Toyota's RAV4 mid-sized SUV soft roader has been around so long it's easy to forget quite how far it's come. The fifth generation model is bigger, better finished, and far more efficient, thanks to an exclusive reliance on hybrid power. And Toyota hasn't forgotten that cars in this class need to look good and drive well too. Reacquaint yourself with it. You might be in for a surprise.
Having dipped its toe into the hybrid waters with the previous generation version of this model, Toyota has gone all-out with petrol/electric power in this MK5 version. It's all you can have - though buyers are offered the option of either front wheel drive or All-Wheel Drive. This model's body is stiffer than that the previous one, while its centre of gravity is also lower down: it's all aimed at making this model a more engaging steer, as is the engineering of this fifth generation RAV4's much more sophisticated TNGA GA-K platform. The suspension set-up's more predictable, using MacPherson struts up front, while a double wishbone arrangement at the rear.
That engine isn't too much different from the hybrid unit that RAV4 buyers were served up before. It's 2.5-litres in size and generates a combined power output of 215bhp. The All-Wheel Drive variants gain a second electric motor driving the rear axle, which lifts that output slightly to 219bhp. As before, this set-up has to be mated to CVT belt-driven automatic transmission. This demands a relaxed driving style if revs are not to flare every time you exercise your right foot. If you do that, rest to 62mph occupies 8.4s en route to a maximum of 112mph.
This fifth generation RAV4 certainly has a more aggressive, angular look than its predecessors. It's now sits 10mm closer to the ground, and at the front, the emphasis is on width and strength with extra volume added to the lower bumper section. There's a similar effect at the rear where the horizontal line created by the tail lights and back window angles sharply downwards at each edge, drawing the eye towards the rear wheels and expressing what the stylists call the "polygon" influence on the design.
Inside, it's not quite as avant garde as outside, but the cabin is usefully more spacious than before, courtesy of the way that the wheelbase has been stretched by 30mm, so as to increase rear leg room. You can really stretch out in the second row as a result. There's no option of third row seating. Up front, as usual with a RAV4, the finish is functional rather than luxurious. Unfortunately, Toyota hasn't taken the opportunity to upgrade its infotainment technology, which means that the graphics aren't particularly smart and there's no smartphone-mirroring functionality. You get a big boot out back though, 580-litres in size. There's 1,690-litres of space on offer if you fold the rear bench.
Though opinion may be divided as to whether the RAV4 invented the soft roading segment, no one doubts that, more than any other, this model defined it. In some ways, it continues to do just that, for this car still sums up most of what a model of this kind should be all about. Smart, wieldy, reasonably spacious, affordable to run and with just enough SUV-ness about it to get you to the places you tend to dream about but will probably never go.
This fifth generation version has brought notable changes - extra space and technology, lower running costs and a more dynamic drive - timely improvements, even if there are still other rivals that better it either on or off road. Few though, provide a stronger compromise between the two and none can better the unimpeachable build quality and strong residuals that have become a RAV4 trademark.Click here to find out more about our Toyota RAV4 range
These days, the Nissan Qashqai is sleeker, feels more expensive inside and offers some of the most sophisticated electronic safety technology in the mid-sized SUV Crossover sector. Improvements to the 1.5-litre dCi diesel that most customers choose have enhanced its appeal. Plus there's a revised, more powerful 1.3-litre DIG-T petrol engine and the option of DCT automatic transmission in the front-driven-only range. There's a reason why this Nissan is such a hugely popular contender in the mid-sized SUV segment.
On the face of things, not much has changed on this Qashqai in recent years in terms of its drive dynamics, though Nissan insists that under the skin, modifications to the suspension, damping and steering systems have resulted in a more refined on-the-road experience, plus refinement's better too. The range is now focused on front wheel drive, with suspension calibration performed in Europe to suit European tastes. Across the range, there's Active Trace Control which monitors the behaviour and trajectory of the car, and applies subtle braking to deliver a function similar to a Limited Slip Differential, providing the best traction and the least understeer. There's also a dual mode steering system which changes the weighting of the electrically-assisted rack when you select the Sport setting.
Engine-wise, buyers get the choice of two downsized petrol units and two turbodiesels. The petrol powerplants comprise an 1.3-litre DIG-T offering that drives through a six-speed manual box with 140hp - or is offered with manual transmission or a DCT automatic when it has 160hp. Most customers will doubtless be drawn to the 115hp 1.5-litre dCi diesel; there's also a 1.7-litre dCi unit with 150hp. Both diesels come with manual or auto transmission and the 1.7-litre powerplant can be ordered with 4WD.
The package of styling updates that Nissan introduced for Qashqai buyers in 2017 smartened this second generation design up considerably and included a completely revised front end incorporating the latest Nissan 'V-motion' grille. The headlamps were also revised with a classier version of the 'boomerang' Daytime Running Light signature. At the rear, the car's instantly recognisable 'boomerang' light motif is extended across the whole lamp, and includes a contemporary 3D lens effect to enhance the signature shape.
