Sometimes, even when you work at Automobile Magazine, you don’t care if a car is fast or good looking, if it’s refined or luxurious, or if its seats have the right amount of bolstering. You just want it to get you home. That’s exactly the sort of mood I was in when I emerged from the office last week around midnight, eyes bleary from proofreading articles for the upcoming issue (it’s a good one). It was a cold, rainy night, and I was glad to have the keys to a Toyota RAV4.
The little crossover was perfect – easy and pleasant to drive, and very surefooted in the wet. The four-cylinder might be a bit uninspired, but it was more than sufficient for my short, slow commute home. I especially appreciated the large, easy-to-read dials on the dash—I can’t tell you how many wündercars I’ve driven home with the windows down and radio off simply because I didn’t have the patience to decipher their controls.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I used the RAV4 for a Costco run and some other around-town errands such as buying annuals for the flower beds. These are, of course, tasks for which the RAV4 is well-suited. I thought the four-cylinder RAV4 had sufficient power, I wasn’t troubled by the antiquated four-speed automatic (the V-6 RAV4 gets a more modern, five-speed automatic), the ride quality is good, and the vehicle has a general sense of quality about it. My impression, though, is that the RAV4 has lost much of the cheekiness and desirability of the first two generations, starting with the model that went on sale here in 1996. The RAV4 defined a new class of vehicle, a car-based, easy-to-drive, tossable, reasonably fun compact crossover. The second generation was probably the high-water mark: It had sharp lines, a willing powertrain, and a friendly yet entertaining nature.
For the current-generation RAV4, Toyota felt the need to go big, giving the RAV4 an optional third-row seat, and in so doing, it made the RAV4 a much less interesting vehicle. Now, the RAV4 lacks distinction; look at the thing, and you could mistake it for a product from any Asian manufacturer. It’s competent, to be sure, and it’s got standard stability control and is probably as reliable and well-built as it ever was, but it’s just kinda blah. That’s fine for most of its buyers, I’m sure, but I’m far more enticed by the edgier Honda CR-V, as well as the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Saturn VUE, and the Ford Escape.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
My first assignment as a summer intern and motor gopher at Automobile Magazine was to pick up the RAV4 at Kwik Park near Detroit’s Metro Airport and follow the magazine’s Four Seasons Nissan GT-R back to the office. This was probably not the best way to evaluate a four-cylinder crossover vehicle. Let’s just say that I had to find my way back to Ann Arbor on my own.
Jeffrey Jablansky, Web Editor Intern
2009 Toyota RAV4 4×4
Base price (with destination): $23,645
Price as tested: $23,905
AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD changer, XM, MP3/WMA $260
21 / 27 / 24 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 179 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 172 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Weight: 3494 lb
16 in steel wheels with wheel covers