- Base GX has more equipment than you'll ever need
- Practical and good quality interior
- Newfound chassis balance and good ride quality
- 2.0-litre petrol engine is only adequate
- Clever CVT auto - but why no torque converter auto?
- Dated infotainment system
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX is a huge step up from the previous model, introduced for the 2019 model year the current RAV4 has been a sales phenomenon – it is currently the fifth best-selling car on sale in Australia and the best-selling SUV on the market. Rivalling the Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and the Ford Escape, the RAV4 was one of the original small (/now mid sized) SUVs when it launched in 1994. The current generation is such a success that there are now long waiting lists to buy one, so is the wait worth it or should you look at one of the many other offerings in the segment? We tested the entry level 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX to find out.
Price & Equipment: 8/10
While there are currently 10 RAV4 variants to choose from (and three more coming for an imminent 2022 model year update), we tested the entry level GX 2.0-litre petrol auto, which is priced from $34,895 plus on-road costs (around $38,000 drive away depending on your location).
Despite being a base model, the RAV4 GX is reasonably well equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED lighting, auto wipers, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation with live traffic, digital radio, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a six-speaker sound system, push button start, heated and electric-folding mirrors, manual air-conditioning, a leather steering wheel and floor mats. Choosing the $2,500-pricier 2.5-litre hybrid also adds dual-zone climate control (which should be standard) and more advanced projector beam LED headlights.
Safety kit on all RAV4s includes seven airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and daylight cyclist detection, lane keep assist with lane trace assist, road sign assist, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Available colours on the 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX include ‘Eclipse Black’, ‘Eclectic Blue’, ‘Graphite’ (grey), ‘Atomic Rush’ (red), ‘Silver Sky’ and our test car’s ‘Saturn Blue’ for an extra $675. The only no-cost colour is ‘Glacier White’ and black cloth is the sole interior option.
Above the GX in the RAV4 tree is the GXL, which is priced $2,720 more at $37,415 plus on-road costs (around $41,000-$42,000 drive away). The GXL adds larger 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, roof rails, rear privacy glass, ‘premium’ cloth trim, keyless entry, an auto-dimming rear mirror and more silver trimmings on the bumpers. $3,500 more gets you into a RAV4 Cruiser, but that’s above $45,000 drive away. If you’re not going for the RAV4 Cruiser, we reckon stay with the GX as the GXL doesn’t really add too many big ticket items and the GX is surprisingly well equipped for a base model.
Competing directly against the base model RAV4 are the Hyundai Tucson (around $38,500 drive away) and the Mazda CX-5 Maxx (around $37,500 drive away). They all have 2.0-litre petrol engines and are front-wheel drive though like the RAV4, more drivetrains are available for more money. The shared equipment list between the three is long and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, manual air-conditioning, lots of safety equipment including auto emergency braking and 8.0-inch touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are equipment differences though – the Tucson misses out on auto wipers, auto high beam, LED lighting and digital radio (the RAV4 and CX-5 have all three features throughout their respective ranges), but it does have roof rails, an alarm, auto-folding mirrors and a front centre airbag, which the CX-5 and RAV4 don’t have. The CX-5 uniquely features 40:20:40-split rear seats and reverse auto braking though it also uniquely doesn’t feature rear air vents or daytime running lights. Standard satellite navigation and front fog lights are the only features the RAV4 gets over the CX-5 and Tucson.
Performance & Economy: 7/10
The engine fitted to our 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX test car is the brand’s familiar 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder unit that’s also available in the Corolla. This engine is also standard on the GXL and Cruiser model grades for the RAV4. The engine produces 127kW of power and 203Nm of torque and both 160kW hybrid and 152kW non-hybrid 2.5-litre petrol options are available further up the RAV4 range.
The sole transmission available in the RAV4 2.0-litre petrol – the former six-speed manual has been canned for 2022 – is a CVT automatic, though the unit used in this RAV4 is called the ‘Dynamic Shift’ gearbox. Unlike most other CVT automatics, this one has a physical first gear for superior take off feel and once you’ve reached the point of shifting, it reverts to the usual CVT rubber band. It’s a clever piece of engineering but it makes us wonder why Toyota didn’t just input the eight-speed torque converter auto that’s in the 2.5-litre RAV4 Edge as it would offer superior drivability and less weight, which would help both fuel economy and performance.
The engine itself is a good unit but it can get noisy as we mentioned and like other 2.0-litre petrol mid-size SUVs, it can be quite lethargic and waking it up for full acceleration can take a moment. It’s otherwise fine around town, much like its competitors.
