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Old 2nd March 2016, 16:50   #1
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Default My Compact SUV Chronicles - '98 Toyota RAV4 SWB

The compact SUV is the latest rage in the country. Every manufacturer is on a rampage, releasing new models and variants , desperately fighting for their slice of the Compact SUV Pie. Those who could not launch one in time, have resorted to adding fancy claddings to normal hatches and promoting them as Urbal/Young/Kool SUV and what not.

Most of the Compact Suv's in India are just tall hatches on stilts, with only the Duster AWD offering any sort of off roading prowess, thereby justifying the SUV tag. But then again, the beauty of the compact SUV is that one needn't make it climb rocks, ford rivers or drop it from small hills. They are usually very good on road, and yet let you take the beaten path and go to places which your hatch/sedan wont let you go. With the sad state of roads in the country now, they make immense sense.

While Indians consider the Ecosport and Duster to be the pioneers in the Compact SUV Market, all of the current players owe their existence to the one that started the trend- The Toyota Rav4

While everyone knows the Pajero/ Landcruiser/Prade etc, not many outside the enthusiast circle in India know about this SUV.

What is The RAV4?

Rav4 stands for 'Recreational Activity Vehicle with 4 Wheel Drive'. The name aptly summarizes what it is. It not designed to be a tough as nails SUV (they had the lc for the that), neither was it designed to be a serious load Hauler.

The Rav4 was a Compact SUV, which was car like to drive and Handle, had a very direct steering, great ride comfort with a decent amount of off roadibility, aided by the Full time 4wd,center locking differentials, High GC and ultra short overhangs.

What originally started out as a niche product developed into a mainstream category twenty years later, with nearly every volume carmaker producing at least one compact SUV.

When Toyota launched the RAV4, it had modest expectations however, forecasting initial global demand of only 4,500 units a year. But when the carmaker received 8,000 orders in the first month alone, production volumes had to be doubled.


Previewed by the 1989 RAV-FOUR Concept, the production Toyota RAV4 was not easy to pitch by Chief Engineer Masakatsu Nonaka, who discovered that it was hard to convince other Toyota departments of the feasibility of creating a mass production car for a market segment that didn’t exist yet.

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The designers had tough time making the management understand the concept of a car platform-based model that combined the benefits of a 4x2/4-type vehicle, including higher ground clearance, increased interior height and the availability of all-wheel drive, with the handling and fuel economy of a compact model.

The project was stopped at one point, but Toyota’s European and Japanese sales divisions convinced management that it was time for this new type of car. And they were right: in its first year on the market, the RAV4 was chosen by 53,000 customers worldwide. Sales doubled in 1995 and by 1996, the total had tripled. From 1994 through 2013, more than 5 million have been sold worldwide.

Toyota says more than 90 percent of all RAV4s ever sold are still on the road today, which says a lot about the vehicle's toughness and reliability. Every review I read reported upodards of 250,000 Miles and still running with no issues. .

The 1994 Toyota Rav4 was a handsome machine, which kept most of the USP's of the concept, but traded the over funky wardrobe (thankfully) for a more executive set of clothes. It got a minor mid life facelift too, with clear lens lights.

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Thanks to the Full time 4wd, All wheel independent suspension and center diff locks, the Rav is used by a lot of people to for non extreme off road use. While the lack of a low ratio hampers serious mud plugging, the Lil rav has more than enough to keep everyone except the hardcore off-roaders happy.

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Toyota RAV4 Milestones

1994: The first generation RAV4 debuts at the Geneva Motor Show with a transverse-mounted, 2.0-liter, 127bhp petrol engine and full-time all-wheel drive. The RAV4 was available with a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic, but with no transfer box or low-range ratios. It had a unitary, monocoque construction and featured independent suspension front and rear.

1995: A five-door model is made available in the UK.

1997: Production of an electric-powered RAV4 is launched, continuing until 2000.

1998: A three-door soft-top RAV4 is offered in the UK.

Then on, The RAV4 bloated in size, and became a 5 door only SUV. While it may have become more practical, it lost the features which made it stand out , and endeared it to millions of people worldwide, and quietly sunk into being yet another boring member of the 2000's Toyota family.

