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A long, long time ago, well, in June '99 actually, we decided to buy a Toyota RAV 4, after I wrote off our last car, a 4wd Impreza, in a head on collision with a vehicle that turned across my path. This led to a desire to drive something bigger and heavier, but not excessively expensive to run. Hence the RAV.
In the end, after looking at various specifications, we plumped for a 1998 Toyota RAV 4 2.0 GX with 18,000 miles on the clock, which cost just under £13,000. Finding a suitable specimen took a while though, as there are a number of things to think about and watch out for. Really we were after one with a tow bar, as we have a trailer and it’d be useful for towing boats – Scuba diving is one of my main pastimes. This proved to be a bad place to start, as a lot of RAVs look like ex farm vehicles and the towbar is a dead giveaway. In fact, we were advised by one garage to steer clear of any RAV with a towbar and get one fitted ourselves, as towing on farms means a real possibility of drive train damage, not to mention shabby interiors. These proved to be sound words and we eventually found an immaculate one, sans towbar, at Arnold Clarks in Glasgow.
So what do I think of it? To start with, it’s quite fast for a larger vehicle. I've had it up to 110 mph when the roads are empty, as you can imagine this is fine in a straight line, but I wouldn’t go nearly so fast on windier roads. It’s also proved to be quite economical, averaging 28 - 30 MPG when driven sensibly.
For a big vehicle the handling is really quite good, especially if you've no luggage or passengers onboard. Add in 3 other people and a boot full of diving gear though, and it handles like a saucepan full of porridge on a skateboard if you push it much over 50.
We haven’t used it off-road very often, just occasionally on dirt tracks and dry hills if I’m diving anywhere remote, so I can’t really comment on its off-road capabilities. I can say that it drives well in the snow as we’ve had a fair bit, and applying the differential lock gives you a feeling that it won’t slide at all. Remember to take it off on dry roads though, as the ride is terrible at any speed with it engaged. The lower part of the body being plastic covered proves useful on dirty/wintry roads, as it cleans easily and there’s no worry of corrosion, the high clearance also means it’s no bother hosing down the chassis.
The seats are serviceable and fairly comfy, though not outstanding, with the rear ones being conveniently split and all having removable headrests. There is a reasonable amount of legroom for the rear seats, but again it’s nothing to write home about. The boot has plenty of space though, and the swinging door makes it easy to load. The cabin finish is admittedly a bit plasticky looking, which lets the model down slightly – it’s reminiscent of a Subaru, which all look tacky to me. On the plus side though is has an electric sunroof, windows and mirrors, as well as air conditioning, and the high seat position and carefully placed doorposts give excellent all round vision. Other handy features include roof rack slots, beer holders, twin airbags and central locking that’s both simple and reliable.
As far as running costs go we haven’t had to shell out too much yet. The service intervals are at 9,000 miles and having added just 15,000 miles to the clock we’ve only had to pay for one service so far. That cost just over £100 at a Toyota dealer, which I found very acceptable. The only fault has been one of the ABS sensors failing recently, but this was covered by the warranty. A few weeks ago we had to get the front tyres replaced (They were new when we bought it), which cost £85 each, and that’s about it. On the subject of wheels, I’d go for a RAV with alloys next time, as the wheels are starting to look quite rusty – the only part of the vehicle that has aged much to date. There’s a lot of salt laid on the roads in winter here though, and we sometimes forget to hose them off, so I can’t really complain too much.
So will there be a next time? Very probably is the answer. This one has been great to drive and very reliable, it does everything we want and as long as it proves child friendly (We’ve one impending), which it should given the high seat position and easy access, it won’t be our last RAV4.
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