The Toyota RAV4 was one of the motoring icons of the 1990s, having created an entirely new category of vehicles – compact SUVs. Like Sony’s Walkman, it was one of those products which consumers did not know they would really love till a manufacturer created it.
In the case of the RAV4, Toyota had stumbled upon consumer preference for the rugged image of the SUV but preferably without the discomfort the lumbering SUVs possessed. Actually, it was probably a stroke of luck for Toyota because the model was, in industry terms, a ‘parts bin special’ – a model which was composed of parts from other models to keep costs down. It was conceived during the period when the Japanese auto industry was facing a recession and though quite a simple concept, what made it unique and appealing was its stylish design.
Virtually everywhere it was launched, the RAV4 was an instant hit and would inspire other manufacturers to quickly offer equivalents, Honda being the first with the CR-V. As a result, the small SUV segment was one of the fastest growing during the 1990s and continues to be extremely popular.
Ten years after the launch of the first generation, the second generation of the RAV4 continues to remain a highly desirable SUV and a leader in its class. Capitalising on this image, UMW Toyota Motor (UMWT)has chosen this model as the first of its ‘CBU’ strategy which will see more imported models in the showrooms.
“In the past, we have been selling selected CBU models only upon request but the company will now add CBU models to its line-up in order to meet customers’ demands for greater variety in the product range that we offer,” said Harry Loo Chee Yan, General Managing of the Product Planning Division at UMW Toyota Motor.
These CBUs imported and sold by UMWT will come with a 3-year/100,000 km factory warranty (whichever comes first), something which the Toyotas sold by private importers do not have. Furthermore, UMWT offers full after-sales support with properly trained technicians and genuine parts. This should be welcome by owners and also enhance value of the vehicle.
“Furthermore, as the authorized franchise holder and sole distributor for Toyota vehicles in Malaysia, the units sold by us possess complete documentation so owners will have no worries with regards to customs issues and, of course the specifications of the models we sell would be suited for Malaysian conditions and regulations,” added Mr Loo.
The 2004 Toyota RAV4 comes in Standard and Sporty versions, the latter having a bodykit that includes an extended front spoiler, roof-mounted rear spoiler and side skirts. The bodykit provides a more aggressive look to the RAV4 for those who want to really stand out on the road.
The RAV4 stands out from the other SUVs it inspired with its strong silhouette, prominent character lines, distinctive headlights, and arched roofline. New for 2004 are the redesigned front bumper, clear-lens headlights, grille and circular fog lights in front, and new taillight designs.
All Toyota models must pass GOA (Global Outstanding Assessment) – Toyota’s safety standards which, in some aspects, exceeds the toughest safety requirements anywhere in the world – before they are allowed for sale. The RAV4 is no exception and has a tough bodyshell which can withstand impacts from all sides and distribute impact energy safely around the cabin.
A 4-wheel anti-lock brake system (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) is standard, the former helping to preserve steering ability by preventing the wheels from locking during severe braking conditions on slippery surfaces while the latter adjusts brake pressure between front and rear wheels according to the load on board for optimum and balanced braking on all surfaces.
Should an accident be unavoidable, passive safety features in the RAV4 will help to minimize serious injuries. These features include SRS (Supplementary Restraint System) airbags for driver and front passenger, pre-tensioners and force-limiters on the front seatbelts, and energy-absorbing materials in the upper sections of the cabin to reduce head injuries during accidents. The front seats are also designed to reduce whiplash injuries at the neck that can occur during low-speed rear-end collisions.
The airbags installed in the RAV4 are the latest dual-stage types which inflate in accordance with the severity of the impact and the seat sliding position. This means that in impacts where the impact forces are less severe, the force of the inflating airbag will not be so great as the cushioning effect needed will be less.
The distinctive exterior of the RAV4 is mirrored within as the cabin has a stylish ambience. The driver sits high up for a commanding view all round – one of the aspects of a SUV which owners appreciate. Metallic highlights on the instrument panel which has three separate white-faced meters with a new steering wheel design emphasise the sportiness of the RAV4.
