RAV4: Flaws, more flaws, but CUTE!

On Thursday evening, I felt the need to celebrate some serious graft during the working week. So, I took the RAV4 greenlaning – the first time I’d done so for months. After all, what’s the point in having a 4×4 if you’re not prepared to use the extra ability such a transmission gives you?

All too soon, the limitations of the RAV were coming to the fore as the underside began scraping. I had entered only mild ruts, but the exhaust system hangs very low, right down the middle of the car. You’ve also go the spindly little lower control arms to each wheel. They seem horribly vulnerable. I tried to keep the speed down as much as possible, but that revealed another limitation – the lack of a low-ratio gearbox. First gear is lower than in a normal car, but I’d say it’s only as low as third or fourth in a proper 4×4’s low range gearbox. That’s fine for pootling along, but just does not allow enough control when you want to crawl, or descend steep hills.

It can go greenlaning, but it's not very good.

It can go greenlaning, but it’s not very good.

I wasn’t enjoying this as much as I’d hoped, but things were to get worse before they got better. As the ground became more uneven, I started to lose traction. This was no fault of the Michelin Latitude Cross tyres, as I discovered when I stopped. I got out of the car, and realised I could rock it and lift one of the rear wheels off the ground! The lack of suspension travel was the issue here. The RAV just isn’t flexible enough. I was forced to engage the diff lock to keep me moving. This locks the front and rear axles together, so even if one of the four wheels starts spinning, the two at the opposite end should be able to keep you moving. They did.

Oh dear. Exhaust is rather vulnerable. This isn't a deep rut.

Oh dear. Exhaust is rather vulnerable. This isn’t a deep rut.

I progressed steadily along the lane, getting better at spotting where traction and/or ground clearance might be an issue, and adjusting my speed to suit. I was a bit concerned about a tricky section of this lane known as The Steps. However, as I continued on, I began to realise that I must have already driven up it! The little RAV had clambered up it so easily that I had not even noticed. The Steps don’t have ruts, so ground clearance wasn’t an issue. Brilliant!

RAV4 greenlane

This shot neatly demonstrates the maximum suspension travel. Not much.

I made it to the end of the lane, disengaged the diff lock and hurtled home, enjoying the excellent handling that the RAV4 offers – certainly not something most ‘proper’ 4x4s can match.

The next day, I had to help a friend remove a dead Delica from a car trailer. This spares vehicle had no front axle, so the plan was to pull the front end off the trailer, put it on blocks and then pull the trailer out. Simple, though things were complicated when his own working Delica refused to play ball due to a charging issue – ie no alternator! It wasn’t happy to work.

So, the RAV was called into action. Again, I would have loved a low ratio gearbox, as I was having to work the clutch quite hard to control the pace. We didn’t want to do this quickly! Also, the driveway was very uneven, with the front offside wheel of the RAV heading up a steep bank due to the limited room we had to manoeuvre. This neatly took the weight off one of the other wheels, and so the difflock was called into action once more. It did the job, but there was quite a whiff of clutch!

RAV4 towing

Not ideal for towing projects, but it did do it!

This has highlighted some difficulties with this car. It isn’t very good as a 4×4. Now, I don’t need the ability of a 4×4 very often, so it does make it difficult to justify owning one. The RAV can just about cope with what a throw at it, so perhaps it justifies itself?

But, it’s not a great car to cover distance in. The seats are particularly poor, and the ride isn’t what you’d call comfortable. Despite that, I think I’ll be taking it on a mini-roadtrip next week, before probably taking it to France.

I must conclude though, despite its flaws, the thing that keeps saving this car from a fleet cull is the fact it’s so bloody cute! I absolutely adore the styling, front and rear. How dull and dreary the RAV4 would become in later forms. It would never have this much character again. It may not be very good at all the things I ask of it, but the fact is that it can and has done them. The lack of off-road ability makes it more challenging for the driver. Isn’t that a good thing? It may have struggled with the towing task, but it did manage it in a way a two-wheel drive car would not have. Doesn’t that make it good? After all, it tows the caravan rather more comfortably than the XM, which I truly did not expect (they have the same stated maximum towing weight of 1500kg).

Maybe I should give this little soft-roader a bit more credit. Sure, it’s a master of absolutely nothing at all, but it can turn its hand to many different activities. That sort of requirement is exactly why I love the Citroen 2CV. Maybe my little inferior 4×4 will be the steed for our upcoming trip to France after all.

Now with video!

What do you reckon?

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