While the RAV4 was never officially sold in India, a few made it into our shores thru various channels- Transfer of Residence, and Diplomat cars are the most common channels, while a few also came down as private imports.
Most of these are the 5 door Long wheelbase variants, and quite a few of them being the later gen cars. Comparatively fewer Short Wheelbase 3 doors were imported, since in India, SUV's were always considered to be more utility than fun. That makes the smaller cars more sought after.

The above mentioned facts hold true for other Jap 90's SUV's too, like the Lc Prado, Mitsubishi Pajero,etc. The same can be said about the Mahindra CL340/Classic too. When it was being sold, everyone wanted the larger 540. Now people are willing to pay crazy prices for the SWB ones.

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Old 2nd March 2016, 17:29   #2
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Coming back to the present day, well almost.

July 2015- My 2010 Figo TDCi was running well, with about 80k clicks on the odo. It had a nice remap, Ice and a lot of upgrades. But I had enough of my 80+km daily drive thru chennai traffic and really needed an automatic car for the job.
Scouted around a lot, didnt find anything appealing, and decided to go in for a Nano AMT for the time being.

Dec 2015- The Figo was lying unused for quite some time now, and parking space was at a premium. With two new additions to the garage that month, I did not have any more space to spare and hence the decision was taken to let her go to a known person who takes care of her just like I did.

Jan 2015- The Nano became my only car and while it was brilliant in the city, i had to admit its limitations. It was never designed to be driven on the highways, and after my highway usage increased, that too with luggage, i felt the need for a bigger car, which would be more comfortable on highway drives.

By then my mom started driving again, and she loved the nano. perfect excuse to go car hunting again!

Myth- "Car hunting is always fun". Well I agree. If you find that 'perfect car'. Else it can be a very frustrating experience, like i found out.


1) Had to be an Automatic- Most important point. If i wanted a manual, would have driven the figo around for a couple of more years.

2) Preferably an SUV or a Hatchback - I am partial to 2 box designs, and the flexibility they offer. I can load my bike, Labrador, and a lot of random stuff which i lug around from time to time. A sedan with non folding rear seats and narrow boot opening is a turn off for me, and while driving too, i prefer the feel a two box vehicle provides.

Given a choice, i'd take a station wagon anyday, but sadly there is nothing available south of the RS6 (Combi VRS- Been there done that)

3) If SUV 4wd /AWD - if I was going for an SUV, there seemed to be little logic in getting a Poser vehicle, which can neither handle or ride like a car, nor too good off road. Im not a hardcore offroader, but would like it to go thru estates, and a bit of fun softroading.

Overall usage pattern could be described as - 80% city (60-80km a day, which has now reduced by half) 20% Highway (Mostly Chennai-cochin, Chennai-Blr)

Armed with my requirements checklist., I started to note down the options and realized there was nothing that fit the bill, and the only options were the Scorpio AT and the Fortuner AT. Both were instantly dismissed due to size, bumpy ride, poor FE and the fact that i did not need such a tough vehicle to drive on road everyday.

I was discussing this with my friend (Nimish Antony on the forum) and he suggested to look at some offbeat choices. Since I had other cars to use in case the import was waiting for parts or any other uncertainties, I too decided it was a good idea. We considered several vehicles, Prados, LC100s(My favourite) to sporty cars like the Miata, CRX and a lot of others. I did not want something which was complex and hard to maintain, hence decided to stick with Japanese cars. And preferable Toyota, since the Toyota showrooms service imports without a fuss.

A few days after the New year began, Nimish called me up and informed about a RAV4 for sale. It was Automatic, 2 door and very sparingly used. It fit my spec perfectly and decided to pursue it. The owner sent me full detailed photos and paperwork details.

The car seemed very clean and the odo showed around 27k. Like anyone who reads this, I too doubted the same, but since it was a Toyota, I decided to go ahead with it, no matter what the Odo showed. Wired him an advance and planned to go the following week.

One week turned to two and then three. Work kept me busy and finally I decided to go in the third week of Feb.

