2006 Toyota RAV4
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
It's getting tougher to call Toyota's entry-level, crossover sport-utility vehicle—the RAV4—a "small" SUV.
For 2006 Toyota officials lengthened the RAV4 by more than a foot, from bumper to bumper, and widened the vehicle by 3 inches over its 2005 predecessor. Now 15 feet long, including the spare tire carrier on the back, the RAV4 is just 3.5 inches shorter than the midsize Toyota Highlander SUV.
In fact, the larger RAV4, which debuted as a third-generation vehicle for the 2006 model year, is the first offered with optional third-row seating, so drivers can carry six other passengers, if need be.
The new RAV4 also is the first available with a new 269-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 besides the base four-cylinder engine.
Vehicle with easy 'price creep'
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of less than $21,000 for a base RAV4 with front-wheel drive and four-cylinder engine is on par with a major competitor, the Honda CR-V, and the Jeep Liberty. But the starting price for a RAV4 is higher than some other small SUVs from Ford, Hyundai and Kia.
There's no manual transmission anymore for the RAV4, so the base model includes a four-speed automatic transmission. It also has manual air conditioning, remote keyless entry, traction control and stability control as well as a tilt and telescoping steering wheel—all of which are good amenities for the price.
With the new V6, the lowest-priced RAV4 is a 4X2 model starting around $23,000.
But prices climb to an unexpectedly high point from there. The top RAV4 now—a 4X4 Limited with V6—starts around $26,000 and seems to push the envelope for an entry-level SUV. This model comes with dual-zone air conditioning and a chrome grille, but still leaves buyers to pay well over $2,000 for optional leather-trimmed seats, curtain airbags and the additional third row. Thus, this RAV4 price can rise to a lofty $29,000.
For that price, it would be well worth a look at midsize SUVs, including Toyota's Highlander, which happens to start around $26,000 for a model with V6 and third-row seating.
About the new third row
The CR-V doesn't have it, for example. Neither does the Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sportage nor the Hyundai Tucson.
Honestly, I didn't have high expectations for the two rear-most seats in the RAV4. Come on, seven people fitting into a RAV4? But there were some surprises.
It's true that three adults in the second row sit close to each other. But legroom isn't the nightmare that I had envisioned.
The RAV4's second-row seats slide back and forth on tracks, so if people in the front row and second row of the RAV4 compromise some on legroom, there can be decent room for third-row riders.
Just keep in mind that the third row rests on the vehicle floor. So, when I sat back there, my knees were up near my chest. I didn't have any forward view, but at 5 feet 4, I had better headroom than I expected.
Of course, cargo room is greatly diminished when the third-row seats are in use. Storage space in back shrinks to about 12 cubic feet, which is less than the room in the trunk of a Toyota Corolla sedan.
When the RAV4's third row isn't in use—the 50/50 split seats fold flat into the floor when not needed—cargo room is a decent 36.4 cubic feet. The maximum is 73 cubic feet when second-row seats are folded down, too.
The RAV4 rear suspension is redone with shock absorbers positioned diagonally so cargo space isn't constrained.
But in trying to carry a long, gutter-like, plastic landscaping trench in the RAV4, I realized the front seatback doesn't fold forward, the way it does in some other SUVs, so really long items can be problematic. Remember, the tailgate window doesn't open. I wound up carrying the long trench diagonally across the interior and out the front passenger window.
An award winner
In 2006, for example, Consumer Reports magazine declared the new-generation RAV4 "our highest-rated small SUV" with predicted reliability of "very good."
Criticized by some auto critics in its early years as being a cute, little SUV that appealed to women, the current, more substantial RAV4 is likely to appeal to both sexes. Indeed, Toyota officials said young couples as well as single men are among the target RAV4 buyers, whose annual household income is likely to be around $65,000.
Styling for the RAV4 has never been fussy. Now, it seems clean, streamlined and more in line with the looks of other Toyotas.
Toyota stylists even eliminated some outer molding pieces from around the RAV4 door glass and windshield for improved aerodynamics and less wind noise.
The turning circle, for example, is as little as 34.8 feet. There are cars that have larger turning circles than this.
There was no truckish, heavy feeling in the test 2006 RAV4 with V6, and passengers mostly noticed only slight impacts from road bumps.
The ride felt a bit stiff, though, and the 17-inch tires that are standard on the Limited model transferred considerable road noise into the passenger cabin. Sixteen-inch tires are standard on the base model.
Wind noise was less than in previous RAV4s.
The 269 horses from the RAV4 V6 are tops in the segment, even surpassing the 265 horsepower in Nissan's Xterra SUV that's much heavier than the car-based RAV4.
In the RAV4 tester, for instance, power came on quickly and allowed me to merge into traffic gaps with ease. Torque is an ample 246 lb-ft at 4700 rpm and I could squeal the tires at times.
But Toyota officials expect most RAV4s will be sold with the slightly revised, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 5 more horsepower than in 2005, or 166 horses, and 165 lb-ft of torque.
Be aware that the V6 gets a 5-speed automatic, while the four-cylinder power plant has an older, 4-speed automatic.
The V6-powered RAV4 fuel economy rating from the federal government isn't as bad as you might think. The rating of 22 miles a gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway for a 2006 4X2 model compares with the 20/24-mpg rating of a 2006 Escape 4X2 with V6.
But the best fuel use, as expected comes with the four-cylinder engine. A two-wheel-drive RAV4 with this engine is rated at 24/30 mpg.
No matter which engine and the mileage, though, the RAV4 has one fuel tank, capable of carrying 15.9 gallons.
Odds and ends
I just wish that curtain airbags were standard safety equipment on all RAV4s. At introduction, they were options on all models.
Also be aware that the tailgate door doesn't open upward. Instead, it's a swing open door that swings toward the curb, so anyone loading the cargo area curbside has to walk around the tailgate door.
The interior of the RAV4 is OK—neither impressive nor stark. The mix of textures on the doors and dashboard is nicely done and doesn't look cheap.
But I found myself staring at the odd look of the center of the dashboard, where the radio faceplate and controls look like afterthoughts sort of fitted atop the real dashboard.
Another unusual touch: Two gloveboxes in front of the front-seat passenger. Just remember the top one both opens and closes with the push of a button, not be slamming it shut.
I appreciated that the driver seat is larger than before. But I wished the front passenger seat had height adjustment—manual or power. As it was, the only seat with height adjustment in the uplevel RAV4 4X4 Limited test model, was the driver's.
I liked that front cupholders are illuminated in all RAV4s. And Toyota is generous with its 12-volt power outlets. There are three in the RAV4.
Still, there were places where I could see Toyota cost-cutting. For example, the sunglasses holder on the ceiling console in the test RAV4 wasn't fully lined. Also, the top of the doors and dashboard were hard plastic, not some softer-touch plastic. The pull-down center armrest in the second row fell onto the seats. And the gloveboxes had a cheap plastic sound at closing.
Curious about what RAV4 means? Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive.