Toyota claim to have invented the car-based compact SUV class back in 1996 when they launched the original RAV4. The third generation RAV4 was launched last year, and probably the biggest surprise was the 269 hp V-6 that they made available. For me the other surprise was the availability of third row seating – in an SUV that small?! I could understand the big jump in horsepower – more is always better – but the continued obsession with wedging more people into smaller boxes just boggles my mind.
I’ve seen an older RAV4 after it had been rear-ended, and I wouldn’t want anyone that I care about, to sit that close to the rear door. In the case of this accident, the driver and front passenger got quite intimate with the rear door. Fortunately newer vehicles are far stronger and safer, but still, you need a crumple-zone and when the rear-most seat is right up against the back door – the passengers become the crumple-zone. This week’s test vehicle was the 5-passenger version, and the amount of cargo room that the new RAV4 offers really makes you wonder why people would give that up for a third row seat.
After spending the previous week with the FJ Cruiser, the RAV4 was a cultural shock in every sense. Where the Cruiser is big and tough, the RAV4 is dainty and polite. When driving the Cruiser, everyone got out of my way – with the RAV4 – I felt invisible in comparison.
The third generation RAV4 is a little larger than the outgoing model, as all manufacturers are consistently increasing vehicle sizes with each new generation. For the RAV4 its growing body is especially welcome, because comparing it with the first generation RAV4’s that are still prevalent on the roads today – it almost looks gigantic. Additionally, the looks have improved enormously with each succeeding model.
The seat adjustments are manual, with a cranking height adjustable lever but no lumbar adjustment. For the entire week I drove the RAV4, the seat back was never just perfect for me – the sweet spot was ever elusive. It could have been the fact I was wearing a bulky winter jacket, but my wife commented that the passenger seat was very similar. Although there wasn’t a lumbar adjustment, the seat was reasonably comfortable all week.
The tilt and telescoping steering wheel has no audio control buttons on it. Considering the RAV4 is in such a very competitive section of the market with other SUVs like the Hyundai Santa Fe for example, I was more than a little surprised at this omission. Also missing, and more or less considered mandatory in this segment, were a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter knob, and a 6-disc changer – the RAV4 only has a single-disc CD player.
The 3.5 litre V-6 engine, is extremely quiet and very responsive around town, with the power coming on the instant you press the go pedal and shifts are completely seamless. The electric power rack and pinion steering is nicely weighted and gives plenty of feedback. Entering the freeway I had no problem leaving other vehicles in my wake with the more than adequate 269 horsepower available through the 5-speed automatic transmission. Highway manners are exceptional, and the same is true even on the bumpy pot holed city streets. One disappointment however, was the wind noise at speeds above 75 mph – that was quite unexpected, otherwise it’s an extremely quiet and a very likable SUV that excels in almost every way. Everything inside the RAV4 has a quality feel to it and is pleasant to the touch. For the first hour or so that I drove the RAV4, I had to keep reminding myself that is wasn’t a Toyota Matrix, but an SUV – that’s how car-like the RAV4 is.
The centre console is a three-tiered unit that looks a little odd at first and houses a single-disc AM/FM/CD/WMA/MP3 player, and is equipped with an auxiliary input to allow MP3 players to be connected to the sound system. The sound quality is pretty good through the 6 speakers with plenty of bass. The climate control system is the ultimate in simplicity, form and function with nice large buttons. Both the stereo and heating/air conditioning controls are very easy to use and logically arranged.
As with many vehicles today, the transmission has a sport-type shift gate to it make it easy to shift into lower gears for hills etc. Some set-ups are better than others and I found myself using the RAV4 shifter more than I normally do – which is a good thing! All V-6 models come with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC). HAC briefly applies the brakes to reduce the backward speed of the vehicle (residents of San Francisco and Pittsburgh take note!), while the DAC uses the brakes to aid in slippery conditions while descending hills. The driver shifts into a lower gear, presses the button and the electronics take over by using the brakes to control the vehicle without any pedal input from the driver. What it does is electronically control the descent using the transmission and brakes so that the driver doesn’t have to ride the brakes while going down a steep hill. I didn’t use the brakes as often, but I did get the feeling I was a little out of control while relying on this automated system. Considering you have to shift into a lower gear and then push a button for the DAC, I don’t really see the need for it when all you have to do is gear down until you have full control. Whatever floats your boat!
Flooring the throttle with five adults aboard, the RAV4 scampered off like a scolded cat – very impressive! It’s not often you can find a vehicle that will still give you plenty of get-up-and-go when fully laden. Blasting over badly rutted rail road tracks was equally impressive with very little vibration passed on to the occupants.
