When the RAV4 debuted for the 1996 model year, Toyota became one of the first manufacturers to offer a small car-based sport utility vehicle. The second-generation RAV4, which was wider and longer than the original and came with a more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 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 were evident on the 2004 models. The front bumper, headlights, grille, fog lamps, taillights and spare-tire cover were new, and a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder produced 161 horsepower. A tire-pressure monitor and all-disc brakes were installed, and the suspension and steering were retuned.
For 2005, Toyota's Star Safety System includes Vehicle Stability Control, traction control, and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. The optional Sport Package has been enhanced with an exclusive metal-mesh grille, silver sport pedals and newly available fog lamps. A redesigned RAV4 is likely to appear before long.
In its current form, the RAV4's styling is somewhat chiseled, with sharp creases instead of curved lines. The SUV's overall length is 166.6 inches, which is more than 8 inches shorter than the Ford Escape's body. Toyota's smallest SUV rides a 98-inch wheelbase, measures approximately 68.3 inches wide and stands nearly 66 inches tall. The tailgate swings open to the right. The tires measure 16 inches in diameter.
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 down. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker cassette/CD sound system, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors and a spare-tire cover. Leather upholstery and a power moonroof are optional.
Under the Hood
Toyota's 2.4-liter four-cylinder develops 161 hp and 165 pounds-feet of torque and teams with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. Toyota says the engine's Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) system helps boost torque at lower speeds. The RAV4 is available with either front- or all-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes are standard. Side curtain-type airbags and seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional.
The RAV4 is easy to drive and maneuver, and it steers with a particularly light touch. Ride comfort isn't bad, but you can expect the usual short-wheelbase choppiness. This generation of the RAV4 feels light on its feet and exhibits less of a tinny sensation than the original model delivered.
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.