When Toyota’s RAV4 first burst on to the motoring scene in the mid-1990s it was a compact, cheeky chappie determined to cause a stir.

Twenty-five years and five generations later it has piled on the pounds and is an altogether more heavyweight, serious contender.

A brief glance at some of the latest model’s statistics underlines the changes the years have brought – 2.5-litre, 219 horsepower hybrid power, all-wheel-drive and an impressive collection of safety systems.

And all this in a high-riding vehicle that swallows five adults and a mass of luggage with ease.

The RAV4 has always possessed a go-anywhere spirit but the latest model, with its higher ground clearance and lower roof and bonnet lines, not only looks the part but has the technology to achieve it too.

The electronic all-wheel-drive system has been re-engineered to provide much stronger performance in challenging conditions and secure handling on slippery surfaces. By automatically switching torque between the four wheels, the system improves handling, stability and off-road performance.

Depending on whether normal, sport or eco drive mode is selected, another system also automatically adjusts steering assist, brake and throttle control, shift pattern and drive torque distribution.

If the going gets tough, you can push a button on the centre console to select trail mode, ensuring the best possible grip and control on low-grip surfaces. It can also provide valuable assistance when tackling challenging off-road conditions.

But like most SUVs, the RAV4 will spend most of its time on the road and there it is a refined delight.

It might lack the snappy hatchback handling of the three-door original, but it comes into its own as a relaxed, polished and surprisingly economical long-distance cruiser.

A greater range of steering wheel adjustment together with plenty of seat movement means you can quickly get comfortable behind the wheel. The leather-trimmed cabin is decked out in quality materials with new switchgear, crystal clear digital instrumentation and an eight-inch central touchscreen display dominating the console.

Both driver and passengers have access to loads of storage spaces and rear seat passengers are treated to more spacious rear footwells. The rear doors now open wider to make it easier to get into and out of the vehicle and to access child seats.

The whopping load space has also been made larger and has a slightly longer, fully flat floor and 60:40 split rear seats open a van-like space, which can hold a 29-inch mountain bike without any wheels having to be removed.

The top-of-the-range Excel trim model driven here also came with a power-operated, hands-free tailgate.

Standard equipment across the range is high with all models fitted with the likes of rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, push-button start and an electronic parking brake.

Also standard is Toyota’s ‘safety sense’ technology that uses a variety of active safety systems, operating via a camera and radar, to help to avoid crashes or lessen the effects of a collision by warning the driver and, if necessary, triggering automatic braking or steering.

The new intelligent adaptive cruise control is also able to work in conjunction with the car’s road sign assist system, so that when the car is travelling at a constant, pre-set speed, it can recognise new speed limits on major roads and let you adjust the speed to keep within the limit, simply by using switches on the steering wheel.

The 2019 RAV4 might be a much more sober vehicle than the original, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Auto facts

Model: Toyota RAV4 Excel AWD

Price: £36,155 as tested

Insurance group: 30A

Fuel consumption (combined): 48.7mpg

Top speed: 112mph

Length: 460cm/180.6in

Width: 185.5cm/72.8in

Luggage capacity: 580 litres/20.4 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 12.1 gallons/55 litres

CO2 emissions: 103g/km

Warranty: Five years/ 100,000 miles