The RAV4 has been in the Toyota family for about thirteen years, and it has staying power for a reason: adaptability. The first generation was built on the idea of giving people the small size of about a Jeep Wrangler, but with more creature comforts and better on-road handling. This was a fun machine that had dual sunroofs in the two-door model and then eventually a convertible model.
While the RAV4 was selling well, Toyota was discovering that the people who wanted a small SUV with on-road manners also wanted room to carry all their weekend warrior gear. The original RAV4 was about the size of the current Scion xB, and Toyota knew it had to grow to stay competitive. So the second generation appeared with larger engines (including an optional V6) as well as a full back seat. Now that the RAV4 is in its third generation, it gained an optional third row of seating and has closed the size gap with the Highlander. This extra size has made the RAV4 more versatile without losing the small/nimble feeling of the original.
The RAV4 has now become a good option for young professionals and small families. These people are usually looking for plenty of car at a low price, so we equipped our $24,740 test car accordingly. To stay on budget we minimized the options, and maximized value for little money.
To keep the price to a minimum we got rid of a lot of frills. This means no side rails, chrome wheels, sunroof or any other pricey options that are nice but unnecessary. What we do get for under $25K are enough standard features that it doesn’t look like we were pinching pennies.
Our RAV4 comes with a metallic paint known as “Barcelona Red” that matches well with the tinted windows. We also get body-colored bumpers and 17” five-spoke steel wheels that resemble alloys to everyone but those who stand directly next to them. Another great feature is the full-sized spare tire mounted under a body-colored wheel cover.
If not a lot of option boxes are checked on a car, one of the easiest places to see it is on the interior. This was not the case with our RAV4.
For starters, this is a Toyota, so all the plastics are always of a high-quality material. But this also wasn’t just a sea of the same plastic. The mixtures of colors and textures made us feel like we paid a little more for our RAV4.
Our tester also had some interesting standard features. The back seats can move forward and backward along their own track to maximize legroom or storage, and they recline independently as well. The rear seats can be automatically lowered via a lever near the rear hatch, which saves a trip to the side of the car to lower the seats when loading cargo. There is even a second glove box that has a sliding cover that operated with the touch of a button.
The one option we had to get on our tester, because this is TopSpeed, was the 269 hp 3.5-liter V6. This engine makes 90 more hp than the standard four-cylinder, and while that engine provides plenty of power, the V6 is a must-have. This is multi-valve DOHC engine with variable valve timing (VVTi), and what all this adds up to is an engine that’s eager to get going at just about any speed.
The steering and roadhandling is where the RAV4 has made its name. Although our tester is over eighteen inches longer than the first-generation four-door model, it still has not lost that small SUV feeling. The RAV4 is nimble and the feel of the road is not lost in an overly soft suspension – it’s confident in an urban setting, which is its intended habitat.
This is the kind of SUV for someone who’s a weekend warrior who has to carry people during the week. The RAV4 is the smallest SUV in the Toyota lineup, but that doesn’t mean it can’t fit the whole family or a whole lot of stuff. We even took the RAV4 for some off-road testing, and our front-wheel drive SUV didn’t give us one hiccup.
Our approach to the RAV4 was to create a car that would fit into tight budgets but wouldn’t look it did. We think we accomplished out task, which means Toyota did its homework.