Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I’m waiting for new RAV4 to outrun the X-Trail and CRV

The cost in Kenyan shillings of a brand new, 2.0-litre, 2WD Toyota RAV4. Tthe specced up 2.5litre 4WD costs Sh5.8 million.

The cost in Kenyan shillings of a brand new, 2.0-litre, 2WD Toyota RAV4. The specced up 2.5litre 4WD costs Sh5.8 million.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BARAZA JM

In the recent past I have found myself in a good number of new cars, all of which beg reviews, but since there is hardly any time (or space) to do them all, they will have to share a bed or rather a space. To kick things off we have the new RAV4, the 2013 model.

Toyota RAV2 and RAV4: New this year is another iteration of the Random Access Vehicle (RAV), and with it comes some interesting new changes. The exterior has been tweaked. The car still looks a bit odd, just like the last one, but a different kind of odd.

The face has some Korean-ness about it (sharp and pointy, slashes and curves, all angles and lines, and generally the typical Pacific Rim characteristic of overdesign), the side has been infused with a lot of character (inverse relief here, a mix of convex and concave surfaces there), and there is a shelf at the back.

On the outside. The acreage of metal on the tailgate is overwhelming, a tendency further accentuated by the relatively small tail lamps. And there is a black plastic skirt going round the lower hem of the vehicle that we are told will not be replaced with a colour-coded option.

In other words, the Really Amorphous Vehicle is what it should be called. I will not say it is ugly, but when the light hits it just right, this is one car that a motoring correspondent would be hard put to describe in plain words.

Exactly like the outgoing model. The design language, says Toyota, is to shed the feminine image the ‘Roses And Violets’ car has had to endure for the previous three generations.

At the test drive they even had an ad-banner with two Doberman pinschers in it, and the blurb said “Mark Your Territory”. Very manly. For animal lovers especially; or dog-loving, manly rappers like DMX.

The interior is typical Toyota. Again, there is a shelf on the centre console right below the radio (please note that these shelves I am referring to are instruments of form, not function. Do not place stuff on them expecting the stuff to stay put for long).

There is some “space” below the shelf, then the usual gear lever gate/cubby-holes/cup-holders/hand-brake tunnel but from there is where Toyota’s cleverness comes to light — a pun, this, because the RAV’s interior is actually quite dark.

The transmission tunnel from the B-pillar rearwards has been “buried” (and even been disposed of) under the floor, greatly improving floor space and manoeuvrability — though the reason a person would want to slide from one side of the car to the other on a regular basis is unbeknownst to me — but the concept has worked. The leg-room at the back is impressive even for bean-poles like The Jaw and I.

The rear drive shaft has been buried under the floor. It could also be missing because for the first time ever in the history of motoring, the RAV4 is now available in 2WD… FF platform to be exact. So why did they not call it the RAV2?

The LWB version of the outgoing model gets its own name (Toyota Vanguard), so why did the 2WD version of this model not get its own label? RAV2 to be exact, because RAV4 in reality stands for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-wheel drive.

So the FF car in reality is a RAV2, not a RAV4. I guess we will never know.

Anyway, the existence of the FWD car is to “capture” a “niche” that apparently Toyota has been missing out on. The “niche” of pretenders who want a big car to drive in places where it would be more practical and convenient to walk, such as from your middle-class suburban house to the supermarket, which is 300m away on a well-tarmacked road.

Toyota seems keen to “capture” this “niche”, judging from the pricing, let them have a go at it. Pointless vehicles have had sales success before (all Hummers, the BMW X6, and the Toyota Prius), so why not now?

Price range: Aah, the pricing. The base 2.0 litre 2WD with a lazymatic auto-box costs about Sh4 million. The specced-up 2.5 litre 4WD costs almost half as much again (!!!), at Sh5.8 million, and this is the only one available with a manual gearbox. The reign of the petrolhead is dangerously under threat here, but it has been for a while now. My heart bleeds.

Given the pricing, it is clear Toyota wants our “lifestyling” activities to change from things like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, hand gliding and surfing to stuff like shopping, going to the gym and generally places where there is a tarmac road.

It is obvious they want the 2WD to sell more. Also, the RAV4 has now been lowered by some millimeters, making it slightly less off-roadish than its ancestors.

The non-enthusiasts who will obviously go for the 2.0 litre 2WD car will pay for their sins. I am not saying it drives badly — it actually drives well, and the economy is amazing: close to 11 kpl even when thrashing it on the open road — but the 2.5 4WD is so much better.

