Project Rav4: The Collection

The task of replacing the XM is complete. For now. Yes, I have purchased another quality motor vehicle.

As I’ve already reported, I was having real trouble finding my next steed. At one point, I was eyeing up a £250 Toyota Previa. In Stockton-on-Tees. Then, some degree of sanity kicked back in. I really don’t need a people carrier! The products of Lexus, Honda and Subaru came in for scrutiny, because no matter what, it had to be Japanese. I like to practice what I preach and as I’m editing Retro Japanese magazine, I needed to have something Retro. And Japanese. (I’m borrowing a Jaguar while I edit Classic Jaguar magazine as I’m too poor to buy an actual Jag!).

One of the biggest issues with living in Wales is that car buying means big travel. The chances of finding something suitable on my doorstep were slim, though a Toyota Carina E almost made it. Really, that’s just a bit too bland isn’t it? I mean, an editorship is a prestige position. It requires a vehicle with commanding road presence. Something that shouts quality and power.

So I bought a Rav4.

I spotted it on Ebay, and also found a Gumtree ad almost a month old. There, it had been advertised at £900, though this had dropped to £700 on Ebay. Had to be worth a look. Especially as it had a towbar. It was up the road in Conwy, North Wales and the description made it seem pretty good. No rot, mechanically sound. Well, ads can always make bold claims so for once, I decided to view before handing over the readies. I contacted the owner who said he wouldn’t take less than £650 for it. Blimey. £50 off already and I hadn’t left the house!

We currently have a variety of vehicles on the fleet, some of which are ideal for such a long-distance mission. So, we took the Perodua Nippa. Rachel doesn’t like big cars, so that ruled the XM and Jag out!

RAV4 swb

New motor! Can this truly replace the XM?

Just nipping up the road to North Wales took a good couple of hours, even with my driving. The Nippa doesn’t often get treated with such a heavy foot, but we did have to get a shift on. Its tiny 847cc, three-cylinder engine had to work hard, especially up the hills of Snowdonia. In terms of torque, it has none. Fortunately, there is no rev counter fitted.

We arrived in Conwy and were treated to a distinct lack of rain. This was nice as I needed to crawl underneath the RAV4 and have a good look at the underside. Rot is a killer, especially around the rear suspension mounts. Bits were prodded and as not very much fell off, I decided all was well enough.

There were issues though. The rear tyres were right on the limit of legality, if not slightly the other side of legal. Also, the spring was missing on the driver’s wiper arm, so it wasn’t doing a great job of clearing the screen. However, it drove well on the test drive, with good clutch bite and no alarming noises – other than a similar amount of road noise racket to the Nippa. Which means LOADS. There’s not much trim in the back.

The price was adjusted down to £580 and we quickly retreated to a hotel for a rather late dinner. The hotelier made the mistake of suggesting we might like to sit at a different table. Here’s a thought. Don’t try and make my wife do something she does not want to do, especially when she’s hungry! It was amusing as the dining room was enormous and had two other people in it. The food was good though and well worth the expense given that Rachel had agreed to accompany me on this silly car caper.

We set off in convoy, hoping it wouldn’t rain. A few hundred yards later, it started to rain. I suspect the owner had tried to do something about the poor wiping by applying Rain-X or similar to the windscreen. Certainly, the water was beading up nicely and the wiper would clear the screen as it travelled up. On the way down, it would lift several inches off the windscreen before banging back onto the screen at the bottom. I filed this under annoying, but I could at least see where I was going. Until it got foggy.

In all the excitement, I had rather forgotten the question of fuel. On the way up, I had even noticed a likely petrol station, yet, somehow, completely missed it on the way back. I was probably distracted by the comedy wiper, that seemed to be waving to cars as we passed them.

By the time I realised that we were rather short of a sensible amount of fuel, we were in to Snowdonia. Fortunately, the rain stopped, which allowed me to focus on the fuel gauge all the more. I knew there was a petrol station in Dolgellau. Surely we could make it there? I began to hypermile. Quite easy when any serious pressure on the throttle pedal simply resulted in the disappearance of the Nippa.

Of course, I hadn’t bargained on petrol stations not being open late at night. It was shut. DRAT! Or words to that effect. Sat Nav reckoned there was another station close by but, not for the first time in recent weeks, it then seemed to get horribly confused about where said station might be. Sod it. I would push on for Machynlleth, some 13 miles away. I reckoned this would be ok, because the route was mostly downhill from where we were. There may have been some coasting, which as a MiDAS minibus instructor, I know is a bad thing. This is putting the car in neutral and letting it roll. I left the Nippa behind at this point, as one steep hill allowed me to get up to the dizzy heights of 60mph. In neutral. The gauge was starting to point some way below empty though. Was I actually going to make it?

Fuel gauge empty

Cripes! That’s low! Less than empty apparently.

Thankfully, I did make it. I pulled up at the pump half expecting the engine to cut out there and then. Happily, it didn’t. In fact, I got 48 litres in, which is apparently about ten litres less than the tank capacity. Hmmm. The Nippa also does this trick. False empty?

Rav4 rear

Full of fuel. Nippa (and Proton Jumbuck) wait in the background.

With a known amount of fuel on board, ie a full tank, and close enough to home that Rachel could find her own way (she’d had enough of following the RAV by this stage), I got a proper shift on – albeit knowing the rear tyres weren’t very clever.

And I became very surprised. The RAV is a very easy car to drive quickly. It stays remarkably flat in the corners, turns in nicely and doesn’t have that nose-heavy feeling that I get in the XM. The engine pulls well, and you can maintain decent pace without having to take it beyond 4000rpm. The chunk gearlever is a pleasure to use too. I was liking this a lot.

I’d been warned that the ride would be rubbish, but it really isn’t – albeit I was directly comparing with a bouncy Perodua. Sure, it’s not XM comfy, but it’s really not bad. I was suffering some backache, but then I’d driven a minibus for a couple of hours, then leapt into the Nippa for a few hours (hardly the last word in comfort and the furthest I’d drive it since I bought it 14 months ago) and then into the Rav. It’s hard to say whether the ache was due to one of those vehicle, or all of them!

The only real downside is the super-smooth steering wheel. It’s like polished glass, so I may need to chuck a cover on for some actual grip.

There’s plenty to do with the new arrival, but I think that’s enough words for now. Stay tuned to see how I get on with it. I mean, can it actually tow stuff? We’re going to find out…

What do you reckon?

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