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Why Toyota’s RAV4 has been a top seller for years

2012 Toyota RAV4. 90 per cent of the RAV4s sold in the last 15 years are on the road today

Toyota

Overall Rating
8
Overall
Buyers have stayed loyal to the RAV for its durability, reliability and functionality – and those factors in large part account for the RAV’s excellent resale value. You’ll like this vehicle if: you want a proven crossover, and you don’t care that this one is due for a major overhaul in the coming months.
Looks Rating
7
Looks
Even when the design was all-new, many years ago, the RAV4 was no sexy beast. The look here is functional and unobtrusive.
Interior Rating
7.5
Interior
The cabin has plenty of room and the instruments and controls are a lesson in simplicity. That said, the car business is all about delicious interiors and no one will eat up the looks of the RAV cabin.
Ride Rating
7.5
Ride
The ride comfort is solid but a little stiff and the handling is not as responsive as the best in class.
Safety Rating
8.5
Safety
Almost every rival is a Top Safety Pick, which means the RAV trails its main competition here.
Green Rating
7
Green
The RAV gets decent fuel economy for its class, but newer models such as Hyundai’s Santa Fe do better in the city where fuel economy counts most.

Toyota Canada happily reports that 90 per cent of the RAV4s sold in the last 15 years are on the road today. Ninety per cent. Fifteen years. Two numbers that help define the RAV. Here are four more:

49 per cent: That's what Toyota Canada says a 2012 RAV4 4WD Limited ($34,045) retains of its original worth after four years. Outstanding. In fact, Canadian Black Book says the RAV is No. 2 for retained value among compact SUVs, just behind the No. 1 Jeep Wrangler and ahead of the No. 3 Honda CR-V. ALG, another research firm that predicts resale values, ranks the RAV No. 3 in its class.

Resale value is a reflection of a long list of factors, but quality, durability and reliability top the list. Well, the RAV ranks second in its class in the 2012 J.D. Power and Associates three-year Vehicle Dependability Study. The RAV is tied with the CR-V in the VDS, while No. 1 is the Chevrolet Equinox. Just so you know. And yes, the RAV is a runner-up in the Power Initial Quality Study, too (the CR-V is ranked No. 1 for 2012).

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Another factor in the resale game is brand value. According to rankings from BrandZ, Toyota is the second-ranked car brand (No. 28 overall) in the world – worth just less than $22-billion (U.S.). Toyota has done some serious discounting in the past 18-24 months in an effort to reclaim lost market share, but not enough to cause any serious damage to the RAV. Obviously.

$3,000: Speaking of discounts, that's the factory-to-customer rebate in play on the 2012 RAV4 Limited I just tested. You'll need to be a cash buyer to get it, though. Toyota has a revamped RAV4 in the works in a few months' time (Merrill Lynch says for the 2013 model year), which explains the fairly rich sales sweetener here.

The thing is, whatever Toyota has in the product plan for its RAV, the crossover SUV in showrooms right now remains a solid offering. The 179-horsepower, four-cylinder engine is just six horses short of the reinvented CR-V Honda introduced for 2012. Now consider this: the four-cylinder RAV has fuel economy that is not far behind the all-new CR-V (9.7 litres/100 km in the city, 7.2 highway for the Toyota versus 9.2 city/6.6 highway for the Honda).

Trust me, you will not be able to tell the difference in acceleration, Toyota to Honda. Perhaps that's because the RAV Limited I tested at 1,615 kg weighs just eight kg more than a comparably equipped all-new CR-V. The RAV feels plenty quick, especially for its age and given that the Toyota has more passenger and maximum cargo volume than the Honda – and on certain models, you can get a RAV with seven-passenger seating (for an extra $1,450).

9: The RAV4 is the ninth-best-selling light truck in Canada, just ahead of the No. 10 Hyundai Santa Fe; Honda's CR-V is at No. 7 and the Dodge Journey at No. 8, according to figures from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

Even though the RAV is due for a redesign, sales spiked 101.1 per cent in September – thanks in no small part to Toyota's generous discounting and retailers looking to deal the outgoing RAV in anticipation of the reinvented one due just a little down the road.

I'd be reticent to call the RAV dated, however. Yes, the design is bland, but few people buy a compact crossover on looks alone. Inside, the RAV is roomy and the instruments and controls make perfect sense. The side-hinged door at the rear opens to a useful cargo area and, while not everyone likes the refrigerator-style door, I do. It makes loading less of a stretch over the typical crossover drop-down tailgate.

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Yes, you can buy a Ford Escape with a feature that triggers an automatic tailgate with the kick of a foot – which is great if your hands are full of groceries or hockey bags. And yes, the Escape has gorgeous instrument lighting, too.

Meanwhile, Hyundai's 2013 Santa Fe does have more horsepower with its base four-banger (190 hp) and, even at that, gets better fuel economy in the city (6.0 litres/100 km). That's mostly because the Hyundai weighs less and has a six-speed automatic transmission, versus the RAV's dated four-speed autobox. The Hyundai has better, smoother shift quality than the RAV and it should; the Santa Fe has also been re-engineered and re-styled for 2013. And yes, the Santa Fe is a looker and the RAV looks quite pedestrian by comparison.

0: The number of RAV4 models that appear on the list of Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

No, the RAV is not a Top Safety Pick. Why? Roof strength. The RAV is rated only "Acceptable" for roof strength, an issue that will be resolved with the RAV remake. This is not to say the RAV is unsafe; it is to say that a long list of rival crossovers are Top Picks.

There are reasons the RAV has endured all these years as top seller. And the numbers tell the story.

Tech specs

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2012 Toyota RAV4 4WD Limited

Type: Compact crossover

Base price: $35,045 ($1,635 freight)

Engine: 2.5-litr,e four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 179 hp/172 lb-ft

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Drive: Full-time four-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 city/7.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives:Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot, Kia Sportage, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Dodge Journey

jcato@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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