CARS have grown (and grown up) over the past few years and one model in particular that has done both is the Toyota RAV 4.

Back in 1994 the first RAV 4 rolled out of the factory in Japan and it was, to say the least, a bit quirky. With most first UK models only two wheel drive and two doors and a bit ‘unusual’ in the looks department it was looked down upon by the SUV community as a bit of a ‘hairdresser’s’ car… not for really rugged types.

But roll forward 26 years (and almost 10 million worldwide sales) and the very latest fifth generation version has grown in every way. For a start it is much bigger, has full four wheel drive plus something not dreamt of in 1995 – hybrid power.

This week’s test car is the RAV 4 Dynamic plug in hybrid and something else that has grown is the price…£47,395 – but for that you do not get an awful lot of kit and a car which now has definite on road presence.

The RAV 4 Range does start from a shade over £32k for the front-driven, entry-level petrol only model and rises to £38,500 for the range-topping hybrid while our plug in version is nearly 10k more with the top-spec Dynamic Premium model hitting almost £51 grand.

The changes to this latest version aren’t just skin deep. Beneath that striking new exterior the car is 57 per cent stiffer and has a lower centre of gravity. There’s also a more sophisticated double-wishbone rear suspension for better road holding and weight distribution and a whole host of active safety features.

But our car’s USP is that hybrid system which means up to 61 miles of urban electric driving on a full charge at speeds easily over the legal limit and a maximum MPG figure of 282. Overall, during a week of very mixed driving, I managed to average in the mid-40s and got around 46 miles of electric only driving on a full charge

All RAV4’s have the same 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol-hybrid drivetrain with different states of tune and varying degrees of electric assistance. In the base model that means 215bhp to the front wheels via a CVT gearbox.

In our test car the total system output jumps to a very healthy 302 (the most powerful RAV4 yet) thanks to two large electric motors on the front and back axels and bigger battery capacity which helps deliver a 0 to 60 time of just 6 seconds and a top speed of 112.

Various mode settings mean you can drive all electric, all petrol or let the car decide. You can also save electric power for urban driving later. The drive modes are EV (electric vehicle) – the default mode, HV (hybrid vehicle), Auto HV/EV and Charging mode. The car operates by default as an electric vehicle running in EV priority mode and will continue to run purely on its electric power, even with hard use of the accelerator pedal, until the battery becomes low.

That all-wheel-drive set up also means useful off road ability and gives confidence in all on road situations plus for this latest model the steering is improved and body roll reduced making what is a decent-sized SUV feel almost car like around the twisty bits.

Inside things have gone more upmarket with a long list of toys including a heads up display, heated leather seats, active cruise control, 360 degree camera system, premium sound and power smart tailgate while the quality of the materials used has also had an upgrade.

Toyota say they have created a vehicle with a ‘dual DNA’ – one that has strong and genuine EV capabilities and which can also operate with highly efficient hybrid electric power thanks to their long experience of engineering two generations of Prius Plug-in and have adopted an incremental approach to add extra performance to the efficiency characteristics of its plug-in technology.

All that means a very civilised and efficient way of getting around and no doubt millions more worldwide sales for Toyota.

By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth

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