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First impressions matter and, if anything, the 2001 RAV4 clearly looks all-better; like a finer-looking, sharper-edged, shrunk-down Mercedes M-Class. Second impressions matter too, and a drive in the RAV4 indicates that this trucklet should put Toyota again at the head of the mini-ute class it validated with the introduction of the original RAV4 in 1996.
Should, though, is not will. Because while this second-generation RAV is all-better, it’s up against new competition ranging from Hyundai’s Santa Fe to the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute twins. All-better than the old RAV may not be better than all the current competition.
The original RAV4 was a product of grab bag engineering. Based on the Celica’s platform, it borrowed mechanical bits from other vehicles in Toyota’s line and felt compromised in several ways for it. Most notably, the first RAV4’s space efficiency was significantly behind that of its archrival, the Honda CR-V. The new RAV is more its own beast, and that brings a new level of sophistication to the vehicle.
To cure small-inside disease, build a big outside. The new RAV4 is a bit bigger than its predecessor, but not much. While the 2001 RAV’s wheelbase is dinky at just 98 inches, that’s still 3.1 inches longer than the 2000 model and overall length swells to 165.1 inches from 163.8. The most significant growth is in width which is up to 68.3 inches from 66.7. Though the new RAV looks tall, it’s actually 1/10th of an inch shorter than the old one.
The mechanical package is familiar in general specification but has been thoroughly revised in detail. While the engine remains transversely mounted in the nose, in place of the old RAV’s 2.0-liter iron-block DOHC four is a new 2.0-liter all-aluminum DOHC four with variable valve timing. The old engine wheezed out a not-too-happy-to-do-it 127-horsepower at 5400 rpm with a 132 lb-ft torque peak at 4600 rpm. The new engine’s 148-hp peak now comes at a loftier 6000 rpm, but the big improvement lies in torque production which now peaks at 142 lb-ft down at 4000 rpm. And Toyota says the new engine weighs in 40 pounds less than the old one. For an engine that’s more likely to be found lashed to the optional electronically controlled four-speed automatic than the standard five-speed manual transmission, and to spend more time scaling grammar school parking lot speed bumps than hot-lapping Road America, this one’s character is dang near perfect.