Want to know more about the design and development of the new Toyota RAV4? We spoke to the man behind the car at the recent media launch.
Here’s what he had to say about the car, how he made it better to drive, and why he still loves the Celica and MR2.
Name / job title: Hiroshi Hiroshima / Project Manager, Z Division, Product Planning Group
Age: “Young.” (Born 1961)
From / lives: Osaka / Toyota City
At Toyota since / First Toyota job: 1986 / Braking engineer for commercial cars, Hiace
Also worked on: 6th and 7th generation Celica, MR2
Daily drive: MR2
Toyota Blog: When did development of this car start?
Hiroshi Hiroshima: We started development of this car in 2008, work on the upper body began in 2009, and that’s when I started.
TB: The RAV4 is an important car for Toyota – what was the main thing you wanted to achieve with it?
HH: Most importantly, I wanted to retain the RAV4’s DNA. We surveyed more than 200 owners of the car from across the world and they said the most important things are security and safety for the driver in all conditions, and versatility.
But on top of that, we wanted to improve the exterior styling and the quality of the interior, and of course driving pleasure, which has always been a part of RAV4.
TB: How much time did you spend on ensuring the RAV4 is good to drive?
HH: We made a lot of prototypes during development and I sent what we call a driving conformity car to Europe three times to make sure the adaptability to European roads was good.
TB: How important was the European perspective on what you were doing?
HH: Development was done by Japan, but Toyota Europe played a part. I brought pre-production cars to Europe several times to make sure the car would be liked here.
TB: What’s the biggest improvement over the last model?
HH: It’s easy to see the differences to the design on the outside and inside, but we also changed the dynamic performance. The handling and driving are much improved, the car is much better-balanced, and the engine performance is also better – so we hope people will enjoy driving it more.
Dry road performance was a big focus. The original RAV4 was a pioneer for the segment because of its 4×4 system, and we had an advantage on low-friction roads, but this time the dry, ‘normal’ driving performance is much improved because we made lots of small changes.
TB: What was the main technical decision you made to make it more fun to drive?
HH: Honestly speaking, the basics of the suspension were carried over from the previous car – but we changed the details of each part almost completely. The coil spring, damper rate, stabiliser and so on.
By changing lots of small things it made the ride a lot better, as well as the roll behavior and body control.
On top of that by adding Sports mode we created driving pleasure for all conditions.
TB: What’s your favourite part of the car?
HH: Two things – the way it drives and the way it looks.
TB: What does this RAV4 say about Toyota’s future?
HH: Akio Toyoda wants to give every customer a smile. We hope it’s something people really like to see and like to drive, and there is a lot more focus on that within Toyota, absolutely.
TB: What excites you about Toyota’s future?
HH: I can only speak for the short term, but we (and not only Toyota, but other car companies, too) must improve fuel consumption because of cost and the availability and sustainability of it. But we cannot lose dynamic performance.
New technology like hydrogen fuel cells will come, but in the meantime we must keep making improvements all the time.
TB: Do you have a favourite Toyota?
HH: Well, I love RAV4 but I also developed the last Celica and the MR2. I like sporty cars, so I still love them.
Celica is like my daughter – I spent more than four years making it. It has the engine at the front, but it needed to be small – so I spent three years working on compressing the engine compartment as much as possible, it was a labour of love.
TB: How did you move from being a braking engineer to sports cars?
HH: I enjoyed rallying so I requested the move. It was a little bit more exciting.
TB: So what do you think of the GT86?
I drive my MR2 every day, and I still put the roof down a lot. The GT86 is more than 1,200kg, the MR2 is less than 1,000kg – I like cars to be as compact as possible.
I know that Mr Tada has been asked a lot about adding more power, but I like engines to have normal aspiration. The MR2 is like the GT86 because it has good handling and enough power to enjoy, but not too much.
If you want to see what the journalists who drove the RAV4 on the media launch thought of it, read our reviews round-up here.