2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport 4X4Posted on January 11th, 2010
Compact sport-utility vehicle with an active focus
By Nina Russin
Twenty-five years ago, Toyota introduced a pint-sized sport-utility vehicle with a big mission: to meld the fuel economy of a passenger car with the cargo capability of a light-duty truck. RAV4 stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive. As the name suggests, the RAV was one of the first cars designed specifically for urban athletes.
The original RAV debuted in Japan in 1994: it came to the US two years later. The first RAV4 was essentially an all-wheel drive Camry with two-box architecture. While the ’96 RAV got mixed reviews from automotive enthusiast magazines, it was a hit among its intended buyers. The four-cylinder RAV was thrifty at the fuel pump, small enough to parallel park, and had enough room in the cargo area for a road bike.
While the current RAV4 is slightly larger than the original, it remains one of the smallest sport-utility vehicles on the market. The Sport grade tested is positioned between the base and upscale Limited models.
With the optional V-6 engine and towing prep package, the RAV4 meets our ALV 3500-pound towing standards. Average fuel economy is 21 miles-per-gallon, according to EPA estimates. Fuel economy on my 100-mile test drive was 22.5 miles-per-gallon.
The 269-horsepower engine and five-speed automatic transmission provide ample power for motoring around town, or taking a weekend road trip into the mountains. While the all-wheel drive RAV4 doesn’t have the off-road capabilities of vehicles with a two-speed transfer case, there is enough traction to plough through snow, or rumble down a dirt road. The RAV4 has 7.5 inches of ground clearance: plenty to clear an average snowfall.
Standard hill-start assist enables the RAV to accelerate from a stop on steep grades: downhill assist helps the driver to maintain directional control on the way down. Toyota’s standard star safety system integrates vehicle stability, traction control and antilock braking for better handling on wet or uneven roads.
Commutes to the office and the trailhead
Readers who are not professional athletes understand the challenge of fitting training around the day job. A car with the versatility to multitask makes getting through the work week a lot easier.
Interior versatility is the RAV4’s ace-in-the hole. The three-row model holds up to seven passengers; the two-row model tested seats five adults. A locking glovebox, center console bin and hidden compartment under the cargo floor keep valuables out of sight at the trailhead.
Cyclists who want to lock their bikes up during the weekday can easily stash them in the cargo area, since the second and third-row seats fold flat. The rear door is hinged to the side, making it easier for small drivers to open, and eliminating any clearance concerns in a garage with a low ceiling.
A relatively low center of gravity gives the RAV4 good high-speed handling. Visibility to the front and sides of the car is quite good. While the gate-mounted spare tire restricts the view to the back, an available rearview camera eliminates the problem. I have parallel parked the RAV on narrow streets in the Midwest with no more effort than it would take for the average mid-sized sedan.
Test drive during snowbird season
Winter brings an abundance of out-of-state drivers to Phoenix, taxing the already overcrowded highways. A small, maneuverable vehicle seems to be the best choice for getting around town. The RAV4 is the perfect car for the job.
Engineers did a good job of tuning the RAV’s electric power steering system for on-center response, making it easy to swerve out of the way of traffic. While the four-wheel suspension provides a compliant ride, the body structure is stiff enough to keep the vehicle from rolling excessively. A 37-foot turning radius is adequate for making the occasional U-turn.
Eighteen-inch wheels on the test car give the tires ample contact patches with the ground for sure-footed performance and strong, linear braking. Four-wheel disc brakes are more reliable in rain and snow than rear drums. A full-sized spare is essential for drivers who want to take the RAV4 on sparsely-travelled dirt roads.
Seating for five adults
The RAV has a surprisingly spacious interior for a compact sport-utility vehicle. Because of its low floor tunnel, three adults can sit comfortably in the second-row.
Captain’s chairs up front provide plenty of head, hip and legroom for adults of all sizes. A tilt steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view.
Both rows of passengers have access to bottle holders in the doors and cupholders in the front center console and fold-down second-row armrest.
A double glovebox and deep center console bin hold paperwork and portable electronic devices. Twelve-volt power points in the center console bin, on the center stack and in the cargo area recharge cell phones on the go.
Redundant audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction. Center stack controls are easy to reach from either front seating position and intuitive to operate. The only control I find confusing is the side mirror adjustment: located in front of the center console bin. The adjustment isn’t hard to reach, but the location is illogical compared to other cars.
Graphics on the optional navigation screen are easy to read in any light: ditto for the gauge cluster. A digital information display between the gauges provides odometer, trip meter and average fuel economy readings.
Abundant cargo space
Levers on the second-row seatbacks fold them flat without removing the headrests. The driver can also use levers on either side of the cargo bay to release the seats, making it easier to load items into the back. With the second-row seats folded flat, the cargo area is big enough to hold a couple of road bikes with the front wheels removed, luggage or camping equipment.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front headrests, antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control. The compact RAV4 is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A small, fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicle with all-weather capability and a versatile interior. The RAV4 is an affordable option for athletes who commute into the city.
Dislikes: Gate-mounted spare and small rear glass restricts visibility.
Model: RAV4 Sport 4X4
Base price: $26,530
As tested: $29,808
Horsepower: 269 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 246 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: Under 7 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 19/26 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $800 delivery charge.
6 responses to “2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport 4X4”
I also dislike the rear mounted tire. It makes the door very heavy. Also, the seats are not padded very well and become very uncomfortable when driving for long time.
When I return this vehicle at the end of the lease, I am not sure I will get another Rav4 for the above reasons.
Well… The design of practically all Toyota cars seems weird to me… This one is no exception!
I recently was told Toyota is currently recalling 2.4 million vehicles due to braking troubles . My sister bought a Toyota, can the Toyota be used before it’s fixed?
The answer depends upon a couple of things, including whether or not her vehicle is involved in the recall. The Toyota.com web site has full information about the recall and what is being done to fix the cars. If her car is subject to a recall, she should contact the dealership service department and ask them the same question. The good news is that Toyota has a history of being extremely conscientious regarding the safety of their vehicles. From the corporate side, the manufacturer is doing everything in its power to make sure that the vehicles affected are fixed quickly and properly. Hope this helps.
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