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Michael Sheridan finds out what's new in the fourth-generation Rav4.

The original RAV4 invented its own car category in 1994. The recreational activity vehicle was as quick as a hot hatch but it also had four-wheel drive - hence the name. Through the years RAV4 has lost excitement but gained practicality, and greater economy.

The new, fourth-generation RAV4 body shape is an evolution of the third. It is bigger in all dimensions, bar height. Notably the wheelbase is longer and this has increased interior space, which is impressive.

Under close scrutiny, there are only one or two interesting new exterior design features like the dramatic taillight clusters you could almost rest a mug on! Compared to the original, curvy, petrol-powered RAV, the latest five-seat machine is conservative-looking and unlikely to turn heads. The corporate grille looks smart and new lights add a bit of drama. Standard fit 17-inch alloy wheels with high profile tyres fill out the arches well, helping RAV4 look balanced.

Inside, the cabin is big and comfortable. The front seats are a generous size and provide great shoulder support. The rear 60/40 split seats can be tilted to passengers' tastes and headroom is good, too. The 547-litre boot is good for its class. A clever and adjustable pole-mounted cargo net offers secure and variable loading for loose items. Under the boot floor of my test car was a space-saver spare wheel.

The dash features a mix of styling ideas that don't really combine with great effect. The tiny digital clock could be from the original car. The secondary controls are centrally located and there is a good touch screen display available, but from the driver's seat you feel disconnected from these controls and have to take a deliberate sideways look at them. Depending on specification, voice activation and other steering wheel-mounted controls negate this issue to a degree. The Speedometer and other dials are positioned favouring the driver. Standard Bluetooth, USB and 12-volt power sockets are positioned well but my test car lacked surfaces with grip to secure my phone or iPod.

On the road my front-wheel drive, 2-litre 'Luna' D-4D was both nippy and relatively economical. The standard six-speed gearbox is well-geared. When cornering, those expecting a sporty suspension setting will encounter some body roll. On twisty routes RAV4 will not encourage enthusiastic driving. However, on the daily commute, it is comfortable and the driving experience almost vice-free. The big seller will be the 2WD version (124hp/310nm) that is simply cheaper to buy and run; it also features stop/start technology.

RAV4 pricing has been slashed and now starts at €27,995 (2WD 'Aura') and rises all the way up to €43,520 for the 'Sol' grade 2.2-litre 'D-CAT' automatic. The engine range features two diesels (2-litre, 2WD and 2.2-litre AWD) and one, 151hp, 2-litre petrol (Valvematic, AWD). Aura, Luna and Sol (Sol is not available in 2WD) are the familiar Toyota specification grades.

So where does Toyota's latest 'Recreational Activity Vehicle' sit next to the competition? The sector is bursting with quality machines like the Mazda CX-5, Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Peugeot 3008, Skoda Yeti etc, but RAV4 is a Toyota, and in Ireland that means it will have a guaranteed following and good residuals.

The RAV4: it may not be exciting, but is a good all-round family car.

Michael Sheridan