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What makes the Toyota RAV4 such a popular family car against the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sportage SUVs? | Opinion

The RAV4 has been around in various forms since the 1990s, but the latest model is a top seller.

Before you read any further, I must confess that my first ever car was a three-door 2003 Toyota RAV4 CV in Galaxy Blue. It was a second-generation model and that means it remains the cutest and most stylish RAV4 to have hit the roads thus far (I will die on this hill).

It was cleverly designed to optimise space with the rear seat being styled as a bench but the seats could slide forward or even be removed individually if needed. It only had two airbags (safety wasn’t as big ‘back in the day’) and was a four-speed auto. Obviously, I adored it.

For me the RAV4 has maintained its popularity because it has the right balance of the Big Five: Value, Features, Safety, Style and Practicality.

Let’s talk value and I’m not just talking about the purchase price but we’ll start there. Currently, the petrol base GX model is priced at $43,961 driveaway (based on a Sydney NSW 2000 post code).

The RAV4 is not the cheapest medium family SUV from a mainstream brand. Far from it in fact. The Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage are all cheaper, with the latter starting from around $7000 less than the Toyota.

So if its outright purchase price you're focused on, then it's not the top pick. But it has a standard safety and comfort features list that's missing very little, and the running costs are competitive.

Ongoing costs are reasonable, with the RAV4 offered with Toyota’s five-year/unlimited km warranty and if you stick to your annual service schedule of every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever occurs first), Toyota extends the warranty period for an additional two years. Hybrid variants also get warranty cover on the battery for up to 10 years, but again, only if you stick to your servicing schedule.

The RAV4 is covered by a capped-priced servicing program for up to five-years and each service cost a flat $260. Which is downright cheap for the class.

One big tick for the RAV4 is the resale value. Currently, there are early 2000s model RAV4s that are still selling for almost $12K! What?!

The RAV4s features are important and Toyota offers the base petrol GX with a host of standard gear, and the biggies are: full LED lights, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system, digital radio, wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, five USB ports, reversing camera and a full-size spare wheel. It may be the base model but it doesn’t necessarily feel like one. Although, I would argue that the multimedia system is a tad too ‘old-school’ now compared to its rivals and does need a serious overhaul to keep it relevant.

Its safety features are extensive too and honestly, there are way too many to list here but it has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from testing done in 2019. It’s important to note that it’s individual ANCAP assessment scores are high, with the Safety Assist segment scoring the lowest at 83 per cent. Coupled with seven airbags and its understandable why families feel comfortable strapping in there loved ones.

While style is a factor, it scores the lowest for me in terms of importance but the RAV4 is a stylish SUV and that wins it points. You won’t be embarrassed rocking up in one or asking your boss to hop into your front passenger seat. It also maximises its dimensions to enable ultimate cabin space for its occupants and that can’t be overlooked. Which brings us to its practicality.

It seats five and even taller passengers enjoy relative comfort in both rows. Families are taken care of too with ISOFIX child seat mounts on the rear outboard seats, as well as, three top tethers. With its 1605mm (wheel to wheel) width, you should be able to shove at least two car seats, if not three, in the rear. The rear seat loses the same functionality of my old RAV4 but nonetheless offers flexibility with its 60/40 split-fold.

The boot’s capacity ranges between 542L to 580L with all seats in use, so most weekend pursuits can be enjoyed. Getting an AWD model offers you further options!

The choice you have between grade and engines is another practical feature for me – this car is not Cinderella’s glass slipper. It will not just suit one type of family. You have nine variants to choose from, and outside of needing additional seats, you can almost guarantee that your criteria will be met.

So, while I feel the technology can be a little too no-nonsense for this day and age, the reputation that the RAV4 has carved out for itself keeps getting reaffirmed on each new model launch and that’s why Australian families keep coming back to it. It’s dependable, looks good and can fit the fam – what more do you want?