- Comfortable, spacious interior
- Strong acceleration with V-6
- Relatively fuel-efficient
- Some ruggedness built in
- Almost useless third row
- Side-opening rear hatch
- Rear-mounted spare
Don't let appearances mislead; the 2011 Toyota RAV4 is a modern, practical crossover choice and great for frugal families.
The 2011 Toyota RAV feels a little traditional, 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.
The RAV4's design is an odd conglomeration of what SUVs were and where they're going, in terms of both style and layout. While it has a layout and roofline that's in synch with fresh crossover designs, most of the lineup has some cues that bow to the most rugged SUV designs that were popular a decade or more ago—including the spare tire hanging off the side-opening hatch. And despite a modest redesign, a couple of years ago, which earned it a restyled grille and front bumper, improved fog light trims, and redesigned tail lights, the RAV4 kept its taller, more trucklike stance.
It has an impressive powertrain lineup, along with all the other makings for a good performance package—at least compared to other tall crossover wagons and SUVs. A 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. The four-cylinder base engine has enough power to keep most drivers happy; it's smooth and responsive, with enough for 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. All the while, the RAV4 handles surprisingly well for such a tall, soft-riding vehicle. The optional AWD system uses electronic control to send power rearward when slippage in front is detected, and offers a true 50/50 fixed power split with a 4WD Lock mode.
The 2011 Toyota RAV4 misses few marks for comfort. With well designed seating, good seating comfort, and top-notch assembly quality, along with a tight, quiet cabin, the RAV4 has covers all the bases. The only minor gripes pertain to interior materials and third-row seating space. 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 you certainly won't have much luck trying to get adults to ride in the RAV4's third row. 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 2011 Toyota RAV4 is no luxury model, but it comes very well equipped, with three different trims offered with each powertrain possibility, covering a range from basic and fuel-efficient to luxurious or sporty and powerful. A Lexus-like electroluminescent instrument panel is standard, as are remote keyless entry, an auxiliary jack for the single-CD six-speaker stereo, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power mirrors, three 12-volt outlets, ten cup holders, and cruise control. But it's a disappointment that a Bluetooth hands-free system is only offered as a port-installed option if you don't select the JBL system. The top Limited model can be optioned like a luxury model, with leather seating areas, heated front seats, and the SUV-requisite rear seat DVD entertainment system to keep the kids entertained.
If you choose the right model, you can do without the external spare; a Sport Appearance Package remains available, creating a more carlike silhouette by deleting it. Just that one change, combined with some other minor changes, make the RAV4 look much more like the crossover wagon it is.
For 2011, a new Upgrade Value Package adds a bunch of popular equipment to Base four-cylinder or V-6 models. It includes a six-disc changer, XM satellite radio, steering-wheel audio controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, a moonroof, and various interior and exterior upgrades.