Road Test Reviews, Toyota, Vehicles

2010 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD – Road Test

It’s been a couple of years since I last drove a RAV4, but to be honest I don’t remember a thing about it… Toyota gave it a redesign with numerous upgrades for the 2009 model year, so I thought I’d give it another go. Other than the re-design, there were two other situations that made it a perfect time to take the RAV4 out for a spin…

While I was arranging to get one for a test, Toyota were in the middle of a storm of bad press – it seemed like every day a new “failure” or “runaway vehicle” was being announced in newspapers, on TV and of course the internet. As I’ve mentioned before – I think it’s just a witch-hunt. People love to kick successful people/companies when the opportunity presents itself and this was no different. Audi went through it in the ’80’s and just barely survived in North America. Toyota have a stronger and bigger presence, but they will no doubt suffer a black eye for many years because of this.

The second reason I chose the RAV4, is because the lease on our car is up and it was time to get something new… we just didn’t have a clue what we wanted to get. The RAV4 and several other vehicles fit right into our wants and needs categories, so why not try and get one for a little longer than the usual one-week test?

Toyota obliged and here we are – the first “long-term” test we’ve had the opportunity of conducting. Five weeks should be long enough to see if this vehicle is going to replace our much-loved and well-used Mazda5.

First Impressions
We picked up the “Barcelona Red Metallic” RAV4 on a nice sunny day in May and ended our experiment in the middle of June. When I noticed it was a Limited model, I looked inside expecting to see a leather interior, but was surprised to find that it was indeed cloth.

Taking a quick look around the interior, I was impressed by how logical everything appeared to be laid out and by the quality of the materials used. I didn’t get to drive it at that point because the wife grabbed the key fob out of my hand and climbed behind the wheel.

Available in 4 and 6-cylinder models and in either FWD or AWD, the RAV4 appeals to many people’s needs and as such am not surprised I see so many of them on the road. The front-wheel drive, 4-cylinder model comprising of 179 hp 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission boasts fuel-efficiency of  9.4 / 6.9 / 8.3 L/100 kms (city/highway/combined).

The more powerful (and much more fun) V6 doesn’t hurt much at the pumps – fuel economy is rated at a very respectable 9.7 / 7.2 / 8.6 L/100 kms (city/highway/combined), making me wonder if it’s really worth getting the 4-banger at all. Not only that, but you get a 6-speed automatic with the V-6, versus a 4-speed auto with the four. During six different fill-ups, I averaged from a low of 9.1L to a high of 11.0 L/100 kms in mixed driving.

When Toyota re-designed the RAV4, they upgraded it with several very desirable features. In addition to the revised (and better-looking) front grille, front bumper, headlamp/fog lamp, rear bumper and rear tail lamps, active front headrests are included as well as, dual heated exterior rearview mirrors with integrated turn signals, power door locks, windows, the very cool Optitron gauges featuring a new fuel economy meter and the audio system is now MP3 capable.

Limited models get power 8-way driver seat with recline, height adjustments and lumbar support, but the rest of the RAV4 lineup (except for the Sport) have to make do without. The driver’s seat is VERY comfortable and in five weeks of driving it I didn’t complain once. Even after a 2+ hour drive I was as refreshed as the moment I climbed into the RAV4 – I certainly can’t say that about very many vehicles. The lumbar adjustment is superb in the RAV4 – usually I have to get it cranked all the way out to get comfortable, but this seat required just a tiny bit of adjustment to get into a perfect position. This is probably the most comfortable Toyota seat I’ve encountered to date.

The RAV4 is certainly one of the best utility vehicles out there at the moment. With gobs of power under the right shoe, it leaves everything in its wake when you stomp on the gas pedal at a set of lights! Throwing it into corners brings a bit of body roll but not anything worse than an average car – and it’s certainly much better than 90% of the SUV/CUV vehicles I’ve driven in the past. Stopping is quick and uneventful with a nice solid feel to the brake pedal.

On one of our long excursions, we had to do a lot of driving through hills and deep valleys for 50+ kms and the RAV4 performed like it was on a flat straight road. There was none of the usual hunting for gears or a sudden kick-down when the road got steep. I put the cruise control on for part of the journey, but it didn’t do me any good when I’d set it for 80 km/h and we were travelling downhill at 120 km/h! I was quite surprised that it couldn’t hold the set speed on downhill areas.

