2008 Toyota RAV4 Review

Consumer Reviews
1 Review
The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 7, 2008

The 2008 Toyota RAV4 brings a little more space than most compact SUVs without a mid-size price.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com have incorporated comments from some of the best review resources in compiling this review on the 2008 Toyota RAV4. Along with this, TheCarConnection.com’s editors have added their own assessments from extensive test drives.

The RAV4 is Toyota’s smallest crossover utility vehicle. The biggish compact slots into the Toyota lineup between the Matrix hatchback and the now large-midsize Highlander. Unlike many of the other compact crossover vehicles, it wedges a third-row seat in back.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine available in the 2008 Toyota RAV4 offers an impressive 269 horsepower, making it the most powerful vehicle in its class. The standard engine is a more fuel-conscious 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 166 horsepower. All RAV4s are automatic-only, with V-6 models getting a five-speed automatic, while four-cylinder versions use a four-speed automatic.

Each engine in the 2008 Toyota RAV4 can be combined with either front- or four-wheel drive in a system that sends all torque to the front wheels in normal driving for efficiency, or up to 45 percent of torque to the back when needed. The system comes with a 4WD Lock setting that allows 45 percent to be sent to the rear wheels at up to 25 mph.

Review continues below

All 2008 Toyota RAV4 V-6 models, and all four-cylinder models equipped with a third-row seat, come standard with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC). All-wheel drive, stability and traction control, and electric power steering systems come together in a single system with Toyota’s VSC stability control.

With the standard four-cylinder engine, the 2008 Toyota RAV4 is economical and surprisingly peppy throughout the rev range, with enough torque to move you briskly from a standstill, provided you’re not carrying a heavy load; passing power is just adequate. The more powerful V-6 has a completely different personality. It’s very smooth and refined, like the four, but it has the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. It’s good for hilly terrain or heavy loads, but otherwise, the four is just fine—and more efficient, with ratings of up to 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway.

The 2008 Toyota RAV4 rides on a wheelbase that’s three inches longer than the previous version, so it has substantially more interior/cargo space, including an available third-row seat and seven-passenger seating capability. The longer wheelbase also results in a more settled ride; it’s smooth and well damped, and though the steering doesn’t provide much feedback, the RAV4 corners confidently.

The RAV4’s interior feels spacious and well designed, with an attractive two-tier instrument panel design, good seats, a nice upright driving position, and plenty of storage spaces. The available third-row seats in the 2008 Toyota RAV4 are too small for any adult to use. But when they’re not occupied by children, they stow nicely in a recessed area of the cargo floor.

There are three 2008 Toyota RAV4 models: base, Sport, and Limited. Base models even come well loaded, with air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, and a six-speaker sound system. The Sport brings a sport-tuned suspension, heated mirrors, and appearance extras; the top Limited model adds bigger wheels, foglamps, a different grille, upgraded seats, dual-zone climate control, and a tonneau cover, among other things. The options list includes an upgraded JBL sound system with Bluetooth interface, heated seats, and a power moonroof.

Driver and front passenger front-seat-mounted side airbags, along with first- and second-row roll-sensing side curtain airbags, are standard on all versions of the 2008 Toyota RAV4, along with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. The RAV4 has done quite well in crash tests, with four- and five-star results for frontal impact and five stars for side impact in the federal tests, plus top "good" ratings for frontal and side impact from the IIHS but a "marginal" rating for rear impact.


2008 Toyota RAV4


Once past a few avant-garde interior details, the 2008 Toyota RAV4’s styling comes off as successful and interesting.

The 2008 Toyota RAV4 is fresh and inoffensive on the outside, polarizing and modern on the inside.

“Toyota says the third-generation RAV4's exterior styling follows a ‘modern-rugged theme,’” reports Cars.com. Kelley Blue Book decides this makes it “more substantial and less 'cute'” than the previous generation, but discovers that typically clean, play-it-safe Toyota styling is the rule, with the exception of “the triangular rear C-pillar and vertically-wrapped taillamps.” MyRide.com notes that “fewer superfluous curves and less cladding” than the previous RAV present “a more finished appearance.”

Toyota opts for carefully modern on the inside, with a sweeping two-tier dash whose “swollen protuberances at first look Jetson-ish,” says Car and Driver, “but in fact break up what would otherwise be a dull sea of plastic.” MyRide.com is critical, calling it a “horizontal gash running the width of the car,” and finds its only redeeming feature to be “a bi-level glove box.” Kelley Blue Book explains that “the center cluster, door trim and steering wheel spokes are brushed metallic-look plastic,” again lending the RAV4’s interior an air of modernity.

Review continues below

2008 Toyota RAV4


Zero to 60 in 6.7 seconds -- the 2008 Toyota RAV4 has come a long way.

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.

Review continues below

2008 Toyota RAV4

Comfort & Quality

Toyota has been doing great interiors for decades, and the 2008 Toyota RAV4 is yet another example.

The interior of the 2008 Toyota RAV4 is generally comfortable, capacious, and screwed together well.

In the front row of the RAV4, ConsumerGuide registers “ample headroom and legroom” but comments that “long-legged drivers may want more rearward seat travel.” Kelley Blue Book likes the base model’s “durable fabric-covered seats,” as well as the “higher-level cloth” that “dresses Limited and Sport models.” Seat comfort is praised by all, with the exception of ConsumerGuide, whose reviewers are “divided on RAV4's seat comfort and driving position,” some of whom feel the latter is too buslike. “The seats look expensive and are comfortable for hours,” says Car and Driver, and MyRide.com remarks, “The front seats are supportive but not overly firm, with modest bolsters and decent thigh support.”