The RAV4 is a strange mixture of being completely absent of features you come to expect (6-disc CD changer/audio controls on the steering wheel), while at the same time including items you wouldn’t expect such as Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control as well as heated wiper blades and plenty of storage space. Just when you complain about something missing, you discover something cool that’s been included and you didn’t expect to see. Case in point are the illuminated mirrors on the sun visors. Instead of just having the lights beside the mirrors, they are actually on the ceiling making it much easier use at night (woman thing obviously). Another unexpected feature is the rear glass on the tail gate that opens independently of the door – most manufacturers are going with fixed windows – much to my chagrin. To be truly adaptable in the utility aspect, why would any manufacturer not go this route?
The rear seating area is easy to get in and out of thanks the wide opening doors, and once seated, the occupants are treated to a comfortable bench seat that offers a folding arm rest which incorporates two cup holders. The rear seating is extremely generous, with an abundance of foot space under the front seats, and provides those relegated to the back seat with plenty of leg, hip and shoulder room for two. It is a little uncomfortable for three back there, and the biggest complaint was when looking for and engaging the rear seat belts. The buckle parts of the seatbelts were difficult to find because they kept disappearing into a little area that keeps them from interfering when you folded the seats forward. The seat slides fore and aft, depending on whether cargo or foot room is a priority at any given time. Added to that, the seat back is also adjustable for rake, so the comfort level is higher than usual. The seats split 60/40 and folds completely flat by utilizing either a lever on the side of the seat, or a lever in the rear cargo area.
Interior cargo space is very impressive at 36.4 cu/ft. with the seats up, and with the rear seats folded flat that increases to a sizable 73 cu/ft. By having the spare tire on the rear door, a lot of room inside the RAV4 is freed up providing additional cargo capacity (or for the third row seat in the seven passenger version). There’s a generous covered bin in the floor of the cargo area that will be eliminated should you opt for the extra seating. To keep prying eyes off the contents in the cargo area, there is a spring-loaded rolling cover as well as a cargo net that also offers a second-tier storage option.
The RAV4 is available with the choice of two engines and transmissions – a 2.4 litre 4-cylinder, 4-speed automatic, and a 3.5-litre V-6 engine with a 5-speed automatic transmission along with automatic 4WD. Both transmissions feature uphill/downhill shift control to reduce the frequency of gear shifting while traveling uphill, and the need for braking while descending. All RAV4’s feature Toyota’s Active Torque Control 4-wheel drive technology that distributes the power to the front or rear wheels according to driving conditions, while giving the full benefits of full-time 4-wheel drive whenever it’s needed. There’s a manually locking switch that disengages the automatic mode to allow a maximum torque split of 55/45 between the front and rear wheels. It automatically reverts back into the Auto mode at speeds above 24 mph (40 km/hr).
The warranty is a comprehensive Bumper-To-Bumper 3 years/60,000 miles [60,000 kms] that includes a 5 year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty. Roadside Assistance is unlimited for three years.
Towing capacity is a maximum of 3,500 lbs.
I liked the RAV4 a lot. It’s fun to drive, sporty and practical. It’s roomy, has a very responsive engine/transmission combo that also provides decent fuel economy. The seats are very comfortable and hold you in place when you’re driving gets a little exuberant. I loved the split rear door where the hatch glass opens independently of the rear door. The cloth seating material looks like it will take many years of abuse, but I do think that the front seats should have heated seats as most of the RAV4 competitors have them.
Pricing for the 2007 Toyota RAV4 V-6 Sport:
As tested: $28,035 [$33,590 Cdn]
Base price of the V-6 starts at: $25,840 [$31,800 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $645 U.S / $1,390 Cdn
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The 3.5 Litre V-6 is listed at 21.2 mpg City [11.1 L/100 km] and 30.5 mpg Highway [7.7 L/100 km]
I averaged 20.6 mpg [11.4 L/100km] in combined driving
Typical Toyota quality fit and finish
Plenty of power for a small SUV.
No leather and/or a moonroof at this price-point?
Would I Spend My Money On It?
To be honest, I’m not sure – it’s a very tough call. For the same money, other manufacturers include leather and a power moonroof. But Toyota’s reliability and re-sale value as well as quality, do justify the premium prices to some extent.
Back Seat Driver Test: 10 out of 10
“Wow! Look at the legroom – there’s tons of room back here!” “I’ve never seen so much room in the back of an SUV.”
Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson/Santa Fe, Jeep Liberty, Mazda Tribute, Mazda CX-7, Mitsubishi Outlander, Saturn Vue, Suzuki Grand Vitara/XL7
By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 3.5-litre V-6 engine; 5-speed automatic transmission; automatic 4WD
Horsepower: 269 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 246 @ 4,700 rpm
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
7 – Special Features (Climate Control etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
9 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling
8 – Bang for the $$
8 – Fuel Economy
142 Total / 150
Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk