You might say the RAV4 started the whole compact "crossover" phenomenon. It wasn't called a crossover then. That snappy title was still a few years ahead. Instead it arrived with a somewhat cumbersome moniker: Recreational Activity Vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Built on the Corolla platform, it provided a car-like ride but included most of the benefits of an SUV such as increased cargo space, higher seating for better all around visibility and the option of full-time four-wheel drive. That was new and different in 1996 and its early success showed the way for the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute and the Subaru Forester.
Now in its third generation, the RAV4 has enjoyed considerable success and built a loyal following thanks to Toyota's commitment to its Kaizen (continuous improvement) process. Despite the latest version being only three years old, Toyota has responded with a number of upgrades for 2009 that address current consumer concerns about fuel efficiency and also keep the RAV4 ahead of the pack.
The RAV4 is available in Base (starting at $26,500), Sport or Limited versions, powered by either the (new) upgraded 2.5-litre, 179-horsepower, four-cylinder inline engine or the current 269-horsepower, 3.5-litre V6. The four-cylinder engine replaces the previous 2.4-litre and brings an additional 13 horses with it. Better yet, fuel consumption is reduced by some 5% overall, posting a city rating of 11.1 L/100 km and 7.7 L/100 km on the highway.
Our tester was the RAV4 Sport equipped with the new 2.5-litre engine and standard 4-speed automatic (5-speed automatic for the V6). There is no manual transmission for either model. Finished in Classic Silver Metallic with the optional (black) Leather and Navigation Package, our ride also featured a number of visual upgrades.
The grille and front bumper have been widened to more closely resemble the rest of the Toyota truck line and give it a more aggressive stance, while the wheels have been upgraded to stylish alloys - 17-inches on the Base and Limited models, 18-inches on the Sport. Turn signal lights have been added to the power, heated outside mirrors and the halogen headlight clusters, fog lamp and taillights have all been redesigned.
The changes continue on the inside with the auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated screen for the backup camera and, for the first time, an optional, occasional third row seat for two (Base V6 only). Two recent customer requests have also been met with the optional Leather and Navigation Package ($4,145) that includes leather seat surfaces, heated front seats, 8-way power driver's seat, steering wheel audio controls and a voice-activated, DVD-based navigation system. The 6-inch touch screen for the navigation system is easy to use and includes a useful tilt action that allows you to change the angle of the screen to eliminate occasional glare. The revised dashboard has a high-tech look with tasteful use of brushed, gunmetal surrounds for the centre stack. I particularly liked the full-time white on black illumination for the main gauges and switchgear. Another upgrade is the addition of a driver information readout between the speedometer and tachometer that is activated by a button on the steering wheel. It lets you scroll through data such as instant and average fuel economy. The six-speaker audio system, with steering wheel controls, includes AM/FM CD with MP3/WMA player with automatic sound leveling and roof-mounted antenna. The quality of the materials and the fit and finish are exactly what you would expect from Toyota. The 60/40-split second row seats can recline and adjust fore and aft 388 mm (about 6 inches) for additional legroom and when folded flat provide 2,072 litres (73.2 cu.ft.) of cargo space. Expandable net pockets in the back of the front seats, plus another in the rear door, add an upscale look to the interior. Thanks to the RAV4's outside mounted spare, there are two deep, covered storage boxes under the rear floor. Our tester also came with a power moon roof and roof rails.
The RAV4 offers a typical AWD ride with a firm but supple suspension featuring MacPherson gas struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar up front and a trailing arm suspension at the rear with coil springs and stabilizer bar. Every model comes with Toyota's Active Torque 4-Wheel Drive. Under normal conditions, power is fed automatically to front and rear axles as needed. A Manual 4-Wheel Lock (activated by a switch on the dashboard) provides full-time AWD in more demanding conditions. You can really appreciate those extra 13 horses under the hood. Acceleration is improved over the previous model and the engine is much quieter, turning only 2,200 rpm at 100 km/h, although wind noise at highway speeds is more noticeable. The electric power steering is light and direct with strong on-centre tracking and more feedback than is usual in such systems. Stopping is competently handled by power-assisted ventilated front disc and rear solid disc brakes with ABS, EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution) and Brake Assist that recognizes emergency braking and increases pressure accordingly. In addition, standard VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) and Traction Control, ensure that slippage at each wheel is corrected automatically to help maintain directional control. While most other SUVs have gone to a rear vertical liftgate, the RAV4 continues with its signature side-opener that allows for the outside mounted spare. It's a lot easier to change a wheel when you don't have to unload cargo to find the spare! Another advantage is that when open, you can step up on the rear bumper to reach cargo on the roof.
The complete safety package includes active front head restraints, three-point seatbelts for all five positions, child seat anchorage points, dual-stage front airbags, front seat side airbags and full-length roll-sensing side curtain airbags.
"Many RAV4 owners come back a second or third time to for the latest model," says Tony Smith of Nanaimo Toyota. "Once they spend some time in the RAV4, they realize it can fulfill just about every family requirement. They love the economy, the performance and the flexibility, plus the quality and reliability that comes with every RAV4."
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
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2009 Toyota RAV4
Type: Compact 4WD SUV
Engine: 2.5 litre L4
Horsepower: 179@6,000 rpm
Torque: 172 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel economy: 9.7L/100km city, 7.2L/100 km hwy.
Base price: $30,165
Price as tested: $35,750
(includes PDI and freight)
Vehicle provided by
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