The RAV4 comes well equipped with safety features; electronic stability control with traction control, dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes, a tire-pressure monitor, and a brake-assist system are all standard. (Brake assist determines whether the driver is attempting urgent emergency braking and, if so, applies additional pedal pressure to engage the ABS until the driver releases the brake.) Side and side-curtain airbags are optional.
All these features add up to make the RAV4 one of the safest vehicles in its class. Although the standard equipment listed above is also included on the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Tucson, most other competitors don't stack up. For example, the Chevrolet Equinox isn't available with electronic stability control, and neither electronic stability control nor stand-alone traction control can be had on the either Ford Escape or the Honda Element.
The RAV4 performed well in NHTSA's crash tests, earning five stars in the side-impact test for both front- and rear-seat occupants and four stars for both driver and passenger in the front crash test. These numbers compare well with those of the competition, though the Chevrolet Equinox and Honda CR-V earned five stars for all seating positions in both tests. The RAV4 was not tested for rollover safety.
The RAV4 is only available with one engine: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder unit that makes 161 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. It can be mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The optional autobox is smooth shifting, with quick downshifts. The DOHC engine ably motivates the 3,186-pound 4x4 RAV4 and is more than sufficient to propel two-wheel-drive models, which weigh 200 to 300 pounds less. Some buyers may be surprised at the lack of an available V-6, but the smallish RAV4 weighs less than most of its competition. The lightest Honda CR-V, for example, is more than 130 pounds heavier than the heaviest RAV4, and the Hyundai Santa Fe outporks the Toyota to the tune of anywhere from 360 to nearly 800 pounds. It's no wonder, then, that the Hyundai only comes with a V-6.
The RAV4 is easy to drive, and, along with the Ford Escape, is one of the more nimble and sporting vehicles in its class. Its low center of gravity, carlike construction, and firm damping--which sufficiently suppresses body roll and allows for fairly aggressive cornering--combine to create an agile, sporty feeling. That firmness and short wheelbase, however, means that the RAV4 can get a little choppy over rough pavement. The brakes are vague and lack feel, and the low-effort pedal doesn't allow for an accurate assessment of remaining pedal travel. Vagueness also describes the on-center feel of the slow steering. Once you begin turning the wheel, the steering system becomes more communicative.