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The Toyota RAV4 mini-SUV is missing just two things — an extra couple of cylinders to enable it to compete on equal terms with the increasingly muscular lot of smaller, "mini" SUVs that have cropped up (or been beefed up) since the RAV4 hit the market in 1996.
These include models such as Ford's Escape, the excellent Hyundai Sante Fe, Suzuki's Grand Vitara, and the Chevy Tracker (the Vitara's cousin). All of these compact SUVs are priced comparably to the RAV4 and offer available V-6 engines while the RAV4 remains limited by its take-or-leave-it 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine.
True, the $18,750-$22,800 Honda CR-V and $21,095-$24,695 Subaru Forester — two of the RAV4's direct competitors — also lack available six-cylinder engines. They're also considerably more expensive (albeit much better equipped in standard form) than the $16,365-$18,815 RAV4. But if Toyota wants to lead the pack instead of being smack dab in the increasingly mediocre middle, the company will need to up the underhood ante in its little SUV.
Moving the goods
The RAV4's 2.0-liter DOHC engine, while equipped with variable valve timing, nonetheless has trouble moving a decently equipped RAV4 with the optional (and weight-adding) all-wheel-drive system and automatic transmission. Its 148 hp doesn't come easily, either: you must wind the little engine out to its 6000-rpm redline to get it. Similarly, the marginal 142 lb-ft of torque offered by this overtaxed engine is made even less adequate by the speed at which it arrives, way up there at 4000 rpm.
What all this means is you have to mash the pedal furiously to move with anything resembling alacrity in a RAV4. The V-6 competition listed above, in contrast, have more torque (which is what gets a car moving) to begin with, due to their larger displacement — and the torque that's there is more usable because it comes in at much lower engine speeds, where most real-world driving is done.