Since I got the RAV4 to use as an everyday vehicle, the utility part is a very important part of our life. To that end we put it to good use when needed some gravel (think concrete in gravel form) to fill the pot-holes in our driveway…it was starting to look like the streets of Baghdad!  So we chucked a whole bunch of VERY heavy buckets and bags of stone/gravel in the back and headed home. The RAV4 didn’t miss a beat – drove like it was empty – even up a very steep hill, you wouldn’t think we had a couple of hundred kg’s in the back….we were so impressed, we did it a couple more times!

On another occasion, we headed off to Home Depot to get some gutters and downspouts for our barn (don’t we live an exciting life?). They are sold only in 10 foot (3m) lengths, but it appears we have a little problem. I love the RAV’s rear door that swings out, but the window is fixed, so you can’t put long items inside to transport them… if the door swung up, I could just tie it down and let the gutters hang out the back…but I can’t.

Hmmm what to do…. I didn’t want to strap them to the roof. Well my wife just happens to be a genius at packing any vehicle, so she wedged the gutters in diagonally up on to the dashboard and closed the rear door. It fit, but another couple of millimetres and we’d have been in trouble.

She still thinks with a little more time she could have made this work even better by putting it over top of the back seats instead of flipping them down – that way a different angle would have been available. Anway .. Score one more for the RAV4!

Unique to the Limited model is “Smart Key” – a very useful system that lets you lock and unlock the vehicle without taking the fob out of your pocket or bag. Just place your hand behind the door handle and it unlocks. Push the little rubber button on the door handle and it locks all the doors. One little quirk we found was that the driver’s door will only unlock that door, but if you put your hand behind the front passenger door handle it unlocks all five doors. What made it annoying was when I unlocked the driver’s door, and then tried to get into the rear door I had to go inside the car to push the door lock button … very frustrating especially when it’s raining!

Then I looked into the owner’s manual… a place very few people venture, and I found a very simple way to switch it so that the driver’s door unlocks all the doors at the same time – another win for the RAV!  However, since we’re on the subject of rain – that’s another downfall of the side-opening rear cargo door … no shelter in the rain when you’re unloading and loading the vehicle … and therefore it’s not a source of shelter from the rain during tailgate parties or picnics.

Also unique to the Limited is the rear backup camera. I like this particular unit, because it’s incorporated into the rear-view mirror – very handy. It allows you to reverse right up to a wall without fear of damaging the rear tire cover.

I found one very annoying pet peeve very early in our first couple of days with the RAV4 – driving in the dark for the first time, I couldn’t find the lock/unlock buttons inside the cabin because they aren’t lit up!! But the “Auto” button for putting the driver’s window down lights up nice and bright!

Which one do you think makes more sense to have illuminated? Also, the steering mounted audio controls don’t light up… well two of the six do… the “mode” button and the “info” button… so you have to remember where the volume and channel change buttons are when groping around in the dark – fortunately they are logically placed, but I don’t understand the reasoning about only lighting up two buttons.. the wires are there anyway – just light all of them!!!.

The climate control was good and bad. The Dual-Zone Automatic system is available only on the Limited model and for some unknown reason it ALWAYS came on in recirculation mode whenever we started the vehicle. Why Toyota engineers chose that I have no idea, but when I get into a car that’s been sitting in 30-degree C weather for a few hours, the last thing I want is to be hit with scalding hot air from the interior of the car! One cool morning the windshield completely fogged over before we even left our driveway… I can just imagine in the winter the windshield would fog up right away with recirculated air, so I can’t comprehend why this is considered a good thing.

The rear bench seat splits 60/40 and incorporates a folding centre armrest with cup holders. Folding the seat is as simple as grabbing a handle located in the rear cargo area – just make sure the centre seat belt is out of the way or given slack on the driver’s side, otherwise you’ll have to go around to the rear seat to untangle the centre seatbelt it in order to get the seat flush. On two separate occasions my wife and I got caught out by this little annoyance and it was frustrating untangling the seatbelt while fighting with the heavy seatback.

Rear cargo capacity is generous to say the least. From the outside you’d never guess the RAV4 could be so accommodating. The second-row seat slides as much as 16 cm to create either more cargo room or more legroom depending on your required needs.

The seatback also reclines, offering the rear seat passengers plenty of ways to get comfortable. With the front passenger seat set to its maximum legroom, knee room there can be as little as 9 cm or as generous as 25 cm for rear passengers. I measured the rear cargo area and it came out at 109 cm wide x 92 – 109 cm deep and 96 cm high. Folding the second-row seats gets the length up to a very long 184 cm without anything infringing on the front occupants.