It feels more together where the 2WD feels a bit feathery and wayward when challenged by cross-winds. The bigger 2.5 litre engine gives it more punch and there is the possibility of kicking the tail out when exiting a junction under power and excessive steering lock (doing this in the 2WD just creates massive understeer that scares the hell out of nearby hawkers).

Body control (elk test-esque swerving and swift overtaking) is also better optimised in the 4WD, and in Sport mode, the engine growling all the way to the red line gives the impression that torque is being tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to keep up with a silver Mercedes-Benz ML500 that has just overtaken me, and I really should get back on topic….

Economy also suffers. Half a (60-litre) tank to cover 180km is not worth bragging about, but you can blame my heavy right foot for that. Equivalent acts in the 2.0 litre 2WD yield, say, 70 per cent of the same exuberance, and the belligerence of the engine is not as charismatic. It sounds like just another automatic car struggling to make a point at times and in places where it really should not.

Sports utility

But I loved the Sport mode in both cars: the Tiptronic override is really only useful in downshifting when you want some engine braking (lack of full lock-up control at clutch level means you will not get the same retardation effect as you would in a conventional manual, so be ready to dab the brakes a little if you want to slow down sooner), upshifts take place at a heady 6,500 rpm even on part throttle, a notch past the peak power point, and progress is swift.

They have also given the car some new features previously seen on upscale cars. The rear tailgate is now powered (I want that), there is auto-adjustment between high beam and low beam for the headlamps (I do not want that, but thankfully it can be turned off), and there is… hold on a moment.

That powered tailgate takes some getting used to. It can be opened from the driver’s seat or from a button next to the number plate light, but shutting it requires you to be there at the tailgate to press a button on the lower edge for it to come down.

Also, knowing when the tailgate button or the key-fob control will open the tailgate is not easy. Sometimes with the doors open the tailgate button itself does not work. So you have to lock the doors and then open them again electronically for it to work.

Sometimes. It is hard to tell from one day’s use. Not handy when you are an assassin trying to make a quick escape with your high-powered rifle and three police departments hot on your heels, but then again, it is not everyday that an assassin will drive a RAV4. Hollywood tells us they prefer Audis.

I fear I may have digressed again…

Overall I would say the new RAV4 is a step up on the old one, but here is a word of advice to Toyota Kenya. This car’s rival is NOT the Nissan Qashqai: you do not set your targets as “I will not be last”; rather, say “I will be first”. The Nissan X-Trail is a more worthy opponent and there is some work that needs to be done to catch up with the CRV, which is kicking dust in faces right now.

My opinion? Do not squeeze the RAV4 out of market in favour of the “RAV2”. It is a good car and deserves sales.

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Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe, border is where I have been this past week, driving a 2013 Range Rover Vogue L405 SDV8, a Land Rover Discovery 4 SDV6, a 2013 Range Rover Sport (SDV8 also) and a Range Rover Evoque SD4.

The Vogue and the Evoque I reviewed earlier, and they are the same amazing pieces of equipment they have always been, and since the Sport is due for replacement in the foreseeable future, let me talk about the Discovery 4.

It seats seven human beings (not five humans and two dolls like some other cars), the front and middle rows of seats both have sun-roofs and the seating arrangement is cinema hall-style: the middle row of seats is a bit higher than the front, and the back row overlooks the middle one. That way everybody can see where the driver is taking them.

Worth noting is the child-proofing of the hand-brake. It is electronic, yes, but it is accessible from a great number of locales within the car, so ill-behaved children can reach it.

The Discovery 4 has a safeguard against that. Applying the parking brake (inadvertently or the result of highly adventurous, safety-unconscious passengers) while in motion only activates the ABS, it does not lock the wheels like it normally should. You can try it if you own a Discovery 4… also, if you have the trousers for it.

The car is also roomier than its stable-mates and is an unstoppable force off-road, but has gone too far upmarket, unlike the first two generations which were essentially comfortable Defenders.

The current one is more of a “cheap” Range Rover (it donated its platform, like Adam donating a rib, for the creation of the Range Rover Sport). The Discovery 3 has a serious problem with the air suspension, which costs Sh300,000 per wheel to replace.

Seeing that you have to replace all four, the day you find your Discovery sitting on the floor like a relaxing elephant, know that Sh1.2 million is bout to fly out of your wallet. These are Range Rover bills right there.

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