2012 Toyota RAV4 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 28, 2012

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 remains a strong, refined choice for families, even though some of its design might be a blast from the past.

Of all the modern compact crossover models for 2012, the Toyota RAV4 remains one of the better picks its size for daily family-hauling needs. But looking at its conservative, traditional, faux-rugged SUV appearance, you might not expect that at all.

That's because the RAV4's design is an odd conglomeration of what SUVs were and where they're going, in terms of both style and layout; the design—with the spare tire hanging on a side-opening hatch—seemed a little confused when this generation was first launched for 2006. While the interior layout and roofline are along the same lines as those of fresh crossover designs, most of the RAV4 lineup also still bows to the most rugged SUV designs that were popular a decade or more ago—including that spare tire.

Although the RAV4 doesn't seem modern in appearance, it's fully up to class rivals in performance. The base 179-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is smooth, responsive, and has enough power to keep most drivers happy, while a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 remains optional; as such, it has the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. All RAV4 models come with an automatic transmission—four-speed with the four-cylinder, five-speed with the V-6. In either case, the RAV4 is offered with either front- or four-wheel drive. 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.

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For such a tall, soft-riding vehicle, the 2012 Toyota RAV4 handles surprisingly well, yet its ride is by no means harsh. 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. Small third row seats and cheapish interior materials are about all there is not to like inside. Otherwise, well designed seating, good seating comfort, and top-notch assembly quality, along with a tight, quiet cabin, the RAV4 has covers all the bases.

Three different trims of the 2012 Toyota RAV4 are offered—each with a choice of the four or V-6—so families are covered in seeking a RAV4 that's right, ranging from basic and fuel-efficient to luxurious or sporty and powerful. The base model includes a Lexus-like electroluminescent instrument panel, remote keyless entry, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power mirrors, three 12-volt outlets, ten cup holders, and cruise control. 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.

For 2012, sound systems have been completely revamped, and all models now include Bluetooth hands-free connectivity. With the new Display Audio systems, Bluetooth music streaming is also included, while in Limited models HD Radio with iTunes tagging, text-to-voice capability, and XM satellite radio are added. Also wrapped in is Toyota's Entune suite of services, with a range of data services and apps like Pandora streaming.

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.

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