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  • 2008 Toyota RAV4 Sport 4X4

    Posted on September 22nd, 2008 ninarussin

    Compact sport-utility vehicle comes of age.
    By Nina Russin

    Toyota RAV4

    Toyota RAV4

    When Toyota rolled out the original RAV4 in 1996, compact sport-utility vehicles were a rarity. Since then, almost every automaker has introduced a competitor, ranging from the sporty BMW X3, to the budget friendly Suzuki Grand Vitara.

    But Toyota’s recreational active vehicle maintains a loyal fan base by combining the automaker’s legendary build quality with enhanced on and off-road performance. In addition to available four-wheel drive, new models feature hill descent control and ascent assist, that help drivers maintain directional control on extremely steep grades.

    The RAV4 has always been environmentally friendly: at one point, Toyota produced an all-electric model. The current model runs on traditional gasoline engines, optimized for fuel economy. Both the standard four-cylinder and available V6 engines meet federal ultra-low emissions vehicle standards. Average fuel economy for the V6 (tested) is twenty-one miles-per-gallon.

    New V-6 engine enhances power and towing capability

    The 269-horsepower V6 engine, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in under seven seconds. An optional towing package boosts the RAV’s towing capacity to 3500 pounds, meeting our minimum ALV standards.

    One of the biggest complaints about early RAV4s was their soft acceleration. Equipped with the V6, the RAV is a spirited performer. I was impressed by acceleration in the twenty-to-fifty range, which is critical for merging into high-speed traffic.

    I drove the RAV sport on a recent trip to Ohio, where most of the highways were built thirty or more years ago. Back then, left-side entrance ramps weren’t considered dangerous. Now that traffic loads have doubled , jumping into the passing lane is a challenge.

    Not only could the RAV accelerate hard enough to jump into dense traffic; the side mirrors provided enough visibility to see around cloverleafs covered with summer foliage.

    Electronic power steering reduces vehicle weight

    Toyota uses an electric power steering system on the RAV4 that’s similar to the unit on its hybrids. Unlike traditional power steering, the electronic system lacks a hydraulic power booster, saving weight, and eliminating a part that over time can degrade and leak.

    Steering response from the electronic system is excellent at all speeds, and produces a positive on-center feel on the highway. Toyota integrates vehicle stability and traction control in what it calls its star safety system. All of the controls share sensors, so the transition from one to another is less obvious to the driver.

    The sport grade comes with standard eighteen-inch alloy wheels: an upgrade from sixteen inch rims on the base model. A four-wheel independent suspension tuned for more aggressive driving keeps the RAV4 flat in the corners.

    Available four-wheel drive includes a locking mode for off-road driving

    Drivers who want enhanced traction can opt for four-wheel drive. On uneven or slippery roads, the system automatically transfers torque from the front to the rear wheels to maximize traction.

    A locking switch on the instrument panel maintains the rear bias when the car travels at 25 miles-per-hour or less. In addition, four-wheel drive models come with downhill descent control and hill-start assist: technologies introduced on the ’03 Lexus GX470 and Toyota 4Runner.

    A button on the dash activates the downhill descent control: it maintains a speed of under five miles-per-hour on steep grades, giving the driver better directional control than braking. Hill start assist prevents the car from sliding backwards when accelerating from a stop.

    While the RAV4’s off-road ability is much improved over previous models, it lacks a two-speed transfer case for extreme low gearing, and its 7.5-ich ground clearance may not be enough for very rough trails.

    Stylish, comfortable interior

    The test car has cloth upholstery: standard on the sport grade. I prefer cloth to leather in the southwest: it doesn’t get as hot in the summer, and it’s easier to clean. Although the manual seats in the test car don’t have lumbar adjustments, I found both the front driver’s and passenger seat comfortable on trips of two hours or more.

    Passengers have plenty of access to bottle and cupholders. All four doors have bottle holders. Cupholders in the floor console are big enough for water bottles, as are those in a fold-down armrest in back.

    Two twelve-volt plug-ins up front allow the driver and front passenger to recharge portable electronic devices. HVAC and audio controls on the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position. A shelf at the base of the center stack holds six compact discs for the in-dash CD changer. The standard audio system is MP3 compatible.

    A two-piece glovebox has a small compartment for documents, and a larger bin beneath for maps and books. A large bin under the center armrest holds portable electronic devices or a small purse.

    The floor-mounted gate shifter helps the driver find low gears more easily. My only complaint about the interior design is the location of the side mirror adjustments on the front of the center console. It isn’t a very intuitive spot, and it’s hard to find if the driver needs to adjust the mirrors when the car is in motion.

    The second-row seats move fore and aft to give second-row passengers more legroom. The RAV is available with a third-row seat that tumbles into the floor, although I wouldn’t recommend it on such a small car.

    Cars without the third-row seat get two, under-floor storage bins for concealing valuables. Since most models have a rear-mounted full-sized spare, the tailgate is hinged to the side. I found the rear cargo area very easy to load: the liftover height is reasonable for a small person.

    Second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor: the RAV4 meets our bicycle friendly standards. Tie-down loops help to secure larger items in back.

    An ALV best value

    Base price on the upscale sport grade is $25,990, not including a $685 destination charge. Options on the test car, including the towing prep package, power sunroof, tonneau cover and carpeted floor mats bring the MSRP to $28,473.

    The newest RAV4 is available for test drives at Toyota dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: A much more powerful engine than on previous models with excellent fuel economy. A four-wheel lock mode along with downhill descent control and hill start assist improve the RAV4’s off-road capability.

    Dislikes: Location of side mirror adjustment switches is hard to find.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Toyota
    Model: RAV4 Sport 4X4
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $25,990
    As tested: $28,473
    Horsepower: 269Hp @ 6200 rpm
    Torque: 246 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: 7 seconds
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Off-road: Yes
    Towing: Yes, when equipped with optional towing-prep package.
    Comments: Base price does not include a $685 delivery charge.

     

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