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New Toyota RAV4 goes for bold

Toyota all but invented the modern softroader segment with its original RAV4 back in 1994 and since then competition in the segment has literally exploded to the extent that Toyota's latest offerings have faded into the corner of the stage.

Now the fourth-generation RAV4, unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, is here to rectify things and it comes armed with a bolder design and improved driving characteristics.

AURIS-INSPIRED

Style is an important factor in this image-conscious segment and the new Toyota takes a decent stride in this department with its distinctive, and more muscular, design that takes inspiration from the new Auris hatch.

To improve roominess and driving dynamics simultaneously, the 2013 RAV4 is 205mm longer, 30mm wider and 25mm lower than the model before it. It also has a top-hinged tailgate for the first time.

Inside, drivers will find an abundance of soft-touch materials in what Toyota calls a more sophisticated environment and it also aims to provide a more engaging driving experience through a lower driving position.

As with Toyota's MPV models, interior versatility is enhanced by the 'Easy Flat' seating system that allows the rear seats to be folded flat quickly and easily. There's seating for five and a rather generous luggage volume of 547 litres, 49 litres more than before.

While the engine line-up for South Africa has yet to be confirmed, it should more-or-less mirror that of the European range, which offers a choice between one petrol and two diesel units.

NEW DIESEL

A virtual certainty is the 110kW 2-litre petrol motor and we'd also bet on getting one of the turbodiesels. The smallest of these is a brand new 2-litre motor that pushes 91kW and there's also a 2.2-litre option that's good for 110kW.

Although there's not much to get excited about beneath the bonnet, Toyota has put a big emphasis on driver enjoyment through a retuned chassis, Integrated Dynamic Drive system with Sport mode and a revised electric power steering system.

Although not a 'proper' off-roader, stability both on and off the beaten track is ensured by Toyota's permanent all-wheel drive system with Dynamic Torque Control that constantly monitors the flow of torque between the front and rear axles. A further off-road boost is provided by a central diff lock and driving aids like Down-hill Assist and Hill-start Assist.

Given that these beasts will inevitably spend most (if not all) of their time on tar, Toyota has thrown in some modern active safety gadgets like lane departure warning and a blind spot monitor - although we suspect these won't be fitted to all models.

Toyota South Africa says we can expect to see the new RAV4 during the first half of 2013.

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