Auto Review: Raves for the RAV4

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Fri., Mar. 18, 2011
- Contributed Photo

It’s wild to think about these days, but there was a time here in the U.S. when Toyota only sold a modest line of small cars. Now they have not only become one of the most successful automobile manufacturers in the world, they also offer a line of vehicles that is as comprehensive as anybody out there.

Case in point: their line of Sport Utility Vehicles. In descending order of size, we have the Sequoia, Land Cruiser, 4Runner, Highlander (and Highlander Hybrid) and this week’s auto, the RAV4. I could say this very popular vehicle is the smallest in this group (it is), but it’s hard in my mind to really call it a compact anymore, except in terms of its good fuel economy. Otherwise, it’s a very roomy vehicle, and can even be had with three rows of seats (although that third row is best suited for kids).

We snagged a very desirable RAV4 to sample, in that it was the 4WD Sport model, equipped with the V6 engine. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Inline Four that’s also offered, for it is a spunky, efficient mill that doles out 179 horsepower. It comes standard with a four-speed automatic transmission, and like the V6, it’s available with either front-wheel or four-wheel drive. The V6 in our tester is mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox and puts out a rousing 269 horsepower that rocketed us to 60 mph in 6 seconds.

The 4WD system uses an electronically-controlled coupling to distribute torque between the front and rear wheels, depending on road conditions and driver input. There’s a locking switch to give you maximum traction under severe low-traction situations, and good ground clearance helped the vehicle do very well in some of our nastier winter weather.

The Sport model has a sport-tuned suspension, and combined with the electronic power steering (that adds boost only when needed), this very quick RAV was a really entertaining machine to hustle around on challenging pavement. Standard traction and stability controls help keep you out of trouble, and the ABS brakes proved very impressive even in low-traction situations.

Inside, the driver sits up high in true SUV fashion and controls are logically arrayed and have a quality feel. The rear seat area is satisfyingly roomy and in addition to the 60/40 seatbacks (that fold forward to increase cargo capacity), the seats both recline and slide fore and aft to maximize comfort. We had run-flat tires in lieu of a spare tire (part of the Appearance Package), and I’d recommend the standard full-size spare instead, if you do any driving away from pavement.

The RAV4 Sport is a seriously practical vehicle for these parts, as its all-weather capability and generous, versatile interior make it a great all-rounder. The fact that it’s a ball to drive doesn’t hurt things, either.

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 Sport 4X4 V6 is EPA-rated 19 MPG city/26 highway and has a base price of $27,055. With options, our MSRP came to $29,699.

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