard.

All wheel drive ensures that road-holding remains safe and surefooted, especially in the wet and over gravel surfaces. During the 75km trip from Barberton to Watervalboven, along the route voted one of the most scenic gravel roads in the country, the Rav 4 covered the distances effortlessly and comfortably allowing occupants to enjoy the spectacular panoramic views in total awe.

Fuel consumption is adequate rather than class-leading and with a three-person load and their luggage travelling at legal speed limits, the Rav 4 returned average figures of 10kms per litre.

What really stood out for me on this trip were the characteristics that constantly reinforce the Toyota brand – quality assurance, ease of use and trouble-free motoring, all of which translate into good resale values. And now with striking good looks, it is not surprising that the Rav 4 is a global best seller.

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