2009 Toyota RAV4 Four-Cylinder: No Longer The Baby Of The Family

May 16, 2010

The RAV4 Sport four-cylinder ($24,600 as tested) had a handling-tuned suspension and P235/55R18 tires on alloy wheels, plus fog lamps, a roof rack with cross bars, heated outside mirrors, color-keyed trim outside and unique charcoal fabric inside. Options expand to include a JBL premium stereo with nine speakers, a six-CD changer, XM Satellite radio, Bluetooth, and steering-wheel controls ($890), plus a power tilt-and-slide glass sunroof ($900). But the third-row seat is not offered on the Sport.

Folks trading in an older (pre-2006) RAV4 will notice the current model's improved stability (from its wider track) and a smoother ride (from its longer wheelbase). In the Sport, the suspension is tuned toward handling over smoothness. Jeanie and I own a 2003 RAV4 and she noticed the improved performance of the larger four-cylinder engine, and the expanded cargo area over our older model.

So what was once the cute baby of the family is now the family car. Ever since its last total overhaul in 2006, the Toyota RAV4 has offered seating for seven, cargo capacity comparable to some mid-size SUVs, and V-6 performance near the top of its class. The RAV4 can tow 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, and buyers have the choice of front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The base RAV4 seats five and offers more frugal four-cylinder power, which gets 21/27 mpg city/highway fuel economy.

A good reason to buy the RAV4 is its on-demand four-wheel drive system. Toyota uses an electronically controlled center coupling to distribute torque between the front and rear wheels, depending on road conditions and driver input. The system can continuously and seamlessly switch from front-wheel drive to four-wheel drive mode, maximizing fuel efficiency. In Auto mode, torque distribution to the rear wheels is decreased during low speed cornering for better maneuverability. A four-wheel drive manual locking switch will disengage the Auto mode, maximizing torque to the rear wheels. When vehicle speed reaches 25 mph, Lock mode will disengage, reverting back to Auto mode. Lock mode also disengages when the brakes are applied, optimizing ABS and VSC operation. Front-wheel drive models come equipped with an automatic limited slip differential.

The Toyota RAV4 is enjoyable to drive and packaged well, and the available four-cylinder engine offers good fuel economy.

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