Introduction

Toyota's RAV4 is a sporty-looking small utility. It handles well and offers a decent amount of power. It's comfortable and convenient for running around town, it's easy to park, and it feels stable out on the open road.

Toyota completely redesigned and re-engineered its RAV4 a year ago. The all-new Toyota RAV4 is more refined than the previous-generation model and it's much better looking.

Model Lineup

Two models are available: 2WD and 4WD. Key differences are found in the list of options.

All are four-doors. There is only one engine, which was new for 2001: an all-aluminum, 16-valve, dohc inline four-cylinder with variable valve timing, displacing 2.0 liters and producing 148 horsepower. Two transmissions are available, a five-speed manual and a four-speed electronically controlled automatic.

Prices sound low at first glance, starting at just $16,525 for a 2WD model with a five-speed manual. But they quickly escalate when adding options. The $26,565 sticker on our test model showed $590 for antilock brakes; $220 for a roof rack; $875 for alloy wheels with slightly wider tires; $220 for remote entry; $800 for leather; $390 for limited-slip differential (only available with 4WD); $200 for a rear spoiler; $815 for a power moonroof; $40 for daytime running lights; and a whopping $3,120 for a package including air conditioning, cruise control, CD sound system, tinted windows, fog lamps, and smoother body trim including a spare tire cover. Plus $480 delivery, processing and handling (a figure which climbs to $495 if you live in the Gulf States or Southeast).

Anti-lock brakes might be the best value in there. If you were trying to keep the price of your mini SUV mini, as one would think it should be, you might tell yourself you could do without most of the rest of those options. But you'd probably want air conditioning, which is a $985 stand-alone option, or comes with the Quick Order Package ($2,295) along with a CD audio system, cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors and carpeted floor mats.

Walkaround

For 2002, the RAV4 is virtually unchanged from the all-new 2001 model, although new colors are available, as are bumpers, overfenders and molding in gray or body color.

Completely re-engineered a year ago, the RAV4 came with an increased length, width, height, wheelbase, and track. It's significant, in these times when buyers are growing wary of the higher center of gravity of SUVs, that the track has been widened by nearly two inches but the height increased by just half an inch-and it's lower, with about one inch less ground clearance. That sounds more stable to us.

Contributing more to improved stability, at least on paper, is the fact that the wheelbase was increased 3.1 inches while the overall length grew by just 1.3 inches to 165.1 inches, which is still 10.5 inches shorter than a Subaru Forester and 12.5 inches shorter than a Honda CR-V. The overall picture here is of an expanded cabin placed on a lower, wider platform.

The styling was dynamic, resulting from extensive sheetmetal reshaping. The old RAV4 might have been seen as either cute or cobbly, depending upon the eyes of the beholder, but the new one is striking and aggressive looking. In one overnight swoop, it's gone from endearing to sexy.

The lines suggest a vector or wedge shape, which is pretty hard to do with a basic tall, small box. This is mostly accomplished by a sloping hood and downward cant from the rear quarter panels forward, under the side windows. When the arched roofline ends with the optional spoiler, the result is cool looking.

The cladding and body molding became smoother, the fender flares around 16-inch wheels are beefy for a mini SUV, and styling scoops in the sides and hood show a big try at being eye-catching, maybe too much as the sheetmetal touches are pretty far beyond function. Combination taillights wrap nicely around the sides. At the nose, the headlights are shaped like wasp eyes, angling upward. Optional foglights are built into the airdam, which also contains a gaping grille with a few teeth. The gray body cladding looks good with some colors, but contrasts poorly with others.

The optional alloy wheels are a simple five-spoke star pattern, and the optional cover over the spare, hanging on the rear gate, serves its purpose in making the RAV4 look less rough, but therefore less rugged. The rear hatch swings horizontally, hinged at the right side (inconveniently against the curb), and the weight of the tire is noticeable; however the step up into the cargo compartment is made easy by the reduced ground clearance. Underneath, maybe to accomplish this, the gas tank has shrunk from 15.3 to 14.7 gallons.

Interior Features

Getting in and out of the RAV4 is easy thanks to the low load floor.

An important object of the Toyota RAV4 redesign was more cabin room. With the 50/50 split bench rear seats removed, there's now 68.3 cubic feet of cargo volume available, compared to 57.9 in the old model. There's also more cargo space behind the rear seats than before, as well as 2.9 more inches of legroom in the front. The legroom is ample, and the driver's footrest allows even more stretch. But with more room in front of the front seats, and more room behind the rear seats, there's a loss of 1.3 inches of rear legroom.

Front seats are new and fit very nicely, and our gray leather with dimpled black trim was classy. New for 2002 is what Toyota calls "oak cloth."

The redesign for 2001 narrowed the seats at the hips by 2.4 inches, but we didn't feel squeezed. The seating position feels confidently high and offers excellent visibility forward, although the spare tire intrudes into the view out the rear window. The tidy three-spoke leather-wrapped energy-absorbing urethane steering wheel tilted perfectly into place for drivers 4'-10" and 5'-10".

Instruments are easy to read and the instrument panel is handsome, trimmed as ours was in titanium. By day, the gauges are a sort of metallic off-white, and by night they glow sort of orange. Admittedly, these aren't quite as legible as boring old white on black gauges. Directly ahead are three circles: speedo on left, temp/fuel/warning lights and gear indicator in the circle on the right, and nicely balanced between and above them in a smaller circle is the neat-looking tach. Redline runs from 6500 to 8000 rpm, pointless because the power peaks at 6000 rpm.

