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