Like the original RAV4, the latest one has a versatile seating arrangement which is ideal for active lifestyles. The ergonomically-efficient front seats can be folded flat while the rear seats (divided 50:50) can slide fore and aft or be folded forward to increase boot space. Should maximum cargo capacity be needed, both rear seats can also be removed easily. In this configuration, up to 970 litres of space are available (up to the level of the window sills).
A nice feature is the package tray for the cargo area. It’s a clever design which can be adjusted to two different heights for different types of cargo. At its highest level, it provides concealment for cargo.
Loading from the rear is easy with a large side-hinged door. Though the full-sized spare wheel is mounted on the door, it is still convenient to open. In fact, the side hinging approach (unlike the top hinged door which is found on most SUVs) makes it unnecessary to have a lot of space behind the RAV4 in order to access the boot as the door can be opened slightly to put items in.
Storage space in the cabin for odds and ends is also well provided with even an overhead compartment for sunglasses or the remote control for the automatic gate. Four cupholders are provided too and the rear ones are incorporated in a cleverly designed fold-away cover.
While there are two engines available for the RAV4, it is the larger 2.0-litre engine that the units sold by UMWT come with. This all-aluminium 4-cylinder engine (1AZ-FE) is a proven powerplant from the same engine family as that used in the latest Toyota Camry 2.0. Besides having 16 valves and DOHC, this engine has VVT-i – Variable Valve Timing with intelligence, Toyota’s own system which enhances output, fuel economy and also reduces toxic exhaust emissions. In its latest form, the engine output has been improved to 110 kW/150 ps of power at 6000 rpm and 192 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm.
The highly efficient engine is mated to a 4-speed Super ECT (Electronically Controlled Transmission) which has been designed to provide smooth gearchanges, good response and minimal power losses. When the vehicle is driven on steep slopes, the transmission will utilize a unique progamme to reduce ‘hunting’ and also engage a lower gear ratio longer to provide better engine braking.
Not all compact SUVs have the same 4WD systems and some are essentially front-wheel drive systems which transfer power to the rear wheels only in certain conditions. The 4WD system in the RAV4 is a full-time system, which means that power is delivered to 16-inch front and rear wheels at all times. A viscous coupling centre differential adjusts the split of power according to terrain conditions and in extremely slippery situations, the power split is 50:50 between front and rear wheels.
Full-time 4WD is more advantageous in all conditions as having power to all wheels provides better traction and stability, especially when the road is slippery. In off-road conditions, grip will also be better as each wheel has power to pull the RAV4 out of any difficult situation.
The original RAV4, with its passenger car-derived monocoque construction, had 4-wheel independent suspension, a significant departure from conventional chassis designs used in SUVs. By having independent suspension, the drawbacks of the conventional SUV chassis – typically an uncomfortable ride and mushy handling – were eliminated.
The independent suspension concept is retained in the second generation with MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones at the rear. Besides a comfortable ride (thanks to the long-stroke suspension), the RAV4 also has sharp handling and with the 2490 mm wheelbase, the turning radius is a relatively tight 5.3 metres.
Being a SUV, the RAV4 also has that extra ground clearance which means it can be driven over rough ground or flooded roads. However, the extra ground clearance does not make it difficult to get in and out and many people have appreciated that the seat height is just right in the RAV4.
Besides the comprehensive equipment and fittings available, UMW Toyota Motor has also added a few accessories to the RAV4 to add value. These include a 2-DIN audio head unit with CD-player which has a frequency range compatible with local wavebands. Also fitted as standard is a vehicle security system which meets the tough Thatcham-1 classification.
Based on the new tariff structure, the retail prices (on-the-road with insurance, Peninsula Malaysia) for the RAV4 are RM179,060 for the Standard version and RM186,333 for the Sporty version.