Climate controls are mercifully simple. You got on, you got off, you got fan speed, you got blue for cold, red for hot; what else do you need? There's a stubby stalk for the cruise control on the steering wheel, under the wiper stalk on the left side of the steering column. There are two big cupholders forward of the natty leather-wrapped E-brake lever between the seats, an accessory power outlet, and a small space near the console that's intended for change but big enough for cellphones. In the rear as in the front are two cupholders and one power outlet.

There are storage compartments on both sides of the cargo bay as well as under its floor, a net pocket on the rear door, and pockets in all four doors. Sunglass holders too, under the steering wheel, and vanity mirrors with extensions and lights on each visor. Some 75 percent of RAV4 buyers have been women, but Toyota hopes to find more male buyers with the new RAV4.

The low load floor means it's easy to load groceries or gear without excessive effort or back strain. We found the cargo cover constantly in the way. But it features a nice two-piece pullout design that makes it easy to remove.

Driving Impressions

The Toyota RAV4's engine is a winner, though this is not the quickest vehicle on the planet. The 2.0-liter engine is the same displacement as the previous-generation RAV4 powerplant, but it is 40 pounds lighter, a benefit of its aluminum construction. It's more powerful and more efficient than before, delivering 23/27 mpg.

It makes 148 horsepower and 142 foot-pounds of torque. It revs relatively high, but offers good torque at low rpm. This makes it responsive and pleasant around town. Acceleration in the 4WD with automatic transmission is lively and feels almost effortless, as if the 2943-pound vehicle were featherweight. The final drive ratio of this vehicle is 3.29, as opposed to 3.12 on the 2777-pound 2WD, so the 2WD (front-wheel drive) should feel about the same. It could use more power at high elevations, however, as we found while driving one near Yellowstone National Park.

The water-cooled, electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission fully complements the smoothness of the engine. Every shift felt seamless.

Around-town handling and parking lot maneuvering is wonderfully nimble; again, the RAV4 feels even lighter than its 2943 pounds. On the highway, the power rack-and-pinion steering is precise, with no dodginess; the stretched wheelbase likely contributes to the improvement here. In gusty winds, however, the RAV4 wanders quite a bit.

There's little that's truck-like about the suspension. The independent front suspension uses MacPherson struts with L-shaped control arms, while the rear suspension is a double wishbone with coil springs and nitrogen-filled shock absorbers. The redesign includes softer spring rates, larger bushings and a longer suspension stroke. Chassis and suspension take bumps with equanimity, and offer a ride as good or better than many larger SUVs. Maybe even more impressively, there's no detectable pitching or tipping, which is no mean feat for any SUV.

Finally, the brakes, which are plenty big enough for the weight, with 10.7-inch front ventilated discs and 9.0-inch rear drums. With a vehicle this good, it would be a shame not to include the optional ABS. At $590, it also might be penny wise but pound foolish, especially since the ABS includes EBD. That's electronic brake force distribution, which adjusts the braking force of the rear wheels according to load fluctuations for shorter stopping distances.

Summary

Toyota's RAV4 looks aggressively cool. When popular options are added, it isn't the cheapest small utility. But it's a pleasant companion and comes with Toyota's legendary levels of quality, durability, and reliability.

 


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: 2WD ($16,365); 4WD ($17,765)
Engines: 2.0-liter dohc inline-4
Transmissions: five-speed manual; four-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): driver and passenger front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, side-door impact beams; center high-mount stop lamp; child seat anchor brackets
Safety equipment (optional): ABS
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in: Toyota City, Japan

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): RAV4 4WD ($18,815)
Standard equipment: 4-speed automatic transmission; full-time 4WD; power-assist rack-and-pinion steering; all-weather equipment package; dual mirrors; tinted glass; multi-reflective Halogen headlamps; spare tire cover; reclining front fabric bucket seats; driver's seat height adjustment; 50/50 split forward folding, sliding removable fabric rear seat; full cut-pile carpeting; dual front door pockets; tach/trip/coolant temp gauges; front and rear cupholders; rear defogger; digital clock; passenger vanity mirror; front and rear intermittent wipers; tilt steering wheel; deluxe AM/FM cassette with 4 speakers; interior metallic trim; 4 grocery bag hooks
Options as tested (MSRP): ABS; roof rack; alloy wheels with P235/60R16 tires; keyless entry; leather interior package; rear spoiler; limited slip differential; power moonroof; daytime running lights; upgrade L package including AC, CC, 6-speaker CD sound system, power windows and door locks, heated outside mirrors, fog lamps, color-keyed door handles and spare tire cover, painted front bumper and body side molding, privacy glass, tonneau cover, carpet floormats, and badging
Destination charge: ($480)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $ 26,565
Layout: 4-wheel drive
Engine: 2.0-liter dohc inline-4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 148 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 142 @ 4000
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 23/27 mpg
Wheelbase: 98.0 in.
Length/width/height: 165.1/68.3/65.3 in.
Track, f/r: 59.3/58.9 in.
Turning circle: 35.4 ft.
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 41.3/53.4/42.4 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 38.4/46.5/32.6 in.
Cargo volume: 68.3 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 1500 Lbs.
Suspension, f: Independent MacPherson strut with L-shaped control arms and stabilizer bar
Suspension, r: Independent double wishbone coil spring with trailing arms, stabilizer bar and gas-filled shock absorbers
Ground clearance: 6.7 in.
Curb weight: 2943 lbs.
Tires: P235/60R16
Brakes, f/r: disc/drum with ABS
Fuel capacity: 14.7 gal.

 

 

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of September 01, 2001.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-468-6968 - www.toyota.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.


 

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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