The second row, says ConsumerGuide, offers “ample headroom and legroom…on a comfortable bench.” Motor Trend also likes the “triple-folding rear seat that reclines.” Toyota stretches and widens the RAV4 enough to squeeze in a third-row seat, but it’s a kids-only affair that “requires a high step-in,” according to ConsumerGuide.

Cargo room and storage are judged impressive in “five-seat versions, which have two convenient storage wells in the rear floor area for added utility,” says ConsumerGuide. Those handy storage wells become seat storage in versions with the optional third-row seat. Access to the cargo hold is criticized by some reviewers who feel that the side-swinging rear door is inconvenient and “a little odd these days…complicating loading and unloading when you're parked along a curb,” reports Motor Trend. Competitors offer a hatch that swings up and out of the way.

Ergonomics, switchgear, and the quality and fit of parts are “Toyota grade, which means excellent,” in the words of MyRide.com. “The gauges have large, legible markings,” proclaims ConsumerGuide, who also note “the controls are easy to locate and simple to use.” ConsumerGuide takes issue with a “too-flimsy glovebox lid and low-grade headliner material,” as well as some squeaks and rattles in some of their tester examples.

Review continues below

2008 Toyota RAV4


The 2008 Toyota RAV4 deserves a second look for anyone shopping for a safe, secure, and solid SUV.

The 2008 Toyota RAV4’s standard list of safety features won’t leave you wanting for occupant protection.

Standard safety equipment on the RAV4 is comprehensive. Anti-lock disc brakes at all four wheels, Toyota’s VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), traction control, front seat side airbags, and the ever-important full-length side curtain airbags are standard on every RAV4. Importantly, the side curtain airbags will deploy if the vehicle’s sensors detect an impending rollover, a great feature in any SUV where the center of gravity is naturally higher. Crucial to both tire wear and proper safety performance, tire pressure is monitored electronically in every RAV4.

“Vehicles equipped with the V6 and/or the optional third-row seat also come with hill-start assist and downhill assist control,” reports Edmunds. These features probably won’t be used much by soccer moms in suburbia, making them a bit superfluous for most RAV4s, but they certainly lend an air of greater control to drivers who venture onto snow and engage in light-duty off-roading.

The RAV4 performed admirably in both National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests. The NHTSA awarded the RAV4 five out of five stars for driver protection in frontal impacts, and for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. It earned four stars for front passenger protection in frontal impacts, as well as rollover resistance and rollover crash protection. The IIHS gave the RAV4 its top rating, “good,” for both frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing.

Review continues below

2008 Toyota RAV4


From basic to Bluetooth, the 2008 Toyota RAV4 may be optioned to please the frugal or the whole family. 

The 2008 Toyota RAV4 covers a lot of ground, from well equipped with wheel covers to loaded with luxury.

Explains Edmunds, “There are three trim levels: base, Sport and Limited. There is standard seating for five; however, a third row is optional on the base and Limited trim levels and it increases capacity to seven people.” A Lexus-like electroluminescent instrument panel is standard, as are remote keyless entry, an auxiliary jack for the single-CD six-speaker stereo, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power mirrors, three 12-volt outlets, 10 cup holders, and cruise control. Hill Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC) are standard on V-6 models and four-cylinder models with the optional third-row seat.

Moving up to the Limited trim adds items such as 17-inch wheels and tires, leather upholstery, a six-disc CD changer, dual-zone automatic climate control audio controls for the steering wheel, and an eight-way power driver’s seat. “The Sport trim gets much of this plus 18-inch performance tires and wheels, sport suspension, blackout headlamp trim and fender flares,” explains Kelley Blue Book.

Available as an option on the base model is a JBL audio system with integrated Bluetooth capability and nine speakers, as are daytime running lights and a package that increases towing capacity to 3,500 pounds. The Sport can be optioned up with a power moonroof and the JBL audio system. And the Limited’s features may be increased to include leather seating areas, heated front seats, and the SUV-requisite rear seat DVD entertainment system to keep the kids entertained.

Review continues below
Continue Reading

The Car Connection Consumer Review

1 Review
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
Rate and Review your car for The Car Connection! Tell us your own ratings for a vehicle you own. Rate your car on Performance, Safety, Features and more.
Write a Review
October 28, 2015
2008 Toyota RAV4 4WD 4-Door 4-cyl 4-Speed AT Sport (Natl)

Very dissatisfied with this vehicle due to problem after problem. Will never buy another Toyota product

  • Overall Rating
  • Interior/Exterior
  • Performance
  • Comfort and Quality
  • Safety
  • Features
  • Fuel Economy / MPG
  • Reliability
I have had nothing but problems with this vehicle. I bought the vehicle used. The first year I had this vehicle the engine blew up. Toyota did replace the engine - the labor costs. I have replaced alternator... + More »
people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
$4,992 - $14,995
Browse Used Listings
in your area
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy N/A
Compare the 2008 Toyota RAV4 against the competition
Compare All Cars
Looking for a different year of the Toyota RAV4?
Read reviews & get prices
Related Used Listings
Browse used listings in your area
See More Used