If you haven't tried a Qashqai since this second generation version was launched in 2014, you'll notice quite a few changes in the cabin too, where an improved layout, higher-quality materials and more advanced technology feature. The 'NissanConnect' infotainment system features a more intuitive user interface and there's a smarter D-shaped multi-function steering wheel with premium satin-chrome inserts. It features a four-way controller for the combimeter display, for easier use and less 'eyes off the road' time.
The range-topping Tekna+ grade includes supportive seats trimmed in high-quality soft nappa leather and a popular option for music fans is a BOSE seven-speaker premium sound system. Practicality is as good as ever, with reasonable space in the back and decent headroom thanks to a relatively low seat height in the back. Boot space is 430-litres and load space flexibility is enhanced by a dual-floor system designed to provide a flexible and versatile load space.
In summary, we think Nissan has judged this one perfectly. Time and again the company has been correct in predicting customer demand and having a product right there. That's not about to change.
It's worth noting that of all the Qashqai variants that are being offered to the UK public, only one engine can be mated to all-wheel drive. This is a car that no longer purports to be anything remotely off-road at all. Instead, it's a model that plugs in to what buyers want, offering lifestyle looks, cutting-edge technology and an efficient ownership proposition. Even in these hard times, Nissan realises that a new car purchase needs to come with a dose of feel-good factor - perhaps now more than ever in fact. Given that reality, this Qashqai looks set to continue to cash in.Click here to find out more about our Nissan Qashqai range
Mazda's third compact SUV is this car, the CX-30. It borrows its engineering from the Mazda3 hatch, but clothes it with the trendier SUV body styling that family buyers now increasingly want. Consider it carefully if you're not fussed about having a premium badge, like the idea of eye-catching looks and cutting-edge engineering and find yourself interested in trendy segment contenders like Toyota's C-HR and Ford's Puma.
Mazda is offering a choice of two engines to CX-30 buyers, both petrol-powered and both borrowed from the Mazda3 hatch. The base unit is a 122PS 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol powerplant (a mild hybrid). We'd suggest though, that you try and stretch to the alternative engine, the brand's more advanced Skyactiv-X Spark Controlled Compression Ignition engine, a 180PS supercharged unit which runs on petrol but uses a combination of spark ignition and compression ignition to deliver, Mazda claims, the driver appeal of a petrol unit along with the fuel efficiency and torque of a diesel.
This Skyactiv-X powerplant is able to switch from compression ignition, which best suits day-to-day driving, to a form of spark ignition, generally when the engine is started from cold or the driver demands maximum power at high revs. The 'X' engine comes paired with front wheel drive or four wheel drive and either way, there's the choice of manual or automatic transmission. Mazda isn't bothering to offer the diesel powerplant that's available on this car in other markets. The drive dynamics aren't very different from those of the Mazda3 hatch, which means that they're very good indeed. It also means that this car gets the slickest-shifting manual gearbox you can have in the compact SUV segment.
Mazda reckons that the CX-30 combining the bold stance of an SUV with the sleek profile of a coupe, styling that's supposed to be a sophisticated evolution of the brand's KODO design philosophy. Looks are certainly one reason why you might want to consider this car. The other reason you might want to consider this model would be if you liked the Mazda3 hatch but found it lacking in terms of rear seat space and luggage room. The CX-30 certainly does better than its showroom sibling in these two regards, though legroom in the back still isn't what you'd call generous. Headspace in the rear is quite good, but the D-pillar is substantial, which darkens the interior rear half of the car quite a lot.
The 430-litre boot is a big improvement on the limited trunk you get in the Mazda3, a substantial 135-litres bigger. Mind you, it's still quite a bit smaller than the space you'd get in something like a comparably-priced BMW X1. As in the Mazda3, the front-of-cabin experience is impressive, with a digital instrument cluster display and a big, clear 8.8-inch screen on top of the dash nicely angled towards the driver. And there's a lower rotary controller for it so you don't have to stab away at inexact touchscreen functionality in the kind of way that's necessary with many rival set-ups.
The CX-30 makes a reasonable case for itself in an increasingly crowded segment. It lacks a premium badge on the bonnet of course, but then it also lacks the kind of inflated prices you'd pay from premium brand contenders in this market space. Plus under the bonnet of a Skyactiv-X variant, there's arguably the cleverest petrol engine you can have in the compact SUV segment, delivering an enticing combination of very sprightly performance and diesel-like economy.
Yes, there are more practical choices in this market segment. And arguably, there are also more fashionably-styled ones. But our overall impression of the CX-30 is of a very complete and thoughtfully-positioned package. Add it to your lengthening shopping list if you're in search of a car of this kind.Click here to find out more about our Mazda CX-30 range