Toyota RAV4 was the original "cute ute." That's what people called it in 1996 when RAV was introduced as the compact alternative to the sport utility vehicles that were taking the market by storm.

Although the little Toyota made no pretensions about being a mighty off-road warrior, it did offer some of the advantages of its bigger brethren, including an elevated seating position, all-wheel drive and station-wagon carrying capacity. It also had some additional pluses, mainly good gas mileage and better maneuverability.

Originally, there was a short, quirky two-door model, but that was dropped after a couple of years as most buyers opted for the more-practical four-door RAV.

For 2006, RAV4 grows bigger and more powerful. More than 14 inches have been added to the body, which can accommodate an optional third row of seats, and a 269-horsepower V-6 is available. The standard four-cylinder engine is also stronger, now with 166 horsepower.

These upgrades change RAV4's personality. It is still compact but more mainstream. The changes were needed as the U.S. market shifts to smaller SUVs that are good on gas and easier to drive. RAV now must overcome more competition and appeal to a wider range of people.

The third generation RAV4 turns out to be a pretty slick number, with a greater feeling of refinement and power to spare with the V-6, one of the strongest engines in this niche. The look tends toward the style of the bigger, plusher Highlander.

But something is lost, and that is the cute-ute appeal that Toyota discarded in the RAV4 makeover.

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door SUV, all-wheel drive.

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 269 horsepower at 6,200, 246 pound-feet torque at 4,700 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Wheelbase: 104.7 inches.

Overall length: 181.1 inches.

Curb weight: 3,675 pounds.

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds (with tow package).

EPA rating: 23 city, 28 highway.

Highs: Strong V-6 engine, bigger size, good drivability.

Lows: Side air bags optional, stick shift dropped, cuteness lost.