Toyota Canada will sell about 60,000 RAV4 compact crossovers this year, and Canadians would buy another 20,000 or so if the big Japanese automaker could push more of these rigs down the line. Chip shortage. You might have heard about it. It’s crimping supply.

The perfectly sensible cockpit. SE Hybrid pictured.

The RAV hits home with Canadians because it’s the quintessential Canadian car: reliable, functional, safe, nice but not too flashy, and (relatively) affordable.

I say “relatively” because Toyota has a $29,000 version. It’s a front-drive station wagon with a tall stance, a decent four-cylinder engine (203 horsepower/184 pound-feet torque), Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, air conditioning, Bluetooth, USB ports and a slew of safety features. Honestly, it’s all the car most anyone could ever need. If you take Toyota’s finance offer (4.99%), you’ll own it in seven years at $407.63/month.

But we don’t want what we need, we want what we want. And by God, Toyota wants you to have whatever you want in a RAV. For the mainstream buyer, that means a RAV along the lines of the XLE AWD version I just tested ($39,060.70 all in, with fees but not including taxes).

This is the kind of RAV I’d like my 21st century sweatshop Uber driver to own: comfortable and easily accessible rear seating, big cargo area for luggage, dual zone climate control for my comfort and radar cruise control – along with a big bag of other safety features — so that an exploited Uber driver with absolutely no specialized driver/customer service training keeps me as protected as possible.

From the back seat, the ride quality is very nicely done, thanks to a tight unibody structure and decent suspension tuning. No swaying through corners, and bumps are well absorbed. I’d add that from behind the wheel, the entire experience of driving this RAV4 boils down to one word: unremarkable.

Seat comfort and storage for odds and ends: so-so. SE Hybrid pictured.

That’s a compliment, by the way. Everything here is so seamless, so unaffected. It’s comforting, not exhilarating to drive this wagon. As such an experience in a compact crossover should be, I’d add.  Painless.

(Note: Toyota offers a whack of different gasoline-electric hybrid RAV4s, too, topping out at $44,490 for the Limited AWD version. The plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime is almost $60,000 with the Technology Package ($5,400), though the blow in British Columbia is softened by a $6,500 “green car” rebate. The hybrid RAV is, arguably, the line’s performance model with combined fuel economy of 6.0 litres/100 km.)

From the inside out, the RAV is a terrifically well-conceived vehicle. The driving position is just right for outward visibility, support and for access to the controls in the centre stack and through the touchscreen. There are redundant controls for everyday items like the climate system. The steering wheel controls for such things as audio levels are impeccably designed. Basic actions like Bluetoothing your phone are intuitive and quick to accomplish.

Design: A collection of elements looking for an overall concept.

I would like a bit more storage for bigger smartphones and tablets and the like and the one-size cupholders are problematic for Grande coffees. Seat padding and the overall ergonomics are acceptable, but unless you spend some very big bucks on a fancy Lexus, Toyota’s pews in many affordable models are not exactly Volvo-like. And the exterior design is, well, a collection of pieces and flourishes looking for an overall design concept – all edges and corners and chunks and God knows what.

Toyota, I think, is unfairly overlooked as an innovative automaker. And I’m not talking about The-Machine-that-Changed-the-World lean production system that reinvented modern car manufacturing, though it might soon be surpassed by Tesla’s production innovations.

No, I would argue that Toyota’s genius is found in refinement – taking a common enough concept and grinding and drilling down to the point of unsurpassed excellence. It’s easy to forget that the RAV4 was a kind of quirky novelty when it arrived a quarter century ago in 1996, along with Honda’s CR-V. Since then, every other automaker has copied the RAV4, but none has surpassed the total package that is the RAV4 – durable, efficient, safe, comfortable, comforting and practical.

These are all the good reasons why Toyota could easily sell 80,000 RAVs a year in Canada.

2021 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD

As tested: $39,060.70

What is it? Officially, a compact SUV (sport-utility vehicle), but “compact” is far from the reality. This is a five-adults tall rig with loads of cargo space, and very well conceived instruments and controls. Toyota offers all different flavors, including hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. Safe as can be, too.

How much? Starts at around $29,000 and tops out at nearly $60,000 minus rebates for the plug-in hybrid.

What’s good? The execution. The RAV4 is refined, a thoughtful execution of the crossover concept.

What’s not so good? The exterior design. What a hodgepodge of this and that, all in search of an overall design concept. The seats are fine, but could be better. And storage places for odds and ends like smartphones and tablets is in short supply.





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