2012 Toyota RAV4

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2006 Toyota RAV4

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2012.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

The redesigned RAV4 has matured a lot for 2006.
Pros:
  • Larger
  • Roomier
  • More powerful
Cons:
  • Hatch door hinders curbside loading
  • Hard-to-see radio readouts
  • Just a prop rod for heavy hood

The Toyota RAV4 was an underpowered runabout when introduced in 1996 as the first car-based compact SUV. But the new third-generation model is all grown up.

The RAV4 has always been popular, and the redesigned 2006 model is 14.5 inches longer overall than the 2005 version, with a 6.7-inch longer wheelbase extended to 104.7 inches for an improved ride and roomier interior. It's 3.2 inches wider and a bit higher at 66.3 inches. But it's also hundreds of pounds heavier, at 3,300 to 3,677 pounds, depending on trim level.

The body is sleeker and more aerodynamic, with an impressively low drag coefficient for lower wind noise at highway speeds and improved fuel economy. It continues to be sold with front-wheel drive or a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.

There's no low-range gearing, because the RAV4 is not designed for serious off-road use. However, hill ascent control (to avoid sliding backward) and hill descent control (to limit speed down steep slopes) is offered for 7-passenger and V6 versions.

New V6
A new 3.5-liter 269-horsepower V6 makes the RAV4 among the most powerful vehicles in the compact SUV class. However, most buyers are expected to opt for the 2.4-liter 166-horsepower 4-cylinder, which gains five horsepower from 2005. For one thing, the 4-cylinder versions cost less.

The 4-cylinder should be adequate for most buyers. But it can't touch the performance of the V6, which turns the RAV4 into a hot rod (0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds). However, the RAV4 V6 can provide an unwanted rush of initial acceleration unless a driver becomes accustomed to the rather touchy accelerator pedal.

Good Fuel Economy
Fuel economy is good, although the 4-cylinder offers no major fuel economy gain over the V6—at least on paper. The RAV4 4-cylinder provides an estimated 24 mpg in the city and 30 on highways with front-wheel drive and 23 and 28 with all-wheel drive. Figures with the front-wheel-drive V6 version are 22 and 29, while the all-wheel-drive version provides 21 and 28. Happily, both engines only need 87-octane gasoline.

The 4-cylinder engine works with a 4-speed automatic transmission, but the V6 feeds power through a responsive 5-speed overdrive automatic, which is partly why the V6 provides fuel economy near that of the smaller 4-cylinder.

Toyota probably didn't give the RAV4 4-cylinder trim level a 5-speed automatic because it wanted to hold costs down.

A manual transmission no longer is offered, and the automatic's shift lever gate is notchy, probably to prevent a driver from accidentally picking the wrong gear.

Car-Like Roadability
The new electronic power steering is quick and, unlike some electric steering, doesn't feel numb. The turning radius is tighter, despite the RAV4's larger dimensions. The all-independent suspension provides a firm-but-supple ride, and handling is car-like. Braking is impressive, and standard electronic brake force distribution allows surer emergency stops.

While nimble and more fun to drive than its predecessor, even the RAV4 Sport is no genuine SUV sport model such as the compact BMW X3.

Three Trim Levels
There are Base, Sport and Limited trim levels. All are offered with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). And all trim levels are sold with either the 4-cylinder or V6 engines.

List prices range from $20,300 to $25,870. I spent most time in the $25,190 Sport AWD version.

New Third Row Seat
There is seating for up to five adults in the RAV4, or for seven with the newly available two-place third-row seat, which folds flush with the cargo floor. The second row seat's split-folding seatbacks can be moved forward to sit flat and enlarge the cargo area, which is impressive and has a low, wide opening.

But there's only comfortable room for four tall adults in the first two rows, although the second-row seat tilts and slides fore and aft to adjust leg room.

The third seat is best suited to small children and is difficult to enter or leave. It costs $700 to $950, depending on the RAV4 trim level.

Occupants sit fairly high and big outside mirrors help provide good driver rear visibility. Large outside door handles and a moderate step-in height make it easy to slip in or out. Rear doors open wide.

The cargo door gets demerits because it lacks a separate-opening glass window and swings open to the right, hampering curbside loading.

Equipment Levels
Toyota has doubtlessly noticed that South Korean automakers are increasing sales by offering even well-equipped base models. Even the base RAV4 has a good number of standard items, including air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry.

The Sport adds a sport suspension with large 18-inch alloy wheels. Base 4-cylinder RAV4s have 16-inch wheels or optional 17s, while V6s have 17s.

The Limited also provides dual-zone automatic climate controls, an 8-way power driver seat and an in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 player—but no sport suspension.

Standard Safety Items
Standard safety features for all versions include anti-lock disc brakes, traction control and an anti-skid system. Optional for all trim levels are front-seat side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags that include rollover deployment.

Options include a sunroof for Sport and Limited versions, while extras exclusive to the Limited include leather upholstery, heated front seats and a rear DVD entertainment system.

Radio Station Washout
Back-lit gauges can be easily read, and sound system controls are simple to use, although radio station readouts are virtually washed out by sunlight. Climate system controls are large.

There is a 2-level glovebox, and the upper portion springs open and close with a pushbutton—a clever touch. Front doors have storage pockets and rear ones have bottle holders and windows that roll all the way down.

Other demerits are caused by inside door handles that look and feel cheap. And the heavy hood is held open with a prop rod instead of a hydraulic strut. Fluid filler areas can be easily reached when there is a need to, say, add engine oil.

The original RAV4 almost seems like a collector's item, compared to the far more advanced new version, which should increase popularity of this Toyota.

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BB01 - 4/19/2014 2:54:19 AM