The Toyota Rav4 has been around since the dawn of South Africa's democracy. And like our beautiful country, it has changed dramatically over 25 years, and five generations.
The latest model is now available in Mzansi. Wheels24's Sean Parker drives the new SUV in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Lofty ground clearance
It's safe to say Toyota is one of the world's more conservative automakers and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The new Rav4 introduces adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, lane departure warning and a rotary off-road controller for the first time in its history.
It's based on the firm's new global architecture platform, the same as the new Camry, and offers a 30mm longer wheelbase to increase to 2690mm, this is despite a shorter overall length by 5mm to measure in at 4.6m long.
Ground clearance, which is important to buyers in this segment is pegged at 195mm for the GX models and a class-leading 200mm, according to Toyota, for the flagship VX models.
Which models are on offer?
Toyota will offer two engine derivatives (both naturally-aspirated petrol units); a 2.0-litre, producing 107kW and 203Nm and the 2.5-litre producing 152kW and 243Nm.
The larger capacity engine is only available in the flagship VX. The entry-level GX (priced from R416 400) is available with a six-speed manual and is one of two-wheel drive models in the line-up, the other is a VX grade 2.0-litre mated to a CVT.
There are three specification grades available: GX, GX-R and the top-end VX. Standard equipment includes LED headlamps, cruise control, reverse camera and a 17cm touchscreen to navigate the audio system and Bluetooth settings etc.
A nifty touch is the rubber inlays on the door handles, volume and climate control vents and a storage section in front of the passenger. It's the little things that count.
Toyota has 17" wheels for the GX and increase this to 19" alloys on the VX.
What's it like to drive?
I first sampled the 2.5-litre powered derivative and the quickly nestled myself in the plush leather pews.
The big improvement is the 8-speed automatic gearbox over the previous generation's transmission. It shifts seamlessly and marries well with the engine's power, offering a comfortable drive along the N2 from Richard's Bay airport to the overnight stay.
The one drawback to the drive is the body-roll evident on the VX model, mainly due to its overall height of 1650mm.
There was moderately less body roll on the GX-R model I drove during the second stint of the launch.
I also found the CVT in the 2.0-litre model to 'drone' under hard acceleration though quite smooth when cruising along.
It's a supremely comfortable car on the national road as well as the gravel section I travelled on. As mentioned on all-wheel drive (AWD) models, there is a rotary controller to change the drive mode. Two modes are available: 'mud and sand' and 'rock and dirt'.
The AWD integrated management system, according to Toyota, alters the steering, brake and throttle control and where torque is distributed while navigating different surfaces.
Keeping up with the pack
Toyota reckon it has a winning formula with the new Rav4. Its front-end might have taken a dramatic change but the rest of the SUV maintains the Japanese SUV's DNA.
It's a handsome SUV and looks more robust than the previous generation.
And so, the Rav4 battles against some good competitors in this arena. The Volkswagen Tiguan is the segment leader and perhaps offers a classier alternative to the Rav4.
But the Toyota has well just that, a Toyota badge, which has more equity than a paid-up property in Camps Bay.
It also offers the largest volume of boot space in its segment with 580 litres in the VX model, 60 litres more than the Volkswagen.
Overall, the Toyota has muscled in with a Rav4 to battle each rival, from the front-wheel drive models to the all-wheel drive VX with its splendid 8-speed automatic. It'll continue to go from strength to strength in the segment.
2.0 GX MT 2WD - R 416 400
2.0 GX CVT 2WD - R 427 600
2.0 GX-R CVT AWD - R508 100
2.0 VX CVT 2WD - R505 400
RAV4 2.5 VX 8AT AWD - R577 900