But with global sales of the original RAV hitting 750,000, some 37,000 of them in the UK, Toyota's hopes are justifiably high.And while it remains very much a left-of-centre style vehicle in fleet, the corporate market is being given a role to play in Toyota's ambitious aims.
Fleet sales currently account for 16.9% of total sales in the segment for Toyota, with a bias towards the five-door models. Lower CO2 emissions and improved mpg rates will boost RAV4's standing. Emissions for the existing 2.0-litre RAV4 are 223g/km, but the new 1.8 model produces just 175 while the improved 2.0-litre puts out 211. It's easier on the gas as well with 38.3mpg and 32.1mpg against the old 2.0's 30.1mpg.
The new RAV4 will come in four specification levels (NV, NRG, GX, VX) priced from £13,995 for the base level three-door manual - £1,000 below the entry level of the old RAV4 despite the addition of air conditioning and ABS with electronic brake-force distribution - to £21,495 for the five-door 2.0-litre 4WD auto. The new car will come in three-door and five-door variants, with a choice of manual or automatic transmission in the larger vehicle. The RAV4 will also come in two and four-wheel drive.
The 1.8-litre engine - a retuned version of that in the Celica and MR2 - will be offered only in the three-door body with a five-speed manual box and next May, the RAV4 will be offered with the 110bhp 2.0-litre common rail diesel engine.
Internally, the new RAV4 has a new instrument display, featuring speedometer, tachometer and fuel and temperature gauges, all on a white background. In seating configurations, Toyota blurs the lines between the SUV and MPV. In three and five-door models the rear seats split 50:50, recline slightly and fold forward.
Safety features include passenger and driver SRS airbags, pre-tensioned front seatbelts with force limiters and head impact protection structure and maximum protection in a unitary construction with crushable areas to absorb impact energy.
Initial impressions are extremely favourable. The car has been given a huge style boost, enabling it easily to cope with the Honda HR-V and trounce the more conventional CR-V and Land Rover Freelander in the looks department. The biggest buzz comes from the interior, where the quality of materials used in the soft trim and instrument panels is at the same time visually appealing and smooth to touch. There's bags of room of every kind, from leg and elbows to head, both in front and rear. Rearranging the rear seats really is a doddle and you need no strength - or brains - at all to lift, fold and remove.
Toyota is continuing its practice of reducing service and crash repair parts prices for new models to improve running costs with the RAV4, which should spell highly competitive contract hire rates. Figures show that in a list of 22 parts from bonnet to radiator and front brake pads to spark plugs, prices for the new RAV4 are 23.65% less than the Honda CR-V, 16.7% less than the Land Rover Freelander and 52.4% less than the Nissan Terrano II. Over a three-year/60,000 mile period, Toyota is predicting maintenance costs to be under £1,500 - or 2.4 pence per mile.
Sales targets for the new RAV4 are 2,600 units this year and 8,000 in 2001. Nick Wilson, Toyota (GB) product manager, denied this was over-ambitious considering the competition. 'At the peak of its popularity in 1996 we sold 7,548 units of the first RAV4. Now while we are up against the prestige of the Land Rover Freelander and the price competitiveness of the Honda HR-V and CR-V, feedback from dealers is that the car has regained the attributes it had in 1994. It's classy, well-priced and well-specced.'