The Toyota RAV4, which David Thomas recently reviewed, was redesigned for the 2006 model year and is so far selling strongly. I also had an opportunity to drive this no-longer-little SUV.
The RAV4 looks stylish to my eyes, though like Dave I'm not a big fan of the spare tire on the back of the cargo door. Buyers do get a full-size spare with this setup, though, and that's definitely a nice-to-have feature.
The 3.5-liter V-6 feels very strong and not at all burdened by the SUV's weight, though there's some mild torque steer under hard acceleration. The V-6 isn't daunted by a full load of passengers, either, and its gas mileage estimates are impressive: 22/29 mpg (city/highway) for FWD versions and 21/28 for 4WD models. During a 100-mile stretch of flat highway driving at speeds between 75 and 80 mph, I averaged 26 mpg in a 4WD Sport.
It's interesting to note that EPA estimates for the 2007 Honda CR-V's 2.4-liter four-cylinder -- the only engine offered in that redesigned SUV — are only slightly better than the RAV4 V-6's. The archrival CR-V's four-cylinder, however, offers nowhere near the performance of the RAV4's V-6, and its responses are weak at highway speeds. For readers who've sampled four-cylinder- and V-6-powered RAV4s, I'd be interested to hear how you think they compare.
The Sport version I tested — the same one Dave spent a week testing for his review — had a comfortable driver's seat with manual adjustments, though I would have liked a tilt adjustment (offered with the power seats) for the seat cushion to dial up more thigh support. I also wished the seat went farther back for more legroom. Visibility is impressive and headroom is very good with the optional moonroof. Even with the Sport model's sport-tuned suspension, riders aren't subject to a punishing experience; it's definitely taut and can get bumpy on rough pavement, but it rides a lot like a Camry, only taller. Wind noise gets a bit intrusive above 70 mph on the highway, but the RAV4 feels stable at this speed.
Most interior materials and switches are first-rate. The dashboard has detailed graining and a low-gloss appearance that lend it a high-end look, though I could have done without the silver-colored insert in the center of the dash that surrounds the audio and climate controls.
My 18-month-old nephew, Austin, loves riding in cars, and he didn't seem to have any complaints when I took him for a trip in the RAV4. However, rear visibility was obscured by the top tether that anchored his child-safety seat. Many SUVs locate the top tether anchor low on the back of the seatback, but the RAV4's pokes through the headliner, so I saw that strap every time I looked through the rearview mirror.
Clearly, my issues with this SUV are relatively minor. Though some fans of the RAV4 may lament how the once-small ute has grown up into a practically midsize SUV, I came away impressed with what Toyota's done with this model.