- Spacious interior
- Strong acceleration with V-6
- Relatively fuel-efficient
- Modest off-road ability
- Third row is useless except for tykes
- Side-opening rear hatch
- Rear-mounted spare
Though it might wear a spare tire on its tail like the hard-core SUVs of yore, don't let that throw you off. The 2010 Toyota RAV4 is actually a practical, fuel-efficient choice for frugal families on the go.
Toyota can't help but hold on to tradition with its RAV4. Even though it's a modern crossover ute, with much more of an emphasis on roadworthy performance than off-road ability—and three rows of seating—most of the 2010 Toyota RAV4 lineup keeps with a very traditional sport-utility design, including the spare tire hanging off a side-opening rear hatch.
Last year, the Toyota RAV4 got a modest redesign, with a restyled grille and front bumper, improved fog light trims, and redesigned tail lights, but it kept its taller, more trucklike stance. For the first time, a Sport Appearance Package makes a move toward a more carlike silhouette, with the rear spare deleted.
The powertrain lineup in the 2010 Toyota RAV4 is quite close to what you'll find in the Toyota Camry sedan—which is fine as either choice is responsive yet quite fuel-efficient. A new 179-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was introduced last year, while a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 remains optional; as such, it's the most powerful vehicle in its class. There's no manual gearbox to be had; V-6 RAV4 models have a five-speed automatic, while four-cylinder models make do just fine with a four-speed auto. In either case, the RAV4 is offered with either front- or four-wheel drive.
In the 2010 Toyota RAV4, most drivers will be happy with the four-cylinder base engine, which is smooth and responsive with all but the heaviest loads or toughest mountain grades. The larger engine gives the RAV4 the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. The RAV4 is sprung quite softly, so enthusiasts won't find much satisfaction in the handling, but it's stable and safe. And ride quality isn't as pitchy as some compact crossovers, thanks to a rather long wheelbase. Though off-road ability isn't a priority in the RAV4, its four-wheel-drive system is a bit more able than rival crossovers, capable of sending as much as 45 percent of torque to the back at up to 25 mph and including a center diff-lock mode.
Spacious and well designed, the interior of the 2010 Toyota RAV4 features an attractive two-tier instrument panel, good seats, a nice upright driving position, and plenty of storage spaces. The RAV4 teeters between compact and mid-size, but in any case, it's one of the few vehicles of its stature to offer a third-row seat. The third row officially expands the RAV4's capacity to seven, but that back row is way too small to be used by any adult. For that, you'll need to move up to the larger Highlander. But the seat design doesn't eat up much if any cargo space; when they're not occupied by children, they stow nicely in a recessed area of the cargo floor.
The safety story is mostly good for the 2010 Toyota RAV4. It's achieved four- and five-star results in federal crash tests, as well as top "good" ratings for frontal and side impact from the IIHS but a "marginal" rating in the seat-based rear impact category. 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 2010 RAV4, as well as electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. All-wheel drive, stability and traction control, and electric power steering come together in Toyota's VSC system. Models equipped with the third-row seat also come standard with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC)—two features that are derived from what Toyota offers in its off-road-worthy vehicles and would come in quite handy for negotiating a steep, snowy driveway.
Base, Sport, and Limited trims of the 2010 Toyota RAV4 are offered for each powertrain. Even base models 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. While the Limited model costs several thousand dollars more, it feels considerably more luxurious. 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. Many buyers will choose the middle Sport model; it includes all the equipment on the Base, plus a sport-tuned suspension, heated mirrors, and appearance extras—the most important of those being the lack of a spare tire hanging on the back.