Under the cargo floor are two large cargo bins that can be used independently and are perfect for storing items that you’d rather the rest of the world didn’t get to see. The smaller one (measuring 20 cm x 32cm x 7cm) sits right up against the rear seat and the larger one (measuring 52 cm x 92cm x 20 cm) is close to the rear door and also includes two end flaps that can be removed so that the tonneau cover can be stowed and not get in the way. It’s quite ingenious and is an issue that 95% of the SUV/CUV’s I’ve tested have not been able to resolve.

All is not perfect with the RAV4 however…. one day while visiting relatives out in the country (even more out in the country than we live), we found a major problem – we drove down a country road that had just been sprayed with a combination of clay/dirt and water (how that’s supposed to be a logical combination to create a good road surface is beyond me – we’re on planet earth  – not Mars!)  Anyway… I got out of the car and the back of my leg is all covered in mud – ditto the wife’s legs too!

There is no way to avoid getting road grime (slush and salt in the winter) – all over your legs. The RAV4 is too low to justify getting step bars (they would make it worse in fact). The RAV4’s lower part of the door that meets the body just doesn’t go low enough – some cars and CUV’s have the bottom edge of the door extend under the vehicle, eliminating the possibility of getting dirt on your clothes, which is a logical feature. The bottom edge of the RAV4 doesn’t look any different than any other vehicle out there; it appears to be a bit of an anomaly… one that turns out to be a major deal-breaker for the wife and I where we live.

The Limited gets a very good audio system comprising of an AM/FM CD/MP3/WMA 6-Disc Changer, 6-Speakers, Auxiliary Jack, Auto Sound Levelizer (ASL), steering wheel audio controls, and the ever useless XM Satellite Radio. The sound quality is very good and the CD player even plays CD-RW discs – it’s not very often that is available in car decks. The Aux jack is useful, but I’d much rather have had a USB port. When using the Auxiliary jack, you have to crank up the volume in order to hear the music and the sound quality drops significantly. Also, the song titles don’t show on the audio screen.

The only option available for the Limited model – not available on any other model: Leather & JBL® Package: JBL® Audio, Bluetooth®4 Capability, 9-Speakers, Heated Driver & Front Passenger Seats, Leather Seat Surfaces, Simulated Leather Door Trim.

The Conclusion
I’ve always liked the RAV4 but thought it wouldn’t be big enough for our needs. My wife on the other hand assured me that it was better than the Toyota Venza – the vehicle I thought would be more in line with our lifestyle. Turns out she was right once again… the RAV4 was perfect for our wants and needs.

It has the utility and power that I value highly, with the comfort, space and utility she wants – at a price that is acceptable to both of us. We both felt at home with the RAV4 right from the minute we picked it up… it just goes to prove though, that a short road test is not enough to find a vehicle’s good and bad points.

We had the RAV4 for four and a half weeks before we discovered the one thing that we couldn’t decide if it was a make-or-break problem….. would we buy it or not?

Wonderful V-6 engine and matching 6-speed transmission
Great fuel economy
Plenty of storage compartments and loads of cargo space too


Annoying automatic climate system
No USB plug for the audio system
Bluetooth is bundled in expensive upgraded audio system – only available in the Limited model

Immediate Competition:
Honda CR-V, Dodge Nitro, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe/Tucson, Kia Sorento, Mazda Tribute/CX7, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester/Outback

By The Numbers…
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Powertrain:            3.5 L DVVTi (Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence) V-6; 6-speed automatic transmission; AWD
Horsepower (Kw):     269 (201) @ 6,200 rpm
Torque lb-ft (N.m.):     246 (333) @ 4,700 rpm
0-100 kph:         6.9 seconds

Curb Weight:         1,672 kg (3,686 lbs)
Cargo Capacity:     Behind Front Seats: 2,074 litres (73.2 cu.ft)  //  Behind Rear Seats: 1,015 litres (35.9 cu.ft)
Towing capacity:     1,587 kg (3,500 lbs)

Fuel Consumption:
City: 10.7 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 7.4 L/100 kms  // Combined: 9.2 L/100 kms

I averaged 9.1L/100 kms during combined driving, and 9.2 during very aggressive driving. Other times I came in as high  11.0 L/100 kms in mixed driving with a very heavy right foot. The on-board computer told me I averaged between 5.0 and 9.0 L/100 kms at any given time.

Pricing for the 2010 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD ($ Cdn)
Base Price: 4-cyl FWD – $24,295 / V-6 – $29,595
As Tested: $34,640
Destination & Delivery: $1,490

The warranty is a comprehensive Bumper-To-Bumper 3 years/60,000 kms that includes a 5 year/100,000 kms Powertrain warranty. Roadside Assistance is unlimited for three years.

Copyright © 2010 by Iain Shankland
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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