The claimed average fuel consumption for the 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX fitted with the 2.0-litre petrol engine is 6.5L/100km, which is less than the CX-9 (6.9L/100km) and Tucson (8.1L/100km). In our time with it, we saw 9.2L/100km, but that was in purely urban driving. Like competitors, it will happily take regular unleaded and it features a 55-litre fuel tank.
Ride & Handling: 8/10
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 sits on Toyota’s scalable TNGA platform, which is the same platform that underpins the vast majority of modern Toyota products, including the Yaris, Corolla, C-HR and LandCruiser. This means means that the current RAV4 is much more fun to drive, more capable and more nimble than the model it replaces. Even in base spec with its high profile tyres, the RAV4 GX handles well despite some body roll – but this is to be expected with an SUV due to the high centre of gravity.
The ride of the RAV4 GX is well damped with none of the soft and wallowy feel of the previous generation of car. Its steering is more communicative as well, its chassis is well balanced while it’s also quieter at speed thanks to more sound insulation – a CX-5 is quieter at speed, though. The CX-5 is a more fun SUV to drive as well, while the Tucson’s ride quality is better than both of its competitors.
We find Toyota’s active safety systems to be well tuned, though still a touch nervous. The adaptive cruise control does a great job of maintaining the distance between you and the car in front of you, the blind spot monitoring is quite accurate – although the light on the dash that says the system is active can get annoying – and the forward collision alert is also fairly unobtrusive.
Interior & Practicality: 8/10
The interior is one of the most important parts of a car as it is where you spend most of your time. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 delivers in this department with a jump in quality and design compared with the previous generation car. The current RAV4 has more storage and better quality materials than any previous RAV4. It is also quite a contemporary design that is easy on the eyes and its technology is well integrated.
The storage situation in the RAV4 is rather good. There is a spot for your phone in front of the gear selector, two cupholders in front of the ample centre console, a generous glovebox, door bins that include cup holders and a spot for the key behind the drive mode selector buttons. The Hyundai Tucson does have a little more interior storage than the RAV4, though and it has a wireless phone charger – even in the base model!
The quality of the materials used in the RAV4 are a step up on the previous generation car and new Toyota products have moved a long way from the hard plastic and harsh interiors of their past. The cloth used on the seats is soft and comfortable, while the plastics that are used in the interior are soft in places, the leather steering wheel is nice to hold and there are a few flourishes such as a stitched dashboard.
Centre of the RAV4’s cabin is an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation and digital radio. It’s the same system that’s used in all other modern Toyota products and while the screen itself isn’t the best quality – the Tucson’s 10.25-inch equivalent is noticeably sharper – it is an easy system to use.
The rear seat of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 is well featured and roomy with air vents, two USB ports, reasonable door pockets, reclining seats and a centre armrest with cupholders. More importantly for some, the available space is excellent with more than enough room in all directions for six-footers and three people will fit fine.
Opening the manual tailgate of the RAV4 GX reveals 542-litres of cargo space, which is just more than the 539L of of the Hyundai Tucson and 100L more than the CX-5’s 442L boot. Folding down the seats in the RAV4 opens up the space to 1,690-litres and while this seems like a lot compared to the 1,342L of cargo space that the Mazda CX-5 offers, the Hyundai Tucson offers 1,860L.
Service & Warranty: 9/10
Like other Toyota products, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX has a five-year/unlimited km warranty – though unlike its competitors, no roadside assistance. Mazda and Hyundai share the same warranty term, though Mazda gives you five years of warranty and Hyundai gives you 12 months, but it’s topped up by a further 12 months at each dealer service to five years in total.
Servicing the RAV4 over five years/75,000km costs $1,150 ($230 per service), while doing the same with the Tucson costs $1,595 ($319 per service) and CX-5 costs $1,969 ($393 per service), and that’s only to 50,000km thanks to the Mazda’s shorter 10,000km service intervals. The RAV4’s price advantage is obvious, but private party roadside assistance can be from around $100 a year, while makes it more expensive than the Tucson.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX 2.0L 2WD DiscoverAuto Rating:
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 GX is an excellent car as a base model as when you think of a base model, you think of a bare bones package but this just isn’t the case with the RAV4. The RAV4 GX is a great option for those wanting a mid-sized SUV that is comfortable, cheap to own and practical – though the hybrid is definitely the powertrain to choose in the RAV4 range. Why is that? Amazing fuel economy aside, the hybrid is more drivable too.
But powertrain aside, the RAV4 is definitely at the pointy end of the mid-size SUV field for talent. Even as the entry level GX, the RAV4 is well equipped and a massive step forward over the lacklustre previous model. Would we buy one over the entry-level competition? Potentially yes as it offers a lot – but be sure to check out the new Tucson and the CX-5 as they’re both very polished. With such talent on offer, it’s never been such a good time to be after a mid-size SUV in Australia.