Toyota’s remarkable RAV4 seems like it has been around for ever and if you are 24 years old or younger then it has.

The Japanese carmaker says the car’s appearance in 1994 effectively created the compact sports utility vehicle segment, which is now the most buoyant and crowded sector in the market.

Anyone looking to buy a compact SUV in the UK has about 20 different models to choose from and while the RAV4 might not be the most stylish nor most exciting to drive, it is sensible, reliable, practical and well equipped.

Those four qualities alone are enough to ensure that the evergreen RAV4 continues to carve out a slice of the SUV market but it also offers something a bit special under the bonnet.

Two years ago Toyota launched a full hybrid electric version, combining a 194 horsepower, 2.5-litre petrol engine and a powerful rear-mounted electric motor to deliver extra traction and a 1,650kg towing capability. By the middle of last year, two-thirds of all RAV4 sales in the UK were hybrids.

With prices starting at about £25,000, the RAV4 is far from the cheapest compact SUV on the market but over the years it has grown and matured from the cheekily-styled original three-door into a seriously capable family vehicle combining superb build quality and comfort with plenty of space and practicality.

The top-of-the-range model driven here comes complete with every modern convenience from keyless entry and start to a powered tailgate.

Inside are five large comfortable seats and a dashboard fitted with clear analogue dials, along with a multi-function steering wheel sporting more than a dozen buttons.

The RAV4 hybrid is not about performance or razor-sharp handling, but it does a brilliant job of focusing your mind on economy driving.

The real fun comes from trying to extract maximum mileage from the hybrid system that draws power from both the petrol engine and electric motor together, or from the electric motor alone, to give the best balance of driving performance and fuel economy.

The electric motor acts as a high-output generator during deceleration to capture energy that would usually be lost as heat and storing it as electricity in the hybrid system battery.

The system, linked to an automatic gearbox, is engineered to eliminate the need for the petrol engine as much as possible during town centre driving, with a high proportion of zero-emissions EV (electric vehicle) running.

The key to success is to perfect a smooth driving style and a very light touch on the accelerator to get the green EV icon to light up in the instrument panel as much as possible.

Alongside the advanced powertrain technology, Toyota has also upped safety with all models, apart from the entry-level Active, fitted with a raft of systems to help prevent an accident happening, or reduce its consequences.

So in comes a radar-operated pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, road sign assist and automatic high beam.

Another system constantly monitors the driver and if it thinks you have become tired it flashes up a cup of coffee on the multi-information display with a warning sound.

Road sign assist also keeps an eagle eye on speed limits and if you slip just 1mph over the limit it will turn the speed limit sign in the instrument display from white to red to warn you.

All this technology is a far cry from the cheerfully basic three-door model that sold 53,000 worldwide in its first year. By 2013, RAV4 sales were 10 times those of 1994.

Together the four generations have achieved more than six million sales, 1.5 million of these to European buyers – more than 90 per cent of which are still on the road.

In 2019, a quarter of a century after the original vehicle appeared, a taller, wider, more distinctive, sharply-styled model will be launched to keep the RAV4 success story rolling.

Auto facts

Model: Toyota RAV4 Excel 2.5 Hybrid 4x4

Price: £34,990

Insurance group: 27E (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 50.4mpg

Top speed: 112mph

Length: 460.5cm/181.3in

Width: 184.5cm/72.6in

Luggage capacity: 17.6 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 12.3 gallons/56 litres

CO2 emissions: 127g/km

Warranty: Five years/100,000 miles