Winner: Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid
Australia’s love affair with small-to-medium SUVs continues to grow. Buyers in the all-wheel-drive SUV under $55,000 category now have a plethora of excellent models to chose from, which makes the RAV4 GXL AWD Hybrid’s win in this important category an outstanding achievement.
The RAV4 took a significant step up with the all-new 2019 model. While the regular top combatants in this category – the Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5 – weren’t far behind in second and third place, the RAV4 matches their strengths in on-road ability, comfort and space, and then raises the stakes with category-leading fuel economy and lower emissions, as well as being the smoothest and quietest. As it’s a recently released model, the RAV4’s five-star ANCAP rating was achieved under the tougher 2019 test requirements, so it also gains maximum points for safety.
Toyota’s new global platform provides the RAV4 with a solid foundation for improved driving dynamics and impressive ride comfort, while a longer wheelbase and extra width create more useable cabin space, particularly for rear occupants. Seating up to five, the RAV4’s redesigned seats provide good comfort and support. The luggage compartment is also one of the most spacious in the category. For the driver, the all-new layout is clean and simple with easy-to-read instrumentation and logically positioned switches.
The introduction of Toyota’s well-proven petrol/electric hybrid technology has added a new dimension to the RAV4 line-up and gives it a distinct point of difference over the competition. Using a similar system to the Camry hybrid with minor tweaking to suit SUV requirements, the AWD version employs a third electric motor to drive the rear wheels. For everyday driving, the Hybrid’s electric motors add extra punch down low, with the petrol and electric power sources combining to provide brisk performance and seamless transition between the two. It can also be driven short distances on electric power only (in EV mode).
Like most vehicles in this category, the main benefit of the RAV4’s AWD system is the reassuring extra traction it provides if the bitumen is wet and slippery or when travelling on loose gravel or dirt roads. For the odd occasion when you might want to venture onto rougher tracks, the hybrid AWD system has proven itself to be as capable as other more conventional mechanical AWD setups in the category – the majority of which are on-demand AWD systems. In most cases, the limiting factors will be ground clearance and tyre grip, rather than any problems with the ability of the hybrid AWD system.
The GXL model’s purchase price and ownership costs are competitive with other brands’ top-selling variants. It has a respectable rather than generous level of standard equipment, however, as some of the money goes to pay for advanced technology in the hybrid system.
The second-placed Subaru Forester is a talented all-rounder that’s right at home around town, on the open road or off the beaten track. Its superb constant all-wheel-drive system provides ample off-road ability for this type of vehicle, which appeals to the more adventurous family buyers. The Forester’s low waistline and thin pillars also mean its visibility is the best in the category.
The fractionally smaller Mazda CX-5 rounds out the top three and lives up to the Mazda “Zoom-Zoom” slogan with responsive steering and handling, making it one of the more dynamic and involving SUVs in the category.