Toyota RAV4 20th Anniversary Tour

The Toyota RAV4 heralded a new era for 4x4s when it was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1994…

Launched as compact three-door model, this first urban SUV was very different to the traditional small 4x4s available at the time – and it wasted no time winning fans.

Initially, Toyota had expected to sell around 4,500 RAV4s a month. But when 8,000 orders were received in the first few weeks after its big reveal, Toyota knew it had a winning formula and doubled production volume.

History of the Toyota RAV4

Since those early days, more than 5.2 million RAV4s have found homes worldwide – a staggering 1.3 million of those here in Europe. And you won’t have to look to hard to find the evidence of their toughness. More than 90% of those early cars are still on the road.

So, 20 years down the road from launch, we are in Greece to celebrate the RAV4’s birthday with a three-day tour to show off the talents of the latest generation model.

The drive promises to be exciting but tough – with a mix of on- and off-road driving, from the clogged streets of Athens, over high mountain passes and on to some of the roughest rally stages on the international calendar.

Here’s how the action unfolded:

Day 1
After a short drive south from Athens airport we get stuck into to what will be the theme for the next few days – in a convoy of latest generation RAV4s we turn off the main highway onto a gravel road and into the heart of Greece’s stunning countryside.

The 12 mile drive on gravel roads proves no trouble for the RAV4 and although we’re on dusty, rocky roads, and the temperature is climbing towards 30 degrees C, we reach our destination without breaking sweat.

And the destination is a corker – The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. The building sits almost alone, atop a rocky cliff that plunges 65m down to the sea. Built 2500 years ago it’s a spectacular location.

We then take the coastal road highway back up to Athens. It’s a bizarre feeling to be negotiating twisting gravel routes and then Athenian rush-hour traffic in the space of a couple of hours but the RAV4 feels every inch as at home on the loose stuff as it does in heavy traffic.

The Electronic Power Steering is improved in this latest model and proves just as good at helping the car switch lanes as it is at dodging boulders.

Day 2
It’s an early start , but you need to be quick to escape Athens before the morning traffic turns really nasty.

This morning’s route is a real treat as we’re heading west to the Peloponnese Peninsula. After about 60 miles of highway driving we head off-road into the mountainous interior, driving through fragrant olive groves, up steep, mountain passes, vineyards and most exciting of all and 12 mile stretch of gravel that goes from the Peloponnesian village of Klenia to the ruins of Mycenae, one of the major centres of Greek civilisation 4000 years ago.

This is a stage on the Acropolis Rally, one of the toughest events on the international calendar. It has reputation of being a car breaker, as the football-sized boulders that litter the roads are just as likely to rip a wheel off as cause a puncture. It’s hot, it’s dusty and in the RAV4 it’s great, great fun. The stage starts off twisting through an olive grove before blasting up the mountain, through a series of switchbacks. The end of the stage passes the citadel of Mycenae, with its famous Lion Gate. History, culture and rally fever on 12 miles of dirt roads. Awesome!

We move onto a wine growing region but the roads are still as rough. Out of the rally stage we rarely get the RAV4 above 2nd gear, but the scenery in this part of Greece is stunning and it’s certainly no chore picking our way through the landscape slowly.

Our destination at the end of day 2 is the village of Trikala. It’s 1000m above sea level but the route we are taking actually means we descend down into the village. Before that, however, we have the second of the day’s WRC stage to tackle – a fast, undulating blast through pine forests.

This is amazing fun. To think, many RAV4s are routinely used to take the kids to school or carry the weekly shop, yet here we are, tearing along a rally stage. This is in a standard RAV4; they haven’t been modified in any way in order to handle this rough treatment. The intelligent four-wheel drive delivers grip to the all four wheels when the system detects it is required. You can’t feel it – it just happens.

I’ve been a massive rally fan years – Carlos Sainz won in Greece in a Toyota while on his way to the World Rally Championship title – so this has been an amazing experience.

Generations of RAV4

Our stop for the night features all four generations of RAV4. Seeing them side by side, it’s a little like the evolution of man image where each generation is bigger and has a stronger, more purposeful stance than the predecessor.

The original RAV4 was a three-door, petrol powered SUV alternative to a hot hatch, but with each generation, the car has grown and evolved to match changing needs of customers. So we now have the latest generation that is ideal for families wanting a stylish yet fashionable alternative to MPVs or estate cars. The day on these Greek WRC stages proves the latest RAV4 has lost none of the fun factor that inspired those first customers 20 years ago.

Day 3
For our final morning once more we’re traversing mountain tracks. Switch off the engine and the only sound you can hear this high up is the clinking of the goats’ bells. It’s a stunning place. Given the silence and solitude, you can understand why Greek monks built monasteries hewn into the cliff walls here (if not quite understand how). The route takes us down to the coast and then back to Athens.

It’s been an amazing tour, through stunning scenery, past ancient monuments in a comfortable, reliable and capable car. And an economical too – I’ve covered more than 350 miles on a single tank of diesel.

My RAV4 has stood up well to the test and given the history of the car so far. You’d need to be a brave (or foolish!) person to bet against the fact that it will still going strong in another 20 years…

By Iain Reid


  1. It’s a great car I have had four so far why could they not provide the latist model with a spare space saving wheel so anoing to spoil a good car

    1. Hello Alan
      Thanks for your post and good to hear your comments about the RAV4 and that you have owned four.
      Just wanted to let you know that all RAV4’s produced from the beginning of this year have space saver wheels fitted as standard. Models prior to this time would have the tyre repair kit. Hope this helps clarify and let us know if you decide to get a fifth!

  2. The telegraph reported recently that the RAV4 was not fun to drive. What rubbish I love driving our RAV 4, a beautiful car to drive, both in our Devon lanes and on the motorway. Lots. of space and excellent visibility.

    The only reservation is the lack of a spare wheel!

    1. Thanks for your post Fred and great to hear your comments about the RAV4.
      Point taken about the spare wheel which was why all models produced from the beginning of this year have space saver wheels fitted as standard in all grades. For those owners who would prefer a spare wheel, our accessories team have introduced a full size spare which can be purchased through your local Toyota dealer. We should mention though that the wheel is secured in the boot area so this may not suit all needs.
      Hope this helps and let us know if you have any other questions.

  3. Took delivery of an Icon AWD in June and all I can say is WOW ! Very refined,plenty of power (2.2 Diesel) and feels extremely sure footed around the bends.
    Capable tourer I`m sure and will be putting it to the test soon as I travel from my residence in Malta through Italy and France and finally over to the U.K.Hopefully get that 350 miles the tester boasted about from a tank of fuel.Will certainly know the car better afterwards.
    Great article,keep them coming.

    1. Hello Martin
      Thanks for your post.
      We really appreciate your feedback regarding ownership and what a trip you will have down to Malta! Keep us posted and feel free to post some pics on our Facebook page to let us know how you are getting on.

  4. why go to greece when uk has the roads on and off where rav 4 is used i like my rav 4 just whish i could afford a new one ,which will last me till i stop driving.

    1. Hello Ron
      Thanks for your post.
      It just so happened the venue for this event was Greece however you are right, plenty of UK roads suitable for the RAV4.

  5. I have owned RAV 4’s since my first “N” reg model.
    It did 192K miles before I sold it on…
    My present one is a “51” reg 2.0 litre VX, it has done 201K miles and is due to be changed next year, hopefully for a new RAV 4 Invincible as a treat for my 60th birthday!
    Both models were/are 100% reliable and have never let me down…
    What more can I say….. Its the best….


  6. David some of the RAVs delivered last year did have space savers fitted but only if you insisted on one before signing the contract

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