SOFT-ROADERS

TOYOTA RAV4 TURBO-DIESEL TEST

Unless you want to tow, this machine is very good.

 

Toyota joined the move to diesel power in the Australian softroader market with the introduction of a frugal yet potent 2.2-litre option for its RAV4.

toyota rav4 dieselIf you analyse Toyota’s product offerings in Australia you could gain the impression that the company makes diesels of only three-litre or 4.5-litre capacity.

However, Toyota/Lexus has been selling small turbo-diesels in European and other markets for many years. The 2.2-litre 2AD-FTV that has been chosen to power the latest diesel RAV4 has been around in two displacements and various guises since 2005.

As with most of today’s small diesels, this engine is a highly turbocharged, long-stroke four, fuelled by common rail injection with ‘piezo’ injectors. (Piezo injectors vary the timing and quantity of fuel injection in response to changes in electric current.)

Also like modern small diesels, output is around the level that non-turbo petrol engines produce and peak torque is what you’d expect from a naturally aspirated diesel of around double the capacity and weight. The RAV4’s diesel has claimed power of 110kW and maximum torque of 340Nm. Both figures are delivered at engine speeds some 2000rpm lower than those for the RAV4 petrol 2.5L engine; with only a slight power deficit, plus a whopping 50-percent torque peak increase.

toyota rav4 dieselThe RAV4 diesel mates to six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The manual box has twin output shafts, giving the top two overdrive gears a taller final drive ratio, in the interests of highway economy. The six-speed auto fitted to our evaluation vehicle is identical to the petrol auto, but the diesel’s low rev ceiling and greater torque let it pull taller diffs.

All this mechanical info puts the new RAV4 turbo-diesel right where the competition is, until you plumb the fine print in the specifications to discover that the towing capacity of the diesel manual model is 550kg and the auto, 500kg.

No, there’s no ‘1’ missing in front of those figures: the new RAV4 diesel can tow less than a baby-car and only one third the trailer weight of its 2.5-litre petrol RAV4 sibling, despite having more torque.

‘Why?’ is the obvious question, given that the diesel has the same chassis and transmission as the petrol model. In my opinion there is only one answer: cooling capacity. Toyota is deathly quiet on the subject, but Australian testing may have shown that the turbo-diesel’s standard cooling package isn’t adequate for the extra engine heat created by pulling even modest towed loads. What’s the durability message that sends to the market? Toyota’s competitors will have a field day with this glaring issue.

OK, if you have no intention of towing anything heavier than a lightly loaded box trailer and you don’t care about the impact the RAV diesel’s unbelievably poor towing capacity will have on its resale value, you may be interested in how we rated the new RAV4 turbo-diesel.

What you get

The RAV4 has grown in size since the initial three-door shortie of 1994, but seems confined to five-seat capacity by the requirement not to steal sales from the larger Kluger range.

For 2013 the trademark side-opening tailgate was replaced by a top-hinged one and the tailgate-mounted spare wheel was changed to a toy spare that goes under the cargo floor (full-sized spare is a $300 option).

The 2013 4WD model range consisted of GX, GXL and Cruiser levels, with a choice of petrol or diesel power and manual or automatic transmissions. All had aircon, roof rails, split rear seats, cargo net and load cover, sound-deadening windscreen, electric power steering, seven airbags, stability and traction control, tilt-telescopic steering column, electronic centre diff lock, ABS/EBD, cruise control, Bluetooth, downhill assist on autos and dynamic torque control to proportion drive front and rear.

toyota rav4 dieselGX came with steel wheels and GXL scoreed aluminium wheels, plus reverse camera, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, retractable mirrors, keyless entry and push-button engine start. Cruiser boasted satnav, blind-spot monitor, powered tailgate, HID headlights, heated front seats, powered driver’s seat and a sunroof.

In early 2014 the Cruiser became the first Toyota vehicle in Australia to be fitted with Reverse Cross Traffic Alert for added safety when backing out of a car space or driveway.

It was also the first Toyota sold here to adopt Lane Departure Alert that alerts the driver if the vehicle is about to deviate from a traffic lane.

On and off road

Fit and finish on the test vehicle was Toyota quality and everything we checked worked as planned.

We evaluated a top-shelf Cruiser and felt that for fifty grand it was a tad underdone in comparison with some of its competitors, who offer seven seats, adaptive cruise control and collision-mitigation for that kind of money. The trade-off for Toyota buyers has always been great resale value, but the diesel’s towing-capacity issue may diminish that aspect.

The engine certainly has ample poke and matches well to the six-speed auto transmission. Shifts are smooth in both ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’ modes and we liked the ‘blipping’ downshift program that sends the box from sixth back to third, or from fifth back to second if the driver floors the loud pedal.

toyota rav4 dieselToyota claims 6.5L/100km economy on a combined duty cycle and that’s exactly the figure we achieved, with two people on board and around 150kg of luggage. Seamless shifting, smooth torque delivery, tight suspension and an all-up weight under two tonnes gave the diesel RAV4 sports-car like urge and handling. That taut suspension setting was fine on smooth roads, but corrugations and sharp bumps caused loud thumping from the suspension and delivered a harsh ride.

Steering was pin-sharp and Toyota claims that’s due to electric power assistance acting in conjunction with pre-torque control that splits drive torque 90:10 front: rear as soon as the steering wheel is turned. This new Dynamic Torque Control AWD system meant the transition from front wheel drive to four wheel drive was undetectable, unlike the previous RAV4’s  and some competitor systems that require front wheel slip before the rear wheels do their bit. The new RAV4’s stability and traction control was measured and not too interventionist.

Softroaders have limited off-road ability, but the RAV4 went where its competitors could go without complaint. We checked it out on some fire trails and sandy beach-access tracks and were impressed with its ability.

toyota rav4 dieselVision at all times was very good and the reverse camera screen display was clear, even in low light and at night. After living with the powered tailgate we now expect every 4WD wagon to have one: great when you’re staggering to the car with a pile of shopping, or stopping to pick up a kerbside load.

Interior appointments included ample cup holders and bins, plus a centre console lid that slid forward to make a functional arm rest.

The central display panel was visible even when sunlit and the driver was wearing sunglasses.

Toyota’s bush mapping has improved greatly in recent years and if there’s a track not shown on the RAV4’s screen it’s probably not wise to go there anyway.

 

Conclusion

The long-anticipated RAV4 turbo-diesel model should be a runaway success in a market that’s rapidly appreciating the economy, performance and towing ability of diesel-powered AWD wagons, but we can’t help but feel that its appalling towing rating will limit sales of this otherwise excellent machine.

Check it out cruising along some sandy tracks near NSW's Port Stephens:



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