2011 Toyota RAV4 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 2, 2011

Don't let appearances mislead; the 2011 Toyota RAV4 is a modern, practical crossover choice and great for frugal families.

The 2011 Toyota RAV feels a little traditional, even though it's a modern crossover ute, with much more of an emphasis on roadworthy performance than off-road ability—and three rows of seating.

The RAV4's design is an odd conglomeration of what SUVs were and where they're going, in terms of both style and layout. While it has a layout and roofline that's in synch with fresh crossover designs, most of the lineup has some cues that bow to the most rugged SUV designs that were popular a decade or more ago—including the spare tire hanging off the side-opening hatch. And despite a modest redesign, a couple of years ago, which earned it a restyled grille and front bumper, improved fog light trims, and redesigned tail lights, the RAV4 kept its taller, more trucklike stance.

It has an impressive powertrain lineup, along with all the other makings for a good performance package—at least compared to other tall crossover wagons and SUVs. A 179-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was introduced last year, while a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 remains optional; as such, it's the most powerful vehicle in its class. There's no manual gearbox to be had; V-6 RAV4 models have a five-speed automatic, while four-cylinder models make do just fine with a four-speed auto. In either case, the RAV4 is offered with either front- or four-wheel drive. The four-cylinder base engine has enough power to keep most drivers happy; it's smooth and responsive, with enough for all but the heaviest loads or toughest mountain grades. The larger engine gives the RAV4 the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. All the while, the RAV4 handles surprisingly well for such a tall, soft-riding vehicle. The optional AWD system uses electronic control to send power rearward when slippage in front is detected, and offers a true 50/50 fixed power split with a 4WD Lock mode.

Review continues below

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 misses few marks for comfort. With well designed seating, good seating comfort, and top-notch assembly quality, along with a tight, quiet cabin, the RAV4 has covers all the bases. The only minor gripes pertain to interior materials and third-row seating space. The interior of the 2010 Toyota RAV4 features an attractive two-tier instrument panel, good seats, a nice upright driving position, and plenty of storage spaces. The RAV4 teeters between compact and mid-size, but in any case, it's one of the few vehicles of its stature to offer a third-row seat. The third row officially expands the RAV4's capacity to seven, but you certainly won't have much luck trying to get adults to ride in the RAV4's third row. For that, you'll need to move up to the larger Highlander. But the seat design doesn't eat up much if any cargo space; when they're not occupied by children, they stow nicely in a recessed area of the cargo floor.

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 is no luxury model, but it comes very well equipped, with three different trims offered with each powertrain possibility, covering a range from basic and fuel-efficient to luxurious or sporty and powerful. 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, ten cup holders, and cruise control. But it's a disappointment that a Bluetooth hands-free system is only offered as a port-installed option if you don't select the JBL system. The top Limited model can be optioned like a luxury model, with leather seating areas, heated front seats, and the SUV-requisite rear seat DVD entertainment system to keep the kids entertained.

If you choose the right model, you can do without the external spare; a Sport Appearance Package remains available, creating a more carlike silhouette by deleting it. Just that one change, combined with some other minor changes, make the RAV4 look much more like the crossover wagon it is.

For 2011, a new Upgrade Value Package adds a bunch of popular equipment to Base four-cylinder or V-6 models. It includes a six-disc changer, XM satellite radio, steering-wheel audio controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, a moonroof, and various interior and exterior upgrades.

7

2011 Toyota RAV4

Styling

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 bows to tradition—at least on the outside—and doesn't go the way of most crossovers.

The Toyota RAV4 is an odd conglomeration of what SUVs were and where they're going, in terms of both style and layout. While it has a layout and roofline that's in synch with fresh crossover designs, most of the lineup has some cues that bow to the most rugged SUV designs that were popular a decade or more ago—including the spare tire hanging off the side-opening hatch. And despite a modest redesign, a couple of years ago, which earned it a restyled grille and front bumper, improved fog light trims, and redesigned tail lights, the RAV4 kept its taller, more trucklike stance.

If you choose the right model, you can do without the external spare; a Sport Appearance Package remains available, creating a more carlike silhouette by deleting it. Just that one change, combined with some other minor changes, make the RAV4 look much more like the crossover wagon it is.

Inside, Toyota doesn't go the traditional route with the interior styling in the RAV4—especially when it comes to the instrument panel. It has a very upright, straightforward layout, but the uninterrupted swaths of hard plastic and chunky, almost bulbous details might strike some as a bit odd.

Review continues below
8

2011 Toyota RAV4

Performance

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 has strong, fuel-efficient powertrains, complemented by surprisingly good—though not sporty—handling.

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 has an impressive powertrain lineup, along with all the other makings for a good performance package—at least compared to other tall crossover wagons and SUVs. A 179-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was introduced last year, while a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 remains optional; as such, it's the most powerful vehicle in its class. There's no manual gearbox to be had; V-6 RAV4 models have a five-speed automatic, while four-cylinder models make do just fine with a four-speed auto. In either case, the RAV4 is offered with either front- or four-wheel drive.

