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PERFORMANCE | 7 out of 10
“Superb power and fuel economy” (V-6)
“responsive steering and fine straight-line stability”
“easy to drive and maneuver”
“precision that no one would expect”
Car and Driver
The 2008 Toyota RAV4’s precise, capable driving experience gets downright exciting in V-6 Sport format.
The RAV4’s base four-cylinder is the smooth, torquey 2.4-liter DOHC unit from the Camry. Producing 166 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, it is largely unobtrusive and smooth but is unfortunately only available with a four-speed automatic that somewhat hampers its performance. ConsumerGuide finds that with this powertrain combination, the “RAV4 feels sluggish from stop, just adequate around town, and taxed in hilly terrain.” The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive version at 21/27 mpg, the four-wheel drive at 20/25 mpg.
Stepping up to Toyota’s brilliant 3.5-liter V-6 yields impressive “acceleration, pulling and passing power at or near the top of this class,” says Kelley Blue Book. At 269 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque, remarkably, “this powertrain gets almost the same fuel economy as the much less powerful four-cylinder, with 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway,” reports Edmunds. This is partially due to the five-speed auto’s extra cog and partially to the V-6’s more modern design than the four-cylinder. Of note, opting for four-wheel drive with the V-6 diminishes mileage by a mere 1 mpg, and only on the highway cycle. Clearly, the V-6’s torque works wonders for acceleration and efficiency. ConsumerGuide records a 0-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds with an AWD V-6 model, which is positively sparkling performance for an SUV.
Both automatic transmissions are praised for their smoothness and response to the driver’s demands, but the four-speed could use an extra ratio for greater efficiency and response, especially given its pairing with the weaker four-cylinder powerplant.
The optional AWD system uses electronic control to send power rearward when slippage in front is detected, and “unlike many competitor vehicles,” compliments Edmunds, “the RAV4 offers a true 4WD lock feature that fixes the front/rear power split 50/50.” This last feature should give the RAV4 some credibility with the four-wheeling crowd as well as some true capability in slush, snow, and mud.
Handling is roundly praised. Base models tend to plow ahead in tight corners, as most front-wheel-drive vehicles do, but the optional Sport models' firmer dampers largely fixed that tendency. “RAV4s have responsive steering and fine straight-line stability,” claims ConsumerGuide. “RAV4’s linear steering evinced the sort of precision that no one would expect in this segment,” say the critics at Car and Driver, and Automobile insists it “remains the sports car of the small sport-ute set,” with its “taut chassis and fully independent suspension” that “make this a sport-ute that's actually fun to drive.”
Ride comfort and bump absorption on the fully independent suspension are good, though a bit harsh at times in the Sport model: “Test models with 17-inch tires showed little impact harshness on sharp bumps and ridges with only mild jitter on washboard surfaces. Sport version with 18-inch tires are not noticeably harsher,” reports ConsumerGuide. Motor Trend feels the “ride is really a lot stiffer than it needs to be.” Road noise, also, intrudes a bit much at highway speeds for some.
Zero to 60 in 6.7 seconds -- the 2008 Toyota RAV4 has come a long way.