It's not every day I find myself in a RAV4. Among Toyota's top-selling vehicles, this is one I haven't had the pleasure of meeting. Painted Pacific Blue Metallic, this top-of-the-line Limited model is fitted with the 3.5-liter V-6, all-wheel drive, and looks like an unassuming family schlepper. Would it be appropriate to dub it a sleeper?

Anyway, let's get rolling. Crikey, how do I adjust the side mirrors on this thing? (*A minute or two later*) Ah, the side mirror toggle is down on the center console between the auxiliary audio jack and the parking brake. Why is the traction-control switch next to the seat-warmer buttons? I really should be paying more attention to the drive than to my trivial attempt at critiquing the interior. If only I weren't stuck in another Los Angeles traffic jam. Drat. Hands up if you didn't see that coming...

(*An hour and 20 miles later*)

I'm getting tired. Since this particular RAV4 has no USB input, I can't listen to my own tunes, and the local radio is starting to get old. Worst of all, the freeway monotony seems to have dulled my mental processes. I'm languishing away, ensnared in a motorcade bind that I'd rather not be a part of...oh, good, traffic is clearing up. I'll just push my right foot farther down into the footwell...

That's when I was re-introduced to what the V-6 and all-wheel drive can do. It's no secret that power can be addictive, regardless of vehicle packaging, and the RAV4 V-6's performance did manage to turn heads back in 2006 (the current generation's first model year). Save for the Audi Q5 3.2 (270 hp) and BMW X3 xDrive35i (300 hp), no other small crossover can trump the RAV4's 269 horsepower. And even then, the Toyota CUV doesn't have much company: Only the Acura RDX (240 hp), Kia Sportage SX (260 hp), Mazda CX-7 s (244 hp), and Mercedes-Benz GLK350 (268 hp) are within striking distance.

With 246 pound-feet of torque, the RAV4 V-6 jumps from 45-65 mph in 3.2 seconds -- impressive for a family soft-roader and on par with the Ford Mustang V-6 and Cadillac CTS Coupe (both automatic). From a standstill, the RAV4 gobbles up the 0-60 mph run in 6.3 seconds. Don't think that's fast? Try it in a CUV with 7.5 inches of ground clearance and a cushy ride designed to soak up the road and its imperfections. But in the era of the six-speed automatic, it's not hard to notice the RAV4's five-speed doesn't have the quickest reflexes. Maybe next generation...

The Limited model mounts 17-inch six-spoke alloys wrapped in 225/65/17 tires to the corners. There's little to mask the copious body roll and the physical fact that the RAV4 carries 3702 pounds around with it at all times. The electric steering offers surprisingly natural sensitivity; steering effort is low overall and perfectly suited for the type of urban shuttling duties most RAV4s inevitably perform. If it's any consolation, Toyota did a good job with the front MacPherson strut and rear double A-arm suspension to control braking dive, in spite of the 58/42 weight distribution. From 60 mph, the brake calipers and discs joined forces to haul the compact CUV to a stop in 122 feet.

Because Toyota didn't feel the need to bring in daring stylists, there are no surprises within the cabin. The six-way power driver's seat can be raised high for a commanding eye level or dropped as low as it can go for a more car-like sitting position. After five years, most of the interior is showing its age rather nicely, neither flaunting lavish appointments/materials nor a flashy design. The center console's cell phone slot, directly above the side mirror toggle, is a nice addition to a prime location. There's a fine sense of logic, and that never goes out of style.

To the delight of the child-rearing market, the second row slides and reclines. The ample back-seat space is helped by the RAV4's sensible proportions. Ingress, egress, headroom, and legroom were ultimately areas that Toyota didn't need to compromise on for the sake of figure. Like the RAV4s of the past, buyers are treated to the requisite side-hinged back hatch with a customary full-size spare tire. We wonder if those features will go away when the next RAV4 arrives. We hope not.

The amicable RAV4 is the elder statesman in a blistering-hot compact crossover segment. The small 'ute group has been tagged as an up-and-coming market for several years, but we're fairly confident Toyota has enough experience to know how to handle its business. The RAV4 will savor its seniority for now, and we wouldn't be surprised if it has some tricks left up its sleeve for the future. And hey, with the V-6, it's still pretty quick.


2011 Toyota RAV4 Limited V-6
BASE PRICE $29,145
PRICE AS TESTED $31,340
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/269-hp/246-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3702 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 104.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 181.9 x 71.5 x 66.3
0-60 MPH 6.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.9 sec @ 92.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 122 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.77 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.1 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19/26 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.90 lb/mile
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