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Old 25th April 2016, 15:53   #3
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18th Feb 2016- Took the last flight out of Chennai to goa and reached late night, and checked into my resort by midnight.

19th Morning, the owner came to meet me with the car ,and to say I had butterflies in my stomach would be an understatement. I had agreed to buy a car without even having a clue what it was like. Heck I'd never seen one close before!

But as I saw the car, all my fears went away. It was absolutely MINT, with not even a scratch on her paintjob and interiors were kept spotless. Took a test drive, and loved it. Confirmed the sale, transferred the balance amount electronically, and got him a cab back home!

Once the deal was done, got into the car and started exploring it in detail. One thing that caught my eye was the original Made in Japan TOYO OPEN COUNTRY M+S tires. Very cracked up due to age, but was good to have. That along with the almost nil wear on the steering, gearknob, and A+B pedals boosted my confidence in the Low odo reading.

Another very important factor that pushed me towards closing the deal on this car is the fact that it had all the import papers, including reciepts for the duty paid etc , and the same was endorsed in the RC book!!

I also got a new double din Pioneer HU, with focal speakers, Led lights etc all added in the package, making it a sweeter deal. More importantly, they made my return drive to Chennai much easier.

I'll post my detailed driving in a bit, but to start with , here are the first pics I took of my 'new' car!
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Old 25th April 2016, 19:58   #4
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Default My compact SUV Chronicles - '98 Toyota Rav4 SWB

20th feb 2016-

Topped up the Rav from a good bunk near where I was staying, she took in 46.5 Liters. The odo showed 27565km.

It was the IBW weekend in Goa, and a lot of my friends were in town. Drove around town a lot in the Lil Rav and got very comfortable driving it. The extremely small size combined with high GC, and very direct steering made it a joy to drive around the narrow streets of Goa. I was surprised by the amount of attention this lil thing was garnering wherever it went.

Since I was leaving town the next morning , I topped off fuel at night. The Odo read 27666km, and she took in 15.95Liters. My FE was 6.34kmpl. I was not surprised, since the car was on almost the whole day, with everyone checking it out, and generally just lazing around town.
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Old 25th April 2016, 20:56   #5
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21 Feb 2016-

Woke up at 3am, gave the Rav a nice wash, checked all fluids (the prev owner changed all fluids before handing over the car to me, and everything was fresh and topped up)

By 4am, I was at the assembly point, near a KFC, and caught up with my biker friends from Cochin. We set off, with the calm of the morning broken by the thunder of 20+ superbike exhausts. The only other car with us was the support Fortuner Automatic.

I was a bit nervous about how the lil Rav would be able to keep up with the much faster company, but I was pleasantly surprised to know that not only was she more than up to the task, but the heavy T fort couldn't keep up in the twisties.

We hit the highway in a bit, and settled into a steady cruise. The all wheel independent suspension of the Rav ensured things were smooth sailing for me, while i could see the Fortuner get very unsettled in front.

236Kms later, the bikes pulled in for a fuel stop, and I topped up the Rav too. She took in 27.2l , giving an FE of 8.51kmpl. The odo showed 27902km.

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After a brief stop, we set out again towards Bangalore, our stop for the night. It was noon by now, and I realized that it can get pretty hot inside, due to the massive glass area. The AC was more than up to the task of keeping me cool, but I feel the need for some sort of sun film to protect from the direct rays of the Sun.

331km later, I pulled in to refuel again, and this time she took in 35.81L, giving an FE of 9.24kmpl. Things seemed to be improving, and I was pretty happy.

The car also started opening up quite a bit, and was egging me to push it lil harder. Guess it was happy to get some use finally after months of low usage.

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As we neared Tumkur, our Fortuner's brake pads completely gave way. and the rotors were scored. Since it was time for a replacement anyways(1l+km) we decided to change it. What was annoying was the fact that just before the trip, the car was checked by T.A.S.S, and they did not inform any pending replacement.

We looked up the nearest service center, and it directed us to Ravindu Toyota, Tumkur. The Fortuner was almost undrivable by then , so 2 bikes, and the two SUV's decided to slowly move to Tumkur town, while the other bikes pushed to Bangalore. We reached Ravindu by 2PM sunday afternoon, and as expected it was shut.

