Is the Toyota RAV4 Really That Bad?

Recently, hosted the $29,000 SUV Shootout, and the Toyota RAV4 finished last. Then a few weeks ago, we got a 2011 Toyota RAV4 Sport, and all I can say after testing it is perhaps the Shootout was unfair to Toyota's cute-ute.

For detailed opinion of the RAV4, you can read my expert review here.

If you line up the RAV4 with a bunch of other small SUVs that have been redesigned more recently, the Toyota will suffer because it looks frumpy. It hasn’t been significantly updated in several years. But when you live with the car for several days, you start to notice attributes that are more important than a pretty dashboard or stylish exterior.

For starters, there’s the mileage.

The bulk of my driving was on the highway to a triathlon in Wisconsin, for a total of 398 miles. My average fuel economy was 30.8 mpg, and that’s not bad in the days of high gas prices, especially considering the RAV4 is rated at 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Also, the RAV4 is kind of unremarkable. I go into why in my review, but basically while there’s no stand-out “Wow!” feature (that might help it in a Shootout), there isn’t a glaring flaw that annoyed me to the point that I hated the car. For my money, if I’m just looking to put miles under my belt, I’ll take less “Wow!” in favor of an easy drive. That’s what I got in the RAV4.

Then there’s the issue of family testing. I’m glad we test our cars using grocery bags, child seats and generally skew our coverage toward real-world families and the issues they’d face trying to cram child-safety seats into some of the cars that are on the road today. The Shootout is a reflection of that.

But for my uses, none of that matters. What I want is something that’s easy to carry stuff like bikes rather than stuff like grocery bags. The RAV4, which has one of the largest cargo areas of any compact SUV, stands out.

This is not to say the RAV4 is perfect. It is frumpy, it does need a refresh and, c’mon Toyota, it wouldn’t kill you to spruce up the interior just a little bit. I also am not a fan of the swing-out tailgate, a point on which I agree with my co-workers.

It wouldn’t win the Shootout if I were the sole judge, but after living with the car for a bit, I feel like it was invited to a keg party when it was expecting to spend the night studying for finals.

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