With the RAV4s introduction in the 1997 model year, Toyota became one of the first manufacturers to offer a small, car-based sport utility vehicle. A second-generation RAV4, which was wider and longer than the original and came with a more powerful 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, debuted for the 2001 model year. According to Automotive News, sales skyrocketed during 2001 up a whopping 60.6 percent to 86,368 units.
The original RAV4 came as a two-door convertible and four-door hardtop. Since the 2001 face-lift, only the enclosed four-door has been available. Key rivals include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda Tribute and Subaru Forester. Toyota has not yet released details on changes for the 2003 model year.
The RAV4 is slightly wider, taller and longer in its current form than the original. Its styling is more chiseled these days, with sharp creases instead of curved lines. The front and rear overhangs are shorter than they used to be. The RAV4s overall length is 166.2 inches long, which is nearly 7 inches shorter than the Escapes body. Toyotas compact SUV rides a 98-inch wheelbase, measures 68.3 inches wide and stands approximately 65 inches tall. The tailgate swings open to the right.
The RAV4 seats five occupants in an interior designed with a 50/50-split, folding rear seat. Cargo volume measures 29 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 68 cubic feet with the backseat folded. Options offered either individually or in groups include air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, fog lights, power windows and door locks, heated power mirrors and a hard spare-tire cover. Leather upholstery and a power moonroof are also available.
Under the Hood
Toyotas 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine develops 148 hp and teams with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The RAV4 is available with either front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes and daytime running lights are optional.
The RAV4 steers with a particularly light touch and is easy to drive and maneuver. Ride comfort isnt bad, but you can expect the usual short-wheelbase choppiness. This version of the RAV4 feels light on its feet, with less of a tinny sensation than the original model delivered.
The automatic-transmission RAV4 is frisky when it accelerates from a standstill and at low speeds, but its not quite so brisk at higher velocities when extra strength is needed for passing. Slight transmission hesitation at lower speeds is also noticeable. The seats have short bottoms but reasonably good support. The driver enjoys a high view of the road ahead, which is pleasing in a vehicle of this size.