- V-6 model's acceleration
- Fuel efficiency
- Roomy interior
- Useful off-road electronics
- Rear-mounted spare tire
- Side-opening rear hatch
- Third row is useless except for tykes
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 is a thoughtful choice for families looking for space that doesn't come at the expense of fuel economy.
Looks are a little deceiving for the 2009 Toyota RAV4, which rides and drives more like a car but has a taller, more trucklike stance—along with a spare tire that hangs off the back as in some of the most rugged truck-based SUVs. Unlike many other compact crossover vehicles, it wedges a third-row seat in back. The biggish compact slots into the Toyota lineup between the Matrix hatchback and the now large-midsize Highlander.
The Toyota RAV4 gets a modest styling update for 2009, with a restyled grille and front bumper, improved fog light trims, and redesigned tail lights. A snappy Sport Appearance Package adds a clear bumper protector and takes away the exterior spare tire.
The 3.5-liter V-6 engine available in the 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers an impressive 269 horsepower, making it the most powerful vehicle in its class. The standard engine is a more fuel-conscious, 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 179 hp. This is a boost in performance over the 2008 model, and Toyota says the new engine has been "optimized for performance and fuel efficiency." 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 2009 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 at up to 25 mph.
With either engine, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 is very smooth and refined. The larger engine gives the RAV4 the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. The V-6 is good for hilly terrain or heavy loads, but otherwise, the four is just fine—and more fuel-efficient. The standard four-cylinder 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, but passing power is just adequate.
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 rides on a wheelbase that was lengthened several inches as part of a redesign for 2008, and it 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 longer wheelbase provides substantially more interior/cargo space, including an available third-row seat and seven-passenger seating capability. The available third-row seats in the 2009 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. 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 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. 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 2009 Toyota RAV4, along with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. All-wheel drive, stability and traction control, and electric power steering come together in a single system with Toyota's VSC stability control. All 2009 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).
There are three 2009 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 options list includes an upgraded JBL sound system with Bluetooth interface, heated seats, and a power moonroof. The Sport brings a sport-tuned suspension, heated mirrors, and appearance extras; the top Limited model adds bigger wheels, fog lamps, a different grille, upgraded seats, dual-zone climate control, and a tonneau cover, among other items.