We explained the situation to the watchman, and had made some calls to the showroom guys. Surprisingly, a service manager came, and requested us to put the car inside. Though they were initially a bit reluctant to work on the car, upon learning that we were on a long trip, they took it in and changed the rotors and brake pads on priority. They also took in the RAV, and gave it a free check up , and informed that the airfilter, plugs etc were all new.

we were out of there in about 2 hours flat. This was my first experience of Toyota Service, and it didn't take me long to realize why everyone swears by it. Ravindu Toyota- Thanks a lot!

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We pushed off to Bangalore soon after and reached by evening. I was surprised at how fresh i felt after a whole day of driving. The lil Rav held up to its first test and passed with flying colours. Cleaned her up and prepared her for the next test , Solo trip to chennai, since the others were headed to Cochin.

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Old 25th April 2016, 21:19   #6
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22Feb 2016-

Started from Bangalore by 7AM, and went straight to a good HP bunk to top up. This time she took in 30.28L, for a trip of 316km. 10.25Kmpl. While I had no intention of tracking mileage on this car, I felt it would be good to give everyone a perspective on costs involved in owning an import as a daily drive, hence have calculated everything.

Coming to the journey, I had zero worries about the mechanicals,but I was slightly nervous about this leg of the journey since I was alone in the highway, in a car with an 18yr old spare wheel and no wheel jack or tool kit!

Topped her up after 399kms, and noted a mileage of 8.52 kmpl. I was not surprised as there was a lot of traffic, delay in tolls and generally higher cruising speeds since there was no convoy.

Thankfully there were no untoward incidents and the i reached Chennai very quickly. Attaching a pic of the Rav next to a duster in my parking lot.

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By noon, took the Rav to a nearby car wash and gave her a thorough wash.

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Was happy to be home finally, and Thank God, had no trouble at all during the entire trip. This trip also boosted my faith in simple Toyota engineering and its built for life attitude.

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Old 28th April 2016, 12:55   #7
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Coming to the car itself, here are the tech specs

2.0L twin cam, 16 valve Petrol
120Bhp @ 5400Rpm
Full time 4 Wheel drive with automatic center locking differential
Hydraulic power steering
All wheel independent suspension
Fuel Tank Capacity- 56Liters
Avg mileage till date
8.0 kmpl
ODO reading at pourchase 274xx
Present odo reading - 30xxx

Driving impressions:


The lil Rav is powered by a large 2.0L motor, which puts out 120 Horses. In true Toyota fashion, the motor is built for reliability, and long life rather that outright power. But the big motor combined with the small body, ensures surprisingly nippy performance and you will never feel the Rav is lacking power.

The car starts on half crank, and settles into a smooth idle. While cabin insulation is not near new euro cars, the engine is never audible inside, and even at higher revs, you will be hard pressed to hear it.

I Haven't driven it much in the city yet, but out on the highways, it easily holds above decent speeds, and shows no discomfort at those speeds.

The engine is mated to a 4 speed torque converter transmission, and has a switchable overdrive too. Like most older automatics, this car has the P-R-N-D-2-L modes. The L is useful for very sharp inclines or while towing. In addition, it also has an O/D off button, which helps with engine braking.(while this is a trivial feature, i mentioned this, as i missed the same in the scorpio and XUV A/T, where there is no engine braking available once you let go of the throttle) The shifts on this box are very smooth and a half throttle can down a gear, kickdown is aggressive, and more often than not, you will end up isung the part thottle trick. Honestly, i prefer this old school box to the 7 speed CVT on my other car.

Driving modes-

The Rav4 has two switches on the dashboard, labelled PWR and MANU.

PWR - Raises the shift points and the engine seems more eager in this mode.
MANU- It indicates manual shifting, and basically holds on a selected gear, according to the internet. I haven't figured out how to use this one properly.

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Ride & Suspension

The Rav comes with independent suspension all around, and this has to be my favorite feature in this car. The ride is extremely comfortable, and as speeds increase, it gets better. The high profile tires also play a role in adding to it. Handling is excellent despite the high gc, and while its no sportscar, one can have a blast with this one on the twisties. The steering feels very direct and is very well weighed too.


