Last year's new four-cylinder engine makes the RAV4 more refined and appealing than before, but most reviewers voice a strong preference for the smooth, strong V-6 that's available throughout the model line.
The RAV4 gained an all-new base engine last year: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 179 horsepower. It is largely unobtrusive and smooth, and it represents a nice bump over 2008's figures. Edmunds states that the increase in power succeeds in "making it the class leader among rival fours." Another upside is that "fuel economy has increased slightly with this engine as well." Car and Driver reports that "when equipped with the four-banger and front-wheel drive, the RAV4 returns excellent fuel economy of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, albeit at the expense of quick acceleration."
The 3.5-liter V-6 that's available throughout the model line is a strong performer, according to every single review read by TheCarConnection.com. Kelley Blue Book says that stepping up to the engine brings "acceleration, pulling and passing power at or near the top of this class." At 269 hp and 246 pound-feet of torque, remarkably, the V-6 counts Edmunds as a fan: "If we were to buy a RAV4, it would have to come with the optional V6." The reviewer notes that fuel economy is almost as good as with the four-cylinder engine. 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. 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.
Several reviewers note that the four-speed automatic transmission included with the four-cylinder engine could use another ratio for improved fuel economy and better response. Autoblog calls the RAV4's automatic "a demerit, making performance feel soft when merging or passing," and misses a manual gearbox with the base engine.
The 2010 Toyota RAV4 handles surprisingly well for such a tall, soft-riding vehicle. Base models tend to plow a bit 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.
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." 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 both acceleration and efficiency.