Although the car’s eco-credentials look good, Charlie Flindt’s Belgian shepherd is the only member of the household excited by the arrival of this new SUV


Charlie Flindt discovers nothing in the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to make you cross, but his Belgian shepherd is the only member of the household to find the new SUV exciting.

For another new SUV on the block, Charlie Flindt finds himself impressed by the Skoda Kodiaq.


Back in 1994, when Toyota launched the first RAV4, it was among the very first small/medium 4x4s with decent car-like manners. That’s why they called it the RAV4: “Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive” – the acronym “SUV” was unheard of at that time. I remember driving over to the next village to check one out (yes, kids, villages had car dealerships back then) and being amazed at its simplicity and drivability. Mind you, my daily transport was a Land Rover 90 Diesel Turbo.

More than two decades later, the RAV4 is still going strong and the SUV concept has taken a massive grip on the car-buying world. The marketplace is full to the brim with vehicles for the “recreationally active”.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Bland but practical interior.

Alas, SUV simplicity has gone and my hybrid petrol/electric test car is a case in point. It follows the modern trend for a petrol engine (an Atkinson-cycle one) and a pair of electric motors working together to cut consumption and emissions, and generally save the planet.

It also follows the new trend for SUVs to be, well, rather dull. The external styling is all slab sided, except for the front, which to me is just a mess. The interior is also bland but practical, except for a strange lip that sticks out of the middle of the centre console and masks the buttons underneath. The gate for the auto gearbox is a bit of a muddle and I have never known a slower electric tailgate. But there’s lots of room inside, everything works nicely and nothing gets you cross.

On the move, it whines a lot in electric mode and is interrupted by an engine popping into action when needed. It seemed to struggle a bit with even half a decent load on board and economy in the mid-40s (according to the onboard computer) won’t save much of the planet. The doors slam with a clang rather than a thump and the road noise levels seem high for the price. It’s all a bit “meh”, as youngsters say. I have to admit that rediscovering the principles of the Atkinson-cycle engine on the internet was more interesting than using the one in the RAV4.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The electric tailgate.

Our highly trained Belgian shepherd dog provided the most exciting moment of the test week just as it was delivered. She looked out into the yard and saw a boxy white vehicle, which had sneaked in silently. She, like everyone else who lives in the countryside, knows what that usually means; she was over the fence and explaining in her fiercest Malinois that we didn’t have any scrap metal or batteries, and our drive did not need fresh Tarmac. Not much of a selling point for the silent hybrid – I do hope the Toyota delivery driver has forgiven us.

The whole petrol/electric thing is lost on me. I know it’s a Toyota but I still shudder at the reliability issues 10 years hence, or when the mice manage to sneak under the bonnet. And even if it is ticking the eco-boxes, the RAV should really be able to inspire some enthusiasm and excitement – and not just in our Malinois.


♦ Engine: 2,494cc 4-cyl petrol
♦ Power: 150PS
♦ Electric motors: front 141bhp/rear 68bhp
♦ Max speed: 112mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 8.4 sec
♦ Combined fuel economy: 55.4mpg
♦ Insurance group (0-50): 29A
♦ Price: £33,975