After all the teasers and leaks, here is the 2020 Toyota RAV4, officially launched by UMW Toyota Motor today.

For the longest time, Toyota was not represented in this sizeable and lucrative market that is the urban SUV. We have the Rush and the Fortuner – the former is a rebodied budget MPV and the Fortuner is a “Hilux SUV”. Nothing wrong with the rear-wheel-drive duo, but others offer more sophisticated options for a rather demanding Malaysian market.

Honda’s CR-V is a mainstay in the midsize SUV segment, more recently joined by the Mazda CX-5. The Nissan X-Trail had always been around, there’s Hyundai-Kia, and even Proton is in the game these days. Similarly, Honda leads the compact segment with the successful HR-V, and Mazda has the CX-3. All these SUVs are car-like and none sit on a ladder frame. Until the C-HR reached our shores in 2018, Toyota has been conspicuously absent.

Now, the Toyota RAV4 isn’t a new thing of course, having pioneered the lifestyle compact off-roader in the 90s (remember the first-generation two-door in blue with those side stickers?) and sold over 10 million units worldwide. It may be the best-selling SUV in the world, but recent generations never made it here, handing the initiative to rivals.

Better late than never they say, and here’s the fifth-generation RAV4, which first surfaced in March 2018 in the US. The 2019-2020 Japan Car of the Year sits on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), which also underpins the Corolla, Camry and C-HR in Malaysia. It’s a much larger SUV than the swoopy C-HR – in fact, it appears bigger than the CR-V and CX-5 at a glance.

Looking at the dimensions confirms it somewhat, although the size advantage over the CR-V on paper is minimal. The XA50 RAV4 is 4,600 mm long, 1,855 mm wide and 1,685 mm tall, which is 16 mm longer and 6 mm taller than the Honda. Its 2,690 mm wheelbase is 30 mm longer than our familiar benchmark. The CX-5 has a smaller footprint than the CR-V.

Perhaps what makes it look large in the metal is the design. Toyota has gone for an overtly square cut look for the RAV4, which gives it a more macho outlook than the Honda and Mazda. The boxy style is perhaps best encapsulated by the wheel arches. There’s also quite a lot of surfacing on the sides of the car; the lines are clearly defined too, not like a huge soft dent. It’s uncommon these days, an SUV with a butch look – quite refreshing, don’t you think?

Under the hood, one gets to choose from two Dynamic Force engines that turn the front wheels (2WD). Both are naturally aspirated, D-4S direct injection DOHC units with VVT-iE on the intake side and VVT-i on the exhaust side. The base 2.0L motor has 173 PS and 207 Nm of torque at 4,800 rpm, and the M20A-FKS is paired with a CVT.

There’s also a 2.5L option that gives you 207 PS and 243 Nm at 5,000 rpm. The A25A-FKS four-pot is mated to a Direct Shift eight-speed torque converter automatic, the same combo found in the current Lexus ES 250. Both the CVT and 8AT have manual mode with paddle shifters, and three selectable drive modes – Normal, Eco and Sport.

It’s very rare to see this, but both the 2.0L and 2.5L that you see here have an identical set of equipment, other than what’s under the hood, of course. UMWT did not select a basic spec for the 2.0L to get a lower starting price for the range, so it really boils down to if you want/need the extra power and 8AT in exchange for a RM20k higher sticker price and costlier road tax.

The feature set is generous. On the outside you’ll find 18-inch five-spoke wheels (for once no dual-tone, comes with 225/60 Bridgestone Alenza SUV tyres), LED headlamps and daytime running lights, LED tail lamps, auto lights and wipers and a powered rear tailgate with hands-free (kick) operation.

Open the doors and you’ll find a very different feel from the CR-V. The centre console is high, the seats can go quite low, and there’s a recurring polygonal motif (I see snowflake) around the cabin, which shows extra thought. Most of the upper half panels are soft touch, including the rear door caps, and there’s the stitching effect on the dash and doors, in addition to scattered brown accents.

Smart entry and push start, Optitron meters (the central speedo/MID is a seven-inch digital panel, flanked by analogue gauges), dual-zone climate control with rear vents, ventilated front seats, combination leather seats, eight-way powered driver’s seat with lumbar and memory (manual for front passenger), electrochromic rear view mirror and electronic parking brake with brake hold are all standard.

The head unit is a DVD seven-inch touchscreen flanked by two rows of physical buttons and knobs, hooked up to six speakers. It’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay ready, and displays the 3D panoramic view monitor. The latter does a cool 360 sweep around the car to scan for objects at a press of a button, so you won’t be rolling over anything you shouldn’t. Also on are a Qi wireless charger and locally fitted digital video recorder (dashcam, front and rear).

There’s more. The RAV4 comes with Toyota Safety Sense, which includes Pre-collision System, Lane Departure Alert (with steering assist and Lane Tracing Assist), Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Auto High Beam. TSS aside, there’s also the usual seven airbags (front, side, curtain, driver’s knee), VSC and blind spot monitor. Lastly, a tyre pressure warning system. UMWT also adds on its security and solar window film, and telematics system.

Six colours are available, and they are Red Mica, Silver Metallic, Gray Metallic, Attitude Black, the Dark Blue Mica in the gallery below and White Pearl CS, which is an extra RM800. The factory warranty is a five-year unlimited mileage package.

No, we’re not ignoring the elephant in the room, but should jumbo even be there? The RAV4’s original price was quoted as RM203,880 for the 2.0L and RM223,880 for the 2.5L, on the road excluding insurance. With the partial 2020 sales tax exemption for CBU imported cars applied, the SUV will go for RM196,436 and RM215,664 respectively for the 2.0L and 2.5L. By the way, back in 2006-2008, the official CBU RAV4 sold by UMWT was priced at RM203,400, so it has never been “cheap”.

Yes, the RAV4 obviously costs more than the Honda CR-V – which tops out at RM168,465 for the 1.5 TC-P 2WD (RM175,900 before the sales tax exemption) – and the Mazda CX-5 2.5T AWD High at RM174,852 (RM181,660 before sales tax exemption), but those two are locally assembled in Melaka and Kedah respectively, while the RAV4 is made in Japan. Even the sales tax waiver tilts in favour of the CKD cars, which get full exemption compared to 50% for CBUs.

Where a car is made might not matter to some, but there are those who put a premium on “Made in Japan”, and if that’s you, the premium might not be that hefty, and the RAV4 is well-kitted in any case. Some point out that within Toyota’s own ranks, the Harrier – also a CBU Japan import – is priced not too far away, from RM234,510. Well, that car was priced in 2017 and MYR-USD forex was kinder to us back then.

Unfortunately, car prices have crept up of late. For instance, the Camry and Accord sedans – both coming from ASEAN neighbour Thailand – are now just below RM200k. Our non-national auto market isn’t growing, and when you consider the issues CKD players have faced of late, CBU cars and prices could well be the new normal.

Head to CarBase.my for a detailed list of RAV4 specs, and to compare it with other SUVs. Price aside, what do you think of this fresh SUV entry?

GALLERY: 2020 Toyota RAV4 2.5L


GALLERY: 2020 Toyota RAV4 official images