This 2009 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2012.
Toyota's RAV4 is a compact sport-utility vehicle that is slightly larger than some of its competition — it's one of the few vehicles in its class to offer a third row. But despite its relatively large size, it's also one of the lightest vehicles in its segment, a trait which pays dividends in the RAV4's driving dynamics and fuel efficiency. Voted to our 5Best Trucks list two years in a row, the RAV4 also managed to beat out its competition in a recent comparison test.
Two engines are available in the RAV4. Base versions are powered by a new, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 179 horsepower and is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The new engine is more powerful than last year's 2.4-liter and is more fuel-efficient. When equipped with the four-banger and front-wheel drive, the RAV4 returns excellent fuel economy of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, albeit at the expense of quick accelereration. For those who want their compact sport-ute to be a rocket, Toyota offers a 3.5-liter V-6 in the RAV4 that makes a serious 269 horsepower and boosts acceleration enough for the RAV4 to outrun some so-called sports sedans. Although EPA fuel-economy ratings for both engines are very similar, C/D's as-tested numbers for the four-cylinder are far higher than the V-6 model, likely because the six inspired more stoplight shenanigans.
The RAV4 boasts class-leading interior space. Second-row seats are adjustable and offer spacious legroom. Third-row seating is less comfortable and is best suited for children, but most of the RAV4's competition doesn't even offer third-row seating. Without the third row, or with the third row folded, cargo capacity behind the second row is an impressive 37.2 cubic feet. One downside of the RAV4's interior is its rather Spartan feel, Honda's CR-V, for example, has an interior that feels richer and more luxurious.
Major competitors to the RAV4 are many, and include the Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Nitro, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty, and Kia Sportage. There are also the Mazda Tribute, Mercury Mariner, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue, Saturn Vue, Suzuki Grand Vitara, and Volkswagen Tiguan.
The RAV4 is a C/D favorite, having won a recent comparison test of eight of its competitors as well as back-to-back 5Best Trucks awards. What we like most about the RAV4 is its refined, carlike demeanor. Available in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the RAV4 isn't exactly ready to conquer serious off-road trails, but its ground clearance and all-wheel drive do allow it to tackle inclement weather with ease. The excellent fuel economy of the four-cylinder, decent driving dynamics, and massive interior space put the RAV4 at the head of its class. The V-6-powered model is a rocket, but may be overkill for most buyers.
What's New for 2009
The RAV4 receives a cosmetic freshening, a revised crash structure, and a new, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 179 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque.
Highlights and Recommendations
The base RAV4 comes very well-equipped, but the steel wheels with wheel covers and the Spartan interior may lead buyers to the Sport trim level one rung up. The RAV4's automatic all-wheel-drive system is an option worth considering, as is the roughly-$1000 third row seat, provided your kids are still little. Although it comes saddled with a four-speed automatic, most buyers will be pleased with the economy and the performance of the four-cylinder engine. Spending the extra money for the V-6 is likely unnecessary; be sure to try the four-banger version first.
Dual front airbags, front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, tire-pressure monitoring, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control are all standard on all RAV4 models.
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