When the RAV4 debuted 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, arrived for 2001. The original RAV4 was offered as a two-door convertible and a 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.
Considerable changes are evident on the 2004 models. The front bumper, headlights, grille, fog lamps, taillights and spare-tire cover are new. A new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 161 hp. A tire-pressure monitor is installed, the suspension and steering have been retuned, and all-disc brakes are now used. The RAV4 may be equipped with Vehicle Stability Control and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.
Side curtain-type and torso airbags are optional on 2004 models, and multistage front airbags are standard. A HomeLink universal garage-door opener is optional, and power mirrors are installed. The RAV4 also gets a fresh instrument panel.
The RAV4s styling is somewhat chiseled these days, with sharp creases instead of curved lines. The RAV4s overall length is 166.2 inches, which is nearly 7 inches shorter than the Ford Escapes body. Toyotas compact SUV rides a 98-inch wheelbase, measures approximately 68.3 inches wide and stands nearly 65 inches tall. The tailgate swings open to the right.
The RAV4 seats five people in an interior designed with a 50/50-split, folding rear seat. Cargo volume measures 29.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 68.3 cubic feet with the backseat folded. Options offered either individually or in groups include air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker sound system with cassette and CD players, fog lights, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors and a hard spare-tire cover. Leather upholstery and a power moonroof are also available.
Under the Hood
Toyotas new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine develops 161 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 all-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes, daytime running lights, and side curtain-type and torso airbags are optional.
The RAV4 is easy to drive and maneuver, and it steers with a particularly light touch. 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. With the previous 2.0-liter engine, the automatic-transmission RAV4 was frisky when it accelerated from a standstill and at low speeds, but it wasnt quite as brisk at higher velocities when extra strength is needed for passing. Slight transmission hesitation at lower speeds has also been 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.