The RAV4 is the automotive equivalent of McDonald’s; it’s cheap, easy, you feel wrong after you’ve had it, and they populate the streets like college kids in Panama City Beach over spring break. Toyota did sell over 1,000,000 of these beige-mobiles, after all. But the one I’m reviewing is different- it’s green.
Disclaimer: This car has over 200,000 miles on it and not one of the 185,000 miles the previous owner put on it was easy. This car is absolutely beat to hell and back.
There is nothing exciting to report here, as I’m sure you guessed since you have probably run into one of the one million units sold. However, I do find the design fairly handsome. There are nice little touches like the crease on the hood or along the bottom of the doors, but there are no notable features.
Perhaps the most interesting design element is the spare tire mounted onto the rear door, but the Honda CRV had the same idea back in 2006. While its design won’t get your blood pumping, it won’t make your blood boil over with rage at its ungainliness either.
Hard plastic adorns the cabin like cardboard boxes in a hoarder’s house. There are no soft touch surfaces here, you privileged bourgeoisie pig. The best you will find is cloth where your arms rest on the door, even on this Limited model. At least the dashboard is pretty interesting to look at. It’s not all black plastic and there are some interesting curves, unlike the outside. There’s even orange ambient lighting in the front foot wells and the storage cubby under the HVAC controls.
The interior is light too, especially with the tan cloth seats. Obviously, the drawback is that the cloth shows stains very easily. All the seats are reasonably comfortable, except for the six-way power driver seat. The lumbar ranges from too much to pushing your spine right through your bellybutton into the steering wheel.
This questionable mark is just from spilling water on the seat. The water awoke dirt and whatever the previous owners embedded in the seat and brought it to the surface.
The RAV-inator has a ton of storage cubbies scattered throughout the cabin. Most of you are screaming, more realistically whispering because this is a Toyota review (half of you are asleep by now), “Of course it has good storage! It’s a Toyota!” But there’s a catch with this specific car. Two thirds of the cubbies are broken. The center console is two tiered and the top tier doesn’t latch anymore. The sliding door above the glove box only opens after multiple stabs of the “open” button.
The trunk is cavernous and has under floor storage where the stare tire would be, if it wasn’t hanging out on the back door. The floor storage is actually useful; I put my camera bag in there when I went to the Chicago auto show. It fit perfectly and it was hidden from view. The back seats fold easily from little handles in the rear cargo area too. Overall, the interior is useful and decent to look at, but it is in no way high quality or luxurious.
This beast of a car is powered by Toyota’s 2.4 liter 4 banger, which means it has 166 horsepower and 165 ft lbs of torque to lug 3,500 pounds around. Keep in mind, these are 9 year old, wounded horses that have been running around for 200,000 miles. The best I can say is that power is adequate.
Take off is slow from a stop since full torque is reached at 4,000 rpm. You do feel the torque kick, but it’s about as powerful as a four year old trying to push you down in a wrestling match. 6,000 rpms are needed to reach 166 horsepower so you need to flog the car if you want to move anywhere somewhat swiftly. The acceleration is not dangerously slow. You can keep up with traffic, but is in no way quick.
Now, Toyota gets tricky with the RAV4’s throttle. The actual pedal travel is really short; it feels like two inches. So when you think you’re depressing the pedal 1/3 of the way down, it’s really 2/3’s of the way down. This makes the car seem surprisingly spritely, until your foot suddenly hits the floor and you think, “That’s it?”
This is, without a doubt in my mind, the worst part of the RAV4. I’m sure the brakes were thousands of times better when the car was brand new, but now they are absolutely subpar; they’re actually terrifying. There is no feel at all and you need to push the pedal down way too far for average braking. Let me try to explain to you how catastrophically bad these brakes are.
Imagine that you’re coming up to a stop sign and need to brake. You put your foot on the left pedal and nothing. You press down more and still nothing. You keep pushing down and think, “Did the brake lines blow out?” Once you reach the halfway point, the RAV starts to slow down. These brakes are so bad they’re past the stereotypical sponge description. They are like a birthday cake you found in Louisiana that has voyaged from Minnesota by floating down the Mississippi.
Interestingly enough, it seems like there is some power left in the brakes, but that’s only if you pound on them. I doubt that they are powerful enough to trigger the abs in the dry.
The ride was a bit shocking to me. It’s not the typical, “Am I driving or am I floating on pillows in an Olympic sized pool of pudding?” Toyota suspension. It’s not uncomfortable, but it is no Grocery Grabber. (Lexus RX330) It’s definitely on the stiff side, for a CUV and its intended audience. Large bumps unsettle the RAV-inator and there’s an alarming clunk from the rear suspension when hitting large bumps at slower speeds. The ride is not terrible; it’s just not what I was expecting.
This was the real surprise of the RAV4. It actually corners surprisingly flat. Keep in mind, I am used to a Lexus RX330, which rolls in corners like a weeble wobble in an earthquake. I do occasionally get to drive a 2007 Mustang convertible, but that is no Lotus Elise either.
The electric power steering lets down the cornering flatness, however. There is no feel whatsoever. The steering is light at parking lot speeds, but artificially firms up when speeds increase. Now, turning at speed is where this car gets odd. It resists movement, but stays light at the same time.
The closest thing I can describe it to is walking a dog. Picture yourself walking a Jack Russell Terrier named Albert and he stops to sniff something. You keep walking and there’s tension in the leash once you run out of rope. Albert wants to continue smelling that thing, rabbit poop, probably, so he stands his ground. You pull the leash in an epic battle of tug of war and Albert loses. Now you can continue walking with no problem. This is exactly how the RAV4’s steering works, but it’s less cute when the car does it.
It’s a 4 speed automatic. Do I have to say more? Well, I’m going to anyway. The shifts are pretty smooth, as they should be since the transmission was just replaced with a remanufactured one.* Where this transmission really falls short is the mileage. With such little power, it should get better gas mileage. It supposedly gets 28 mpgs highway, but it really gets around 26. This is about 1 or 2 mpg off of what my V6, full time all wheel drive RX330 gets. I give it extra points for not being a CVT, though.
*The transmission was rebuilt right before we bought the car. It has a massive trailer hitch installed, so we can assume that the previous owners towed things way above the 1,500 pound towing capacity and wrecked the transmission.
It has a locking center differential, which stays locked until you hit 25 mph, a sunroof, ambient interior lighting, automatic climate control, and an aux port. That’s about it. What more do you want you spoiled swine?
Unfortunately, this car was not equipped with the JBL stereo. We’re stuck with the standard 6 speakers. They are somewhat tinny and bass is either non-existent or pounding like a woodpecker drilling into the back of your head. To add insult to the gutlessness, the engine is harsh and loud, even at start up. It’s a constant, screaming reminder that you were too cheap to buy the V6.
Now, I will actually stop my endless stream of sarcasm here, for a brief moment. My dad paid $5,000 for this car. That five grand bought reliable (once it stopped burning and leaking oil), spacious, all weather capable and practical transportation. It’s not exciting, but it got us through the winter, which is exactly what it was meant to do.
Sure, there are more exciting and better cars out there, but the RAV4 served its purpose exactly as expected. But if you do get this car, please do yourself a favor and get the V6. It’s actually fast and the mileage penalty is absolutely worth the ability to beat a Prius in a stop light drag race.
Engine: 2.4 liter 4 cylinder
Power: 166 horsepower, 165 pound feet of torque
Transmission: 4 speed automatic
0-60 Time: 10.2 seconds
Top Speed: 115 mph
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,512 pounds
MPG: 23 city/28 highway
MSRP: $23,995 ($29,319.60, adjusted for inflation)