The RAV4 has come a long way from its cutesy compact lifestyler origins in the mid-’90s to Australia’s biggest-selling passenger car today. Indeed, the 12-month wait for the current, benchmarking model is one reason why shrewd buyers might dip back into Toyota’s mid-range SUV providence for a cheaper and more accessible option.
Gen III, aka the XA30, is an obvious drawcard. It arrived in 2006 in Australia in its long-wheelbase guise that was larger than that offered in Asia and Europe, grown up and certifiably family-sized by measure of its time, unpretentious in styling and glove-fit for anything from big country touring to the local school run.
It’d kick around the local landscape until it was replaced by the edgier and funkier XA40 successor lobbed in early 2013.
This generation brought a new platform and, importantly, electric power steering and ABS across the range. RAV4s with anything like a contemporary vibe start with the XA30. Also brand-spanking was a newly introduced active AWD that defaults as a bum dragger for most driving requirements, with on-demand rear-axle drive when it’s needed.
The Japanese-built range launched in three trim levels in a choice of five-speed manual or $2k-extra four-speed auto, all and sundry powered by a tweaked carryover 2.4-litre petrol four good for 125kW and 224Nm. It’ll run on crappy 91RON and its mid-nine fuel consumption was, for its time, frugal enough.
The base CV ($32k) brought air-con and cruise control as well as basic surety in traction and stability control as standard, though buyers could option a Safety Pack with features fitted in higher grades. Upping to the Cruiser ($37k-ish) brought smarter looks, some safety kit, 17s, dual-zone climate, some leather appointment and – gasp – a six-CD stacker! The big daddy Cruiser L splurges with more leather, powered/heated front seats and a sunroof.
The range expanded greatly in October 2007 with the release of new 3.5-litre V6 petrol versions, bringing lustier 201kW and 333Nm energy and thirstier mid-10 consumption. The auto only six-potters brought a host of new nameplates in the CV6 ($40k), SX6 ($44k) and tree-topping ZR6 ($50k) to what remained strictly a five-door, five-seat line-up.
RAV4 would remain petrol only in gen III – diesels arrived in its successor – though it is rated to tow up to 1500kg where, really, the V6ers are the sensible option. The on-demand AWD system isn’t really fit enough for serious off-road work, though the XA30 has proven itself it be a tidy all-rounder for mixed surfaces. Whether you’re a region buyer or city slicker, the RAV4’s on-road manners are pleasing if, unsurprisingly, a little vanilla.
The big drawcard is spaciousness. With what was a 20-percent larger cabin at the time and up to 540 litres of boot space, it offered class-leading size. Even if row-two accommodation is a bit cramped by today’s standards.
In 2010 a (sub-Cruiser) Altitude variant arrived (from $32k-ish) for what was still an all-AWD range. But for MY11, Toyota broken the RAV4 naming convention – the ‘4’ bit means four-wheel drive – and offered its SUV in a choice of front-drive for the CV and Crusier that what amounted to around a $3k saving against the 4x4s.
The XA30 last until its fourth-gen replacement launched in February 2013.