The four-cylinder base engine has enough power to keep most drivers happy; it's smooth and responsive, with enough for all but the heaviest loads or toughest mountain grades. The larger engine gives the RAV4 the ability to sprint with hot-rod-like authority or pull off astonishingly quick passes. All the while, the 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 fix that tendency.

Though off-road ability isn't a priority in the RAV4, its four-wheel-drive system is a bit more able than rival crossovers, capable of sending as much as 45 percent of torque to the back at up to 25 mph and including a 50/50 fixed power split in a 4WD Lock mode.

Review continues below
8

2011 Toyota RAV4

Comfort & Quality

With the cramped third-row seat the only exception, the 2011 Toyota RAV4 is a very comfortable

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 misses few marks for comfort. With well designed seating, good seating comfort, and top-notch assembly quality, along with a tight, quiet cabin, the RAV4 has covers all the bases. The only minor gripes pertain to interior materials and third-row seating space.

The interior of the 2010 Toyota RAV4 features an attractive two-tier instrument panel, good seats, a nice upright driving position, and plenty of storage spaces. The RAV4 teeters between compact and mid-size, but in any case, it's one of the few vehicles of its stature to offer a third-row seat. The third row officially expands the RAV4's capacity to seven, but you certainly won't have much luck trying to get adults to ride in the RAV4's third row. For that, you'll need to move up to the larger Highlander. But the seat design doesn't eat up much if any cargo space; when they're not occupied by children, they stow nicely in a recessed area of the cargo floor.

Most drivers will find front-seat comfort good, though they're a bit short; taller folks might find them lacking support and want more rearward travel. The second row is comfortable enough for adults, and folds forward neatly as well as reclines.

Cargo space in the RAV4 is quite impressive, with extra storage wells in the rear floor and a third row that folds completely flat. The side-opening rear door and rather tall cargo floor are features that family shoppers might not find as friendly, though.

Overall, the RAV4 rides well, too, with little harshness, road noise, or wind noise, although Sport models with the larger 18-inch wheels do tend to ride a little harder and more vocally.

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5

2011 Toyota RAV4

Safety

While all the features are here, truly lackluster safety ratings punt the RAV4 to near the back of the pack among crossovers.

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 has a full roster of safety features, but its crash-test ratings are far from best in class.

Driver and front passenger front-seat-mounted side airbags and first- and second-row roll-sensing side airbags are included in all 2011 RAV4s, along with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. All-wheel drive, stability and traction control, and electric power steering come together in Toyota's VSC system. Models equipped with the third-row seat also come standard with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC)—two features that are derived from what Toyota offers in its off-road-worthy vehicles and would come in quite handy for negotiating a steep, snowy driveway.

That's all good news, but when it comes to crash tests, the RAV4 hasn't done unanimously well. It achieves top "good" ratings for frontal, side, and rear impact from the IIHS, but an "acceptable" rating in the new rollover-critical roof-strength category. And in more stringent federal NCAP testing introduced this year, the RAV4 earns only a three-star rating overall, including three-star frontal impact results and four stars for side impact protection.

Review continues below
7

2011 Toyota RAV4

Features

For family-oriented shoppers on a budget, the 2011 Toyota RAV4 offers quite the list of features.

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 is no luxury model, but it comes very well equipped, with three different trims offered with each powertrain possibility, covering a range from basic and fuel-efficient to luxurious or sporty and powerful.

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. And on V-6 models, towing capacity can be increased to 3,500 pounds.

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, ten cup holders, and cruise control. But it's a disappointment that a Bluetooth hands-free system is only offered as a port-installed option if you don't select the JBL system.

If you add the Appearance Package to the Sport model, you can do away with the spare wheel and tire mounted on the outside of the hatch—resulting in a much sleeker appearance. The Sport can also be optioned up with a power moonroof and the JBL system. Moving up to the Limited trim gains 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.

For 2011, a new Upgrade Value Package adds a bunch of popular equipment to Base four-cylinder or V-6 models. It includes a six-disc changer, XM satellite radio, steering-wheel audio controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, a moonroof, and various interior and exterior upgrades.

Review continues below
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2011 Toyota RAV4

Fuel Economy

Considering how much it can haul, the 2011 Toyota RAV4 is a reasonably responsible choice.

In base four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive form, the 2011 Toyota RAV4 is a decently green vehicle choice, with fuel economy ratings (at 22 mpg city, 28 highway) that are just as good as those of some smaller vehicles.

V-6 models aren't nearly as fuel-efficient, but even at 19/26 for the V-6 4WD model, with three rows of seating, the RAV4 could hardly be called wasteful.

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Styling 7
Performance 8
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