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How does a car remain so popular for so long?

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Sometime in 1996, a new type of vehicle called the Toyota RAV4 – which stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-Wheel Drive – hit the American market. It was the start of a journey that has transformed the global car market and created a motoring icon.

“Setting the standard by which all will be measured is the Toyota RAV4,” proclaimed a review in the February 18, 1996 New York Times titled “BEHIND THE WHEEL/Toyota RAV4; A Cute Brute Rocks to an MTV Beat”.

That view, which captured the emotions of most people around the RAV4, has not changed in 20 years.

That article also registered another attitude that has stuck. It noted: “It’s so darn cute. Too cute, some guys who saw it said, derisively calling it a “chick mobile” — a car only a young woman would drive. But once behind the wheel, even the macho men were generally won over”.

To this day, the RAV4 remains a great ride or, as somebody said, the evergreen default crossover or midsized SUV.

The RAV consistently outsells younger, cheaper rivals.

The latest upgrade is no different.

Such a reputation is hard-won and easily lost. That is how one reviewer felt when the newest RAV4 was unveiled. The new edition, the MY18, focused mainly on upgrades to its specifications.

There are three trim levels in the RAV4 range – GX, GXL and Cruiser – and accompanying choice of fuel type, engine, and number of driven wheels.

Common to all RAV4s is the 6.1-inch touchscreen which powers the multimedia and sound system, which includes DAB radio, CD player (but no CD changer or DVD player), six speakers (but no subwoofer) and basic smartphone integration via USB or Bluetooth, both iPhone and Android. It works, but the interface is very basic and only baby’s fingers can accurately hit the tiny targets.

The segment in which the RAV4 plays is filled with stylish cars, so Toyota has brought a more interesting styling language for its mid-sizer’s exterior design, according to one reviewer.

While not aggressive-looking and there’s nothing in the way of a body kit or sport edition, each model has a tiny rear spoiler. Racy it isn’t, but there’s a clear theme emerging on Toyota SUVs from the C-HR to the Kluger.

The RAV4 is a five-door SUV hardtop (no soft top – sorry folks), with a good wide rear tailgate for access to the cargo area.

You can add a bit of ruggedness with a roof rack or side steps. Extras like a bull bar or nudge bar will require you to look further afield, the same for a snorkel, different rims, wheel arch extensions and more comprehensive tool kit.

The RAV4 is a classic Toyota – well-built, solidly engineered but not particularly exciting to drive. Road noise is a little higher than on most of the competition.

While not fitted with off road tyres, its off road capability is better than most of its rivals. Part of that is down to the centre diff lock (activated with a button) and a fairly traditional sort of all-wheel drive system.

The turbo-diesel is punchy and economical but, ultimately, it would probably come down to range requirements. The MY18 update brings a stack of safety features in additional to the seven airbags, ABS, stability control (VSC), traction control and brake assist.

All RAVs now come with Toyota Safety Sense which includes a basic lane assist technology in the form of lane departure warning. Safety Sense also adds auto high beam, forward collision warning and auto emergency braking (AEB). The RAV4 GXL and Cruiser variants pick up a blind spot monitor system.

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