The Rav comes with the traditional disc+drum setup, and is more than adequate. Cant complain much, considering the new gen Toyotas in India aren't much better off.

My observations about the car after 2000 km of usage


Direct Steering
Brilliant AC
Not many blind spots


Not much actually, except for the fact that I felt that the acceleration was on the slower side.While it was never designed to be a pocket rocket, i figured it had to be a lil faster off the block. Drove another one(more on that later) and found it to be faster off the line. Traced down the issue and now its being fixed. Will post updates on the same in another post.

Glass Area- The car has a lot of glass and this can get uncomfortable at noon. While the AC is effective and the cabin is cool always, one cant help the glare coming in. Will need to work out something for the same.

Center Armrest- Sorely miss one on long drives, more so since this is an automatic.

Lumbar support- The front seats are supremely comfortable, but I just wish there was more Lumbar support.

Issues to be fixed-

1) Driver's side sun visor clip is loose, and had a tendency to droop down. Hence removed it till the replacement part arrives.

2) A few small rattles to be fixed

3) Ac compressor clutch makes a noise. Will need to change that too.

4) Seat folding lever acts funny at times.

5) Audio needs to be taken out and reinstalled properly.

6) Tiny scratches on the windshield, which makes it irritating to drive at night. Will polishing help?

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Old 13th May 2016, 00:14   #8
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The first thing that you notice on entering into the Rav, is the ease of entry and exit. The vehicle is at a perfect height where you need not bend down , nor step up into it. The seats are very snug and offer excellent side and back support. Lumbar support is on the lower side though.
Ergonomics are perfect, and all controls fall into place easily. The steering offers a tilt feature, while the seats are fixed for height.

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The Dashboard is very old school (think qualis era), but the quality of plastics is superb. There are no hard plastics anywhere and after a basic clean up, they were shining. The layout is very uncluttered, with just the basic knobs and switches. The steering resembles the one on lower model Innovas, but is smaller in size. Feels good to hold.

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The long doors, and the very comfy armrest. Full length door pockets too, with a separation for the rear passenger to store their stuff, without it rolling forward. Clever!

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Entry to the rear seats is by folding the front seats. A single level makes it slide all the way forward and the backrest tips over. It gets difficult to operate at times on one seat. Will need to fix it.

Once in, the rear seats are a great place to be. The seats will fully recline, and can be joined with the front seat to make a bed. They also fold and tumble forward to make more luggage room. Do notice the storage area for the wheel-jack and tool kit. Also, the cupholders for both passengers can be seen.

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My car comes with twin sunroofs, which make it almost like a targa top. One can manually lift the sunroofs, or, completely remove them. There are two arms on the hatch door to mount the roofs once removed. They are missing now, will be ordering them.

Roof Popped open

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Press the two release locks on either side.

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The end effect!

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Old 13th May 2016, 00:37   #9
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Smallr yet significant thgings

Even the rear wiper gets an intermittent function!

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A/C vent below the steering. A very logical positioning, and the driver need not depend on the side or center vents.

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Notice the metal rod which has to be pulled down and locked against a clamp on the floor. No more rattles from the seat once they are folded.

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Cup holders for all passengers.
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Proper seat belts for all passengers.
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The 'Vintage' Spare

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These are my observations for now. I've covered some very minor points in detail, since this is a pretty uncommon vehicle here. Will keep updating the thread in the coming days with my experiences of using an import as your daily drive.

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Old 14th May 2016, 11:11   #10
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Initial Ownership Section. Thanks for sharing!

Congrats on the super cute car . One of those rides that just makes you smile!
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Old 14th May 2016, 11:58   #11
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RAV4 brings back some fond memories. We had the 2005 5-door for 6 years in Bahrain. We had purchased it used in 2009 with the ODO at 80k kms. It was sold in 2015 with the ODO at 210k kms. RAV4 actually introduced us to SUVs and mild off roading. Our RAV4 used to see no roads/ bad roads everyday as my dad is in the construction industry. No breakdowns/mechanical failures in those 6-years, there wasn't even a single rattle after all that abuse. One robust vehicle!

