The 2008 Toyota RAV4 bugged me. It bugged me in the same way that the perfect-looking mom from my kids' school bothers me. You might know her - she never leaves the house without her makeup on and her hair dried and styled.
The RAV4 is definitely a pretty little thing. Its soft curves and graceful lines create an impression of function made fun; there are no hard edges or sharp corners, nothing to offend. It's kind of into its own looks, though. For example, the spare tire mounted on the rear door must be cosmetic, like an old-fashioned bustle. That tire is the reason why the rear door opens to the side instead of upward, like other SUVs. I'm not sure how I feel about the rear door. It's nice and easy for the driver to access, but if you're coming from the other side of the SUV, it's kind of a pain. When I was unloading groceries from the rear, the door was just one more thing to navigate around. What we suffer for beauty, I guess.
But cute isn't enough for me, or I wouldn't keep throwing out all the stuffed animals that constantly invade my home. I need serious function. I need a car than makes my life easier, not one that provides puzzles. One of those puzzles is the backseat. The RAV4 isn't tiny, so having a backseat that doesn't fit three booster seats doesn't make much sense.
Even worse, the backseat's center seat belt location is really mind-boggling. It starts behind the backseat in the ceiling. (Yeah, I know: huh?) Then it weaves its way around the seat, across the seatback and over to the receptor. The rear passenger on the driver's side is actually sitting against the center seat belt. There's a hook to align it correctly, but I would have preferred a diagram and instructions. Or, even better, a completely different seat belt design.
The RAV4 gets me off my game, much like that perfect mom. But I'm not just talking about seat belt design. Although there's a V-6 model, my test car was a four-cylinder that, unlike that mom, wasn't exactly perky. When driving up hills, it lagged to the point of embarrassment. The drive was smooth, however, so I can't complain about that. With Toyota's usual attention to ride quality, the RAV4 is quiet and carlike with none of that bouncy SUV feeling. Even on twisty roads, the RAV4 is confident, comfortable, pleasant and, well, yawn, which is probably a good thing, but not much fun.
Most of the things in this little SUV are comfortable and easy. The front seats are adjustable in six ways, and they straddle that place between sporty and luxurious. A two-tier glove box keeps the manuals neatly out of the way while allowing for storage of other necessities. Truly, storage is pretty good in the RAV4; there are bins and cubbies aplenty. The center console has a charging plug and an auxiliary port for an iPod or other MP3 players. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but doesn't have audio controls unless you get the Limited model.
The stereo system is decent, with six speakers that do the job but don't impress. I had no problem figuring out how to use everything, which wasn't all that much seeing as my test car's options were fairly sparse. Satellite radio and Bluetooth are available in the Limited, but there's no factory navigation package or rearview camera, which in a vehicle that can top $30,000 is a bit of a letdown.
The RAV4 was a hit with my fellow MotherProof reviewers, but it was a miss for me. It's a cute, functional little SUV, but much like that perfect mom, it just bugs me.
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LET'S TALK NUMBERS
Latch Connectors: 2
Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Good Times
2008 Toyota RAV4 Review
Base price: $21,100
Price as tested: $22,794
Engine: 166-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Fuel: 21/27 mpg
Ground Clearance: 7.5"
Turning Radius: 17.4'
Cargo space: 36.4 cu. ft.
NHTSA Crash-Test Ratings
Driver's side: 5 stars
Passenger's side: 4 stars
Front occupant: 5 stars
Rear occupant: 5 stars
Rollover resistance: 4 stars
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