(Pocket-lint) - The original Rav4 was released to market over 25 years ago, in 1994, during the heyday of Britpop winning the charts and Friends dominating TV. Times have changed a lot, as has the Rav4, now in its fifth-generation guise, which is a whole lot more sensible and serious than such cultural hits.

In a world where the most popular cars are now SUVs or crossovers, the Rav4, given its established position, stands in good stead. But as the competition hots up - there's the Nissan Qashqai, Honda CR-V, Volkswagen Tiguan, Skoda Karoq, to name but a handful - it's also in busying company and had somewhat faded into the background.

Does the Rav4's hybrid format, which nods to environmental progress, and more futuristic looks give it that modern edge, or does it still have more than one foot in the past? We've been living with one for a couple of weeks to feel it out.

Design & Interior

There's no escaping the Rav4's bold styling. Its front section looks like it belongs to a truck that you'd find hurtling down American highways, its LED lights cutting through to give it some personality. We're sitting on the fence here: some will love it, others not so much.

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In terms of proportion, this is a big vehicle, slightly larger than the outgoing fourth-gen model, which makes it an ideal option for families. The rear seats in the Rav4 offer stacks of room - easily enough for three adults - without cutting into the (580l) boot space. There's even charging points back there to keep phones, iPads and such like charged up.

That rear space can't be setup to accommodate more passengers though: the Rav4 is a five-seater only, there's no seven-seat option. Not a big deal for the many, but that'll write-off this as an option if that's a must on your shopping list.

It's in the driver's seat where the Rav4 feels impressive in its fifth-gen guise. This car has jumped well ahead of its predecessor in terms of tangibility and refinement. Although we've got the top-end Dynamic model, which adds things like heated seats and power adjustment, even the entry Icon model comes with much of the same finish.

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There are nice little touches like stitching to the fabric. And while the Rav4 falls short of hyper luxury, it's a comfortable place to be. Sat behind the wheel everything is roomy and well spaced, with tactile touchpoints and generally good visibility (although the A pillar is rather arching, which can get in the way).

Tech

When you buy a new car, you expect the latest and greatest tech to come in tow. Toyota rides a bit of a halfway line in this regard.

Sure, there's a 8-inch infotainment main touch-control display front and centre, but it's raised rather high and could be more discreetly integrated. This currently lacks the ability to work with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, too, which feels at odds with what a current car should have on its spec sheet.

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Especially as the tech setup here isn't the best going. The navigation, for example, lacks the immediacy of using something like Waze or even Google Maps, in part because our review model didn't offer live traffic updates. Still, the satnav here is far more usable than what you'll find in the brand's luxury car department, over at Lexus.

Other tech treats include a bunch of safety and assists. There's a rear parking camera, which is especially useful in an SUV such as this, along with lane departure warning and steering assist.

Comforts include heated seats and dual climate control (on this Dynamic model, anyway), which feel only fair at the price.

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That's the thing about the Rav4: you can't buy one for under £30k, so it's far from entry-level, yet it doesn't offer quite the highest level of in-car tech. And with some brands, such as Audi, pushing for an altogether more tech-forward approach, with touch panels and screens handling more or less everything, it's an area where Toyota could improve - or perhaps just offer more options, in order to compete.

Driving

Part of that price tag comes down to the fact that the Rav4 is only available in hybrid format. There's no diesel, only petrol-electric hybrid, meaning you top-up with fuel and the battery - which regenerates during driving - aids consumption.

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The Rav4 is always engaging its electric drive when possible, assuming you don't dump your foot to the floor looking for extra power from that 2.5l engine. There's enough pep when you do, but the chance of all-electric drive from a vehicle such as this is thrown out of the door.

There is a dedicated EV mode, though, which can offer a couple of miles of range when the battery holds some charge. With our driving style, however, that wasn't especially common: the electric-only mode would often last for just a short period, because regeneration through auto-braking hadn't been sufficient enough during drive time.

Really the hybrid format is to keep efficiency up and, to some degree, markets the car as a leaner, greener vehicle. It's nowhere near the extent of all-electric, but it's a step in the right direction. And with around 45mpg achievable, it's not going to be as expensive to run as some of its competition - which is a win and part of the reason to pay more up front.

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Like its other hybrids, such as the Prius, however, the Rav4 uses a CVT transmission. This isn't quite as engaging as some driving, but far from it feeling like a hamster doing overtime in a wheel - the older Prius used to be guilty of that - the fifth-gen car has enough smoothness and engagement. The revs hit high and it's rather whirry and noisy when you need to ask a lot of it, though.

Drive casually like any normal road user and expect cushy comfort and enough resistance to those lumps and bumps, even when driving on 18-inch alloy wheels (17in for the not-Dynamic, lower trim models).

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We had the Rav4 cart us through torrential rain, muddy puddles and paths, and down hundreds of miles of motorway, and it always felt assured throughout. Which is precisely what you want from an SUV and family car. Would we call it refined? Not in a luxury sense, but it's still a comfortable place to be.

Verdict

The Rav4 gets lots right when it comes to interior space, simplicity and comfort. But the price tag, some tech limitations, and strength of the competition - the Skoda Karoq and Nissan Qashqai are hard to ignore - hold it back just a touch.

That said, the Rav4 also sells itself strong on its hybrid-only option, while all models come with a healthy smattering of tech and safety features, which mean whichever trim you pick you'll be getting a large and capable SUV.

How many 90s acts are still around going strong? To stay relevant you have to reinvent, to stand strong against the newcomers. The Rav4 has done that with bold new styling and an all-round refined approach to the everyday.

Writing by Mike Lowe.