It was replaced by a crv of the same vintage as a short gap arrangement. In 2017 it will be either replaced by an outlander or we'll be back to the RAV4.

Congratulations on your RAV4. Looks really good

Attaching a pic of my dads RAV4- Name:  ImageUploadedByTeamBHP1463207188.254034.jpg
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Old 14th May 2016, 14:31   #12
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Default Re: My Compact SUV Chronicles - '98 Toyota RAV4 SWB

Congratulations JayD on your purchase. Hope you got the RAV4 her own toolkit and wheel-jack. Enjoy miles and miles with it.

I sometimes wonder, why Toyota with such good global portfolio is hesitant in introducing new models in India. RAV4 UK price suggests that it is now in Fortuner range. With Innova moving up the ladder, I only hope Toyota brings Vios, Avanza and Rush to India at the earliest.

Enjoyed reading your write-up. Thanks
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Old 14th May 2016, 15:13   #13
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Awesome review! Rated 5*. Hope Toyota launch this in India! Your ownership review speaks a volume yet again on the bullet proof Toyota reliability. From your review i started loving this car! I have read about Rav4 earlier too but not in such details. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Few day back we had this thread in Team bhp that speaks a volume on Toyota reliability too. http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/intern...placement.html (Man drives Toyota Tundra 1 million miles in 9 years, gets a free replacement)

From my little experience of using cars from different brands what i can say is, i was a Fiat fan after using Fiats from my childhood and learn't driving in a Fiat too. One can fall in love with a Fiat instantly. I am still a Fiat fan boy.

We have a 10 months old Figo diesel (old gen), & i fell in love with this car instantly too because of the way this little Ford connects with the driver.

Had two Maruti's earlier but could never connect with them for a longer period. No offense to Maruti owners. They were super reliable and we had some awesome memories with those cars. Nothing against them. Though i never owned any cult cars from them like the Esteem or the old gen Baleno.

But with Toyota my experience is something different. We just own a basic bare bone Etios petrol from 2011. It has bad interiors, NVH level is not comparable to modern day cars. At the very beginning it gave me a feel like another xyz car which is just for moving from point A to point B. No wonder many people reject this car from a short test drive. But 5 years down the lane i got obsessed with the car. The way it handle the terrains its not supposed to do and that too with out a single glitch. The ownership cost and the reliability definitely brings a smile to my face. Toyota is one company who gets all the very basics of the car right and you will love your Toyota more when it gets older!

With a long term ownership one is bound to fall in love with a Toyota. I see Innova owners bring there cars for servicing with more than 400,000kms with no work done to there engine and the car is running absolutely fine. I personally was a passenger in a 4lack+ kms driven Qualis in a Kashmir trip two years back and the car behaved as good as new!

But in India god knows when they will launch cars like Rav4 or Rush or Vios. Cars like Qualis, Innova, Altis, Fortuner got excellent response from Indian market. We do not need any cost cutting. An Etios with out any cost cutting even with another rs 50,000 extra would have given you double the sales! We need a complete package!

Its high time they launch the Rav4! Ecosport, S- Scross, Duster, Creta are selling like hot cakes!

Last edited by Samba : 14th May 2016 at 15:23.
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Old 14th May 2016, 16:38   #14
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Default Re: My Compact SUV Chronicles - '98 Toyota RAV4 SWB

First let me congratulate you on the fantastic write up which has covered all info on the machine. Great car to live with and it's one toyota that still out lives time. You park it with the new generation compacts and you still have people staring at this cute little RAV.
Thanks for taking a suggestion and now it's happy miles all the way. Sharing a pic of your acquisition
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Old 15th May 2016, 09:23   #15
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Default Re: My Compact SUV Chronicles - '98 Toyota RAV4 SWB

Congrats JayD!
Finally your requirement of a small, automatic SUV was perfectly matched. The car looks in immaculate condition. Waiting to have a look at it when we meet .
Since it has got only 30k kms on the odo, I'm sure it will outlast all of us. Lol.
Fantastic review too.
Wishing you many more happy miles and wishing it stays in your collection for long.
Sreehari Krishnan
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