2009 Toyota RAV4 Review

Consumer Reviews
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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 4, 2009

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 is a thoughtful choice for families looking for space that doesn't come at the expense of fuel economy.

Experts at TheCarConection.com understand that you want to be armed with plenty of information when you make your next car-buying decision. Researchers have scoured the Web for useful observations regarding the 2009 Toyota RAV4. TheCarConnection.com's editors combined this input with their own driving impressions to bring you a smart, inclusive review of the RAV4.

Looks are a little deceiving for the 2009 Toyota RAV4, which rides and drives more like a car but has a taller, more trucklike stance—along with a spare tire that hangs off the back as in some of the most rugged truck-based SUVs. Unlike many other compact crossover vehicles, it wedges a third-row seat in back. The biggish compact slots into the Toyota lineup between the Matrix hatchback and the now large-midsize Highlander.

The Toyota RAV4 gets a modest styling update for 2009, with a restyled grille and front bumper, improved fog light trims, and redesigned tail lights. A snappy Sport Appearance Package adds a clear bumper protector and takes away the exterior spare tire.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine available in the 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers an impressive 269 horsepower, making it the most powerful vehicle in its class. The standard engine is a more fuel-conscious, 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 179 hp. This is a boost in performance over the 2008 model, and Toyota says the new engine has been "optimized for performance and fuel efficiency." 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 2009 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 at up to 25 mph.

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With either engine, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 is very smooth and refined. The larger engine gives the RAV4 the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. The V-6 is good for hilly terrain or heavy loads, but otherwise, the four is just fine—and more fuel-efficient. The standard four-cylinder 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, but passing power is just adequate.

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 rides on a wheelbase that was lengthened several inches as part of a redesign for 2008, and it 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 longer wheelbase provides substantially more interior/cargo space, including an available third-row seat and seven-passenger seating capability. The available third-row seats in the 2009 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. 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 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. 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 2009 Toyota RAV4, along with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. All-wheel drive, stability and traction control, and electric power steering come together in a single system with Toyota's VSC stability control. All 2009 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).

There are three 2009 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 options list includes an upgraded JBL sound system with Bluetooth interface, heated seats, and a power moonroof. The Sport brings a sport-tuned suspension, heated mirrors, and appearance extras; the top Limited model adds bigger wheels, fog lamps, a different grille, upgraded seats, dual-zone climate control, and a tonneau cover, among other items.

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2009 Toyota RAV4

Styling

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 is a pretty nice-looking vehicle, and the light styling refresh is welcomed.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com find that the 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers drivers a pretty nice-looking vehicle that's been newly retouched.

MyRide.com notes that "fewer superfluous curves and less cladding" than the previous RAV present "a more finished appearance." "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." The 2009 refresh mainly includes small tweaks to the front and rear ends, but offers a nifty Sport Appearance Package that does away with the exterior spare tire. As Edmunds reports, the package "will get you [...] a different rear door without the mounted spare tire."

On the interior, 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. 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."

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2009 Toyota RAV4

Performance

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers an even better base engine, but the V-6 remains a good performance-minded choice.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com find that the 2009 Toyota RAV4 performs quite well overall, though it's definitely best with the optional V-6.

The RAV4's base engine has been upgraded for 2009. It's now 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."

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 hp 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. Edmunds is a fan of the V-6, asserting, "If we were to buy a RAV4, it would have to come with the optional V6. Despite having 100-plus more horses than most four-cylinder SUVs, the V6-equipped RAV4 manages to get almost the same fuel economy." The reviewer allows, however, that the smaller engine "is a reasonable choice for most buyers, as it provides adequate power for day-to-day driving."

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.

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.

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."

Handling is roundly praised. "RAV4's linear steering evinced the sort of precision that no one would expect in this segment," say the critics at Car and Driver. 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.

Ride comfort and bump absorption on the fully independent suspension are good, though a bit harsh at times in the Sport model. Motor Trend feels the "ride is really a lot stiffer than it needs to be." "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.

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2009 Toyota RAV4

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers a nicely finished interior, as well as good storage and passenger space.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com find that the 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers the kind of fit and finish drivers expect from Toyota: top-notch.

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." Seat comfort is praised by all, with the exception of ConsumerGuide, whose reviewers are "divided on RAV4's seat comfort and driving position," with some testers feeling the latter is too bus-like. "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." 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."

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. The second row, says ConsumerGuide, offers "ample headroom and legroom...on a comfortable bench." Motor Trend also praises the "triple-folding rear seat that reclines."

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. Access to the cargo hold, however, 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.

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

Road noise seems to intrude a bit much at highway speeds for some.

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2009 Toyota RAV4

Safety

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 has the features and protection to satisfy safety-minded families.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com like the safety features included on the 2009 Toyota RAV4. It hits all the important marks and scores well overall.

The RAV4 performed admirably in both National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests. The IIHS gave the RAV4 its top rating, "good," for both frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing. 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.

Standard safety equipment on the RAV4 is comprehensive. Crucial to both tire wear and proper safety performance, tire pressure is monitored electronically in 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. 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.

"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 greater control to drivers who venture onto snow and engage in light-duty off-roading.

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2009 Toyota RAV4

Features

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers features on its standard and options lists that will take care of most drivers' needs.

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 has plenty of snazzy features, and the experts at TheCarConnection.com predict that few drivers will be disappointed.

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." Hill Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC)—useful driving aids on- or off-road at low speed—are standard on V-6 models and four-cylinder models with the optional third-row seat. 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.

"The Sport trim gets this plus 18-inch performance tires and wheels, sport suspension, blackout headlamp trim and fender flares," explains Kelley Blue Book. Note that additional styling touches (such as removing the exterior spare tire) can be accomplished by adding the Sport Styling Package. The Sport can also be optioned up with a power moonroof and the JBL audio system. 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 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.

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.

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April 21, 2015
For 2009 Toyota RAV4

Versatile, reliable vehicle with average fit, finish and performance.

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I bought the Base V6 AWD version in 2009. Noise levels inside the cabin are quite low due to engine, road or wind noise. Comfortable on the highway although I tired with the base seats on long trips. It has... + More »
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 8
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