There’s big news for the new RAV4, headed to dealerships soon: V-6 power and third-row seats.
V-6 power in the RAV is a long time coming, but third row seats? Really?
That’s what we thought when we first heard the news. How could they cram in that third row? But the RAV4 is a lot bigger. While the proportions have stayed roughly the same, truth is, the “little” RAV4 sport-utility is no longer that compact. The upsizing of the RAV4 stretches it by 14 inches overall and puts it at only about 3.5 inches shorter overall than the Highlander, with a wheelbase about two inches shorter than the Highlander. In terms of height and width, the differences are too close to call; even curb weight is comparable.
This translates to an interior
that’s very roomy for four adult occupants, with space for cargo, too.
If you opt for that two-position third row: beware, it’s still tiny. To me the arrangement seemed like a bunch of pointless extra weight to carry around — as none of the adults present at the RAV4 preview would have been able to actually fit back there — but Toyota reps pointed out that many shoppers would be interested in having a third row for occasional, short use by parental carpools to school or soccer practice. When they’re not in use, the third-row seats stow nicely in a recessed area of the cargo floor, so when they’re folded down they don’t actually take up a lot of space.
With its sleek, wedgy shape, the new RAV4 is considerably more handsome than the vehicle it replaces, continuing the classier feel that was started with the introduction of the second generation for 2001. The bubble-like fenders, patterned cloth, and stick shift of the first-generation RAV were long ago abandoned for a more conventional appearance (as was the stubby little two-door RAV). Much of the cosmetics and switchgear in the new RAV are borrowed from (or inspired by) the larger 4Runner and Land Cruiser sport-utilities — such dial/button climate controls, similar to what’s used in the 4Runner, and the gauge faces, which look like those used across the board on Toyota’s truck side.
But let’s get back to the big news: the V-6 option.
The RAV4 has always had enough power with the standard four-cylinder engine, but
a portion of RAV4 shoppers — and of course the motoring press — have always
asked for more power. It’s finally here, and it’s no puny V-6. The optional,
engine is straight from the Avalon, basically in the same tune, and due to
recalculation of SAE power figures it’s now rated at 269 horsepower and 246
lb-ft of torque. The engine incorporates
The standard engine on all RAV4s is the latest version of Toyota’s ubiquitous 2.4-liter four-cylinder — available in a similar state of tune on a vast array of vehicles ranging from the Scion tC sport coupe to the bread-and-butter Camry sedan to the Highlander crossover ute.
1999 GMC Yukon DenaliEnlarge Photo
The standard four is economical, reliable, and
surprisingly peppy throughout the rev range, thanks to the VVT-i variable valve
timing system. Torque is decent from a standstill, provided you’re not carrying
a heavy load, and most of the time passing power is adequate as long as you
really put the pedal to the metal. And most buyers will be happy with it.
That V-6 is a nice step up for hotfoots, or those who live in hilly terrain and plan to haul a full load of people and cargo on a regular basis. In truth though, it doesn’t feel as overwhelmingly powerful as it seems when shopping power and torque figures. But with that much power, it’s definitely a point-and-shoot affair; the RAV4 just isn’t tuned for the twisties. It’s not a vehicle that you’d want to drive too enthusiastically. If you try to, VSC stability control is standard, and it might help keep you on the road. Though we should add, there is a new Sport Grade model, offering firmer suspension settings and 18-inch wheels, which we didn’t get a chance to sample.
2000 GMC Yukon DenaliEnlarge Photo
As before, the RAV4 will be available in both front- and four-wheel-drive versions, though a part-time on-demand 4WD system replaces the former full-time viscous-clutch all-wheel-drive system. 4WD versions now have a system that reverts to front-wheel-drive when there are no outstanding traction demands, for the most economical operation, though the system uses an electronic-controlled viscous coupling that sends torque (up to 45 percent) to the back wheels as needed. There’s also a 4WD Lock setting that allows a set amount of torque (55/45 front/back) to be sent to all four wheels, up to 25 mph, where the Auto setting overrides it. The RAV4 has never been a serious off-roader, and the 4WD will still offer off-road performance good enough to get owners to most remote campsites and trailheads. Front-wheel-drive models come with a limited-slip differential to help aid grip in limited-traction situations.
Another electronic aid, Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), helps keep the vehicle from rolling backward when facing uphill, holding the vehicle for two to three seconds after the driver engages it with the brake pedal. Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is controlled by an in-dash switch and helps moderate speed on steep descents. Though HAC and DAC are mainly designed for off-road situations, they’re standard on all V-6 models, and, oddly, on four-cylinder models with third-row seating.
The four-cylinder will still be the most popular
engine choice, though;
But now that the RAV4 has sized up so much, there’s
a pretty big jump from
2001 GMC Yukon DenaliEnlarge Photo
There are three trim levels available: Base, Sport, and Limited, with each available with the I-4 or V-6 and FWD or AWD. Even base models get a generous level of standard equipment, like an MP3-compatible CD player and a miniplug input jack for iPods or other personal audio.
The four-cylinder model will go on sale this month,
while V-6 RAV4s will reach dealerships by late January.
For the first two model years, RAV4s
will be sourced from
Late next year, the RAV4's "bigger" sibling, the Highlander, will be replaced by a larger, sleeker model. But in the meantime, unless you're considering the Highlander Hybrid model, the almost-as-big RAV4 may represent a better value to many shoppers.
To sum it up, the RAV4 just feels a lot more grown-up and is set up to be less of a quirky little ute and more the Camry of crossovers. The ride is settled; it’s quieter and more comfortable inside; it’s easier to get in and out; it’s still economical; it’s more carlike behind the wheel. What this means to shoppers is that the RAV4 will likely fit families that once considered it too small, and that it’s a better deal than ever…with a third-row seat. Soccer moms, are you listening?
Base price: $20,300–$25,870
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four, 166 hp/165 lb-ft; 3.5-liter V-6, 269 hp/246 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Four- or five-speed automatic transmission, front- or all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 181.1 x 73.0 x 66.5 in
Wheelbase: 104.7 in
Curb weight: 3300–3677 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 20/27–24/29 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, Vehicle Stability Control, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist, direct tire-pressure monitor; optional driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, optional first and second row side curtain airbags
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, limited-slip differential or all-wheel drive, keyless entry, power windows/locks, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, sunroof, illuminated cupholders, dual glovebox, AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system with miniplug input
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles