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. A manual gearbox is no longer available in any of the models. 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.
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 50/50 fixed power split in a 4WD Lock model--good for deep snow, or muddy two-tracks.
For such a tall, soft-riding vehicle, the 2012 Toyota RAV4 handles surprisingly well, yet its ride is by no means harsh; Sport models fix its tendency to plow hard into corners, but they give up some ride quality.