First Test: 2008 Toyota RAV4
The little 'ute we'd recommend to everyone - else
This might sound completely illogical, but for those of us who contemplate cars for a living, Toyota's RAV4 is perhaps the compact 'ute we'd most eagerly recommend to just about everybody - but ourselves. Why? Let's draw a line down the middle of the page and make ourselves two columns, shall we? Column A we'll title 'reasons for,' Column B, 'arguments against.' And leave a lot more room for that first column.
Smack at the top of the 'for' list is that aura of Toyota reliability. No surprise here at all. Although a number of rival nameplates have regularly dueled with Toyota for top reliability honors, none of them has so consistently grouped its arrows so close to the bull's eye of perfection for so many years. To be sure, its reliability scores periodically tick up and down; Tiger Woods and the New York Yankees don't win 'em all either. But we're talking about long-term average here - and it's over time that the fabric of a reputation is woven. It's the kind of thing that makes people glance at each other with a certain knowing look in their eyes -- a look that silently communicates that you simply can't buy a car that's likely to hold up better.
This is no minor point. My friend, take a look at yourself in the mirror. I've got a question for you: When do you change your oil? When the book says to? Within 5000 miles of it? Do you know where that little book is? Errr, how about the dipstick? If you've just sunk in your seat, you're in need of that 'knowing look.'
Below reliability (and all its associated consequences like resale value), the RAV4 gets another gold star for its construction. This is a well-screwed-together piece, using very good screws - as well as good plastics and textures and fabrics and stitches. Sure, these quality ingredients make things look nice when everything's new. But more important, they make it far likelier it'll stay good-looking longer, even with those little kids' dainty little shoes hammering away at the front seatback. Or worse - and they can certainly do worse.
The 'for' list goes on a lot longer than beyond Toyota hallmarks like reliability and quality construction. Write in thoughtful ergonomics, secondary controls that make intuitive sense (even in the dark or when you're distracted, or both), and cupholders that don't fiendishly spill your latte in your lap (you'd be amazed at how badly designed some of these still are). There are multiple dashboard hidey-holes, and in the case of our test vehicle, a triple-folding rear seat that reclines. Really useful stuff. Add-in world-class safety technology, perhaps the most sophisticated stability control software in the industry, and great mileage - and you're probably asking yourself: what's not to like?
Let's move to Column B. For starters, we're surprised by the RAV4's ride quality. For a small, car-based 'ute with very modest off-road ambitions, its ride is really a lot stiffer than it needs to be. Another? Access to the cargo area is via a side-hinged rear door. Not only is this is a little odd these days, but the thing's hinged on the passenger side, complicating loading and unloading when you're parked along a curb. The door also carries the spare wheel and tire, benefitting interior volume but hindering rearward vision. These things don't really matter very much though.
What gives us hesitation about the RAV4 is this: Remember those Apple computer commercials where two guys are standing there talking, one of them looking young and cool and with it, the other, a frumpy parody of Bill Gates (if that's possible). The RAV4 is Bill. We want to be the other guy. There's the unmistakable smell here of overheated computer design, market surveys by the mountains, colossal consensus-making - and very few human fingerprints anywhere at all.
We like noticing a few fingerprints on the cars we drive. An innocent quirk here. A dash of personality there. That's asking a lot of a vehicle built in the hundreds of thousands and in such a ferociously price-sensitive category. No doubt about it.
When your best friends ask you which little 'ute they should buy, recommend the RAV4. Highly recommend the RAV4. But you and I? We'll be looking for one with a few more fingerprints.
|2008 Toyota RAV4|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, FWD|
|Engine type||I-4, alum block/heads|
|Valvetrain||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|Displacement||144.1 cu in / 2362 cc|
|Power (SAE net)||166 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||165 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Weight to power||20.2 lb/hp|
|Axle/final-drive ratios||2.93:1 / 2.98:1|
|Suspension, front; rear||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, f;r||10.8-in vented disc; 11.2-in disc, ABS, EBD|
|Wheels, f;r||6.5 x 16, steel|
|Tires, f;r||215/70R16 99H Bridgestone Dueler H/T 687|
|Track, f/r||61.4 / 61.4 in|
|Length x width x height||181.1 x 71.5 x 66.3 in|
|Ground clearance||7.5 in|
|Approach/depart angle||29.3/25.4 deg|
|Turning circle||34.8 ft|
|Curb weight||3356 lb|
|Weight dist., f/r||57 / 43%|
|Towing capacity||1500 lb|
|Headroom, f/r||40.8/39.7 in|
|Legroom, f/r||41.8/38.3 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r||57.1/55.3 in|
|Cargo volume||73.0/36.4 cu ft|
|Acceleration to mph|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||5.0 sec|
|Quarter mile||17.1 sec @ 81.5 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||123 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.71 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||30.0 sec @ 0.52 g (avg)|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph||2200 rpm|
|Price as tested||$21,935|
|Airbags||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|Basic warranty||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|Fuel capacity||15.9 gal|
|EPA city/hwy econ||21/27 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||0.83 lb/mile|
|MT fuel economy||24.5 mpg|
|Recommended fuel||Unleaded regular|