- V-6’s athleticism
- Extra off-road electronics
- Fuel efficiency
- Spacious interior
- Spare tire in back makes no sense for a road vehicle
- Side-opening hatch
- Third row is only for tykes
The 2008 Toyota RAV4 brings a little more space than most compact SUVs without a mid-size price.
The RAV4 is Toyota’s smallest crossover utility vehicle. The biggish compact slots into the Toyota lineup between the Matrix hatchback and the now large-midsize Highlander. Unlike many of the other compact crossover vehicles, it wedges a third-row seat in back.
The 3.5-liter V-6 engine available in the 2008 Toyota RAV4 offers an impressive 269 horsepower, making it the most powerful vehicle in its class. The standard engine is a more fuel-conscious 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 166 horsepower. All RAV4s are automatic-only, with V-6 models getting a five-speed automatic, while four-cylinder versions use a four-speed automatic.
Each engine in the 2008 Toyota RAV4 can be combined with either front- or four-wheel drive in a system that sends all torque to the front wheels in normal driving for efficiency, or up to 45 percent of torque to the back when needed. The system comes with a 4WD Lock setting that allows 45 percent to be sent to the rear wheels at up to 25 mph.
All 2008 Toyota RAV4 V-6 models, and all four-cylinder models equipped with a third-row seat, come standard with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC). All-wheel drive, stability and traction control, and electric power steering systems come together in a single system with Toyota’s VSC stability control.
With the standard four-cylinder engine, the 2008 Toyota RAV4 is economical and surprisingly peppy throughout the rev range, with enough torque to move you briskly from a standstill, provided you’re not carrying a heavy load; passing power is just adequate. The more powerful V-6 has a completely different personality. It’s very smooth and refined, like the four, but it has the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. It’s good for hilly terrain or heavy loads, but otherwise, the four is just fine—and more efficient, with ratings of up to 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway.
The 2008 Toyota RAV4 rides on a wheelbase that’s three inches longer than the previous version, so it has substantially more interior/cargo space, including an available third-row seat and seven-passenger seating capability. The longer wheelbase also results in a more settled ride; it’s smooth and well damped, and though the steering doesn’t provide much feedback, the RAV4 corners confidently.
The RAV4’s interior feels spacious and well designed, with an attractive two-tier instrument panel design, good seats, a nice upright driving position, and plenty of storage spaces. The available third-row seats in the 2008 Toyota RAV4 are too small for any adult to use. But when they’re not occupied by children, they stow nicely in a recessed area of the cargo floor.
There are three 2008 Toyota RAV4 models: base, Sport, and Limited. Base models even come well loaded, with air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, and a six-speaker sound system. The Sport brings a sport-tuned suspension, heated mirrors, and appearance extras; the top Limited model adds bigger wheels, foglamps, a different grille, upgraded seats, dual-zone climate control, and a tonneau cover, among other things. The options list includes an upgraded JBL sound system with Bluetooth interface, heated seats, and a power moonroof.
Driver and front passenger front-seat-mounted side airbags, along with first- and second-row roll-sensing side curtain airbags, are standard on all versions of the 2008 Toyota RAV4, along with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. The RAV4 has done quite well in crash tests, with four- and five-star results for frontal impact and five stars for side impact in the federal tests, plus top "good" ratings for frontal and side impact from the IIHS but a "marginal" rating for rear impact.