The Toyota RAV4 has long been a top pick among small SUVs, and it continues to improve. The 2009 model benefits from a few styling tweaks and a new four-cylinder base engine that increases power and fuel economy. The Toyota RAV4 normally seats five, but an optional third-row bench seat is available that allows seating up to seven passengers -- a true rarity among compact SUVs. The Mitsubishi Outlander (*est. $20,580 - $25,980) is the only other small SUV to offer this, but its third-row seat is limited to the top trim level, it can't accommodate individuals taller than 5 feet, 3 inches, and the headrests block the view rearward.) Although the Toyota RAV4 comes with front-wheel drive standard, its optional all-wheel-drive system includes a locking center differential that gives it some added off-road capability compared to rivals like the Honda CR-V, which doesn't offer this feature.
The 2009 Toyota RAV4's standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 179 horsepower, making it the most powerful four-cylinder compact SUV. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission offered with the base motor; Honda, by contrast, gives the CR-V a five-speed automatic as standard equipment. Edmunds Inside Line reports that in one major consumer organization's most recent small SUV comparison, the updated four-cylinder RAV4 edges out the 2009 Subaru Forester, our best reviewed 2009 compact SUV, for first place. Examiner.com reviewer John Matras was pleasantly surprised by the new four-cylinder: "It has a torquey feel for a four -- though at 2.5 liters it's big for a four -- and accelerating and climbing hills is easier than one would expect." Matras goes on to report that with the new base engine, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 is very quiet and smooth at idle, but it becomes noisy under hard acceleration.
When equipped with its optional 3.5-liter, 269-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, the RAV4 is the most powerful small SUV, period. The six-cylinder "has power aplenty and hurls the Toyota forward with ease," writes Edmunds Inside Line, which recorded a zero-to-60 time of 7.3 seconds for the V-6 in a comparison against the Volkswagen Tiguan (*est. $23,200 to $32,940) and Honda CR-V (*est. $21,245 to $27,245). Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy estimates for the 2009 Toyota RAV4 range from a low of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for V-6 all-wheel-drive models to a high of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder models. Those V-6 numbers are good enough that Edmunds Inside Line says choosing the more powerful engine is "a guilt-free decision."
In Car and Driver's nine-vehicle small SUV comparison, editors report that the Toyota RAV4's interior layout and fit and finish are equal to those of the Honda CR-V, which they separately describe as "amazing" in those respects. Edmunds.com is less impressed, however. Editors say the RAV4's interior "has a budget feel." ConsumerGuide.com's tester produced a variety of squeaks and rattles, too. MotherProof.com's Sara Lacey likes the interior's "clean design" but finds it "masculine-looking." From her point of view as a mom, however, the RAV4 scores with its "handy and abundant" storage that includes dual glove boxes and a number of kid-accessible cup and bottle holders.
Lacey likes the side-hinged rear cargo door, which is arranged as such because Toyota mounts the spare tire to it, eliminating the possibility of using a lift-up tailgate. Note that the door opens toward the curb, which could make loading large objects a cumbersome affair in certain situations. The spare tire also partially obstructs rear visibility, but Toyota RAV4 Sport models are fitted with optional run-flat tires that eliminate the spare entirely. The RAV4's side-swinging door also means you lose the rudimentary weather protection a rear liftgate offers while you load.
With the rear seats folded flat into the floor, the Toyota RAV4 serves up 73 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Pet lovers take note: DogCars.com gives the RAV4 a perfect rating, as it can (with the rear seats stowed) accommodate a pair of midsize dog crates side by side, securely fastened to the small SUV's cargo tie-down points.
Ultimately, the Toyota RAV4 comes out ahead of most opponents in the small SUV segment by virtue of its "simply doing many things well," according to Edmunds Inside Line's Jason Kavanagh in his explanation of why the Toyota tops both the Volkswagen Tiguan and Honda CR-V in a comparison test. While small SUV rivals may offer individual features or qualities that are better than the RAV4's, no vehicle in the class has yet to offer the combination of interior packaging, utility, power and fuel economy that makes the RAV4 such a versatile option. We found informative reviews and comparisons of the Toyota RAV4 at Edmunds.com, Edmunds Inside Line, MotherProof.com, Car and Driver, and ConsumerReports.org.
Editors at Edmunds.com say the RAV4 is comfortable and easy to drive. They like the practicality of the interior, but note that its materials have a budget feel. The Toyota's side-opening rear hatch door opens toward the passenger's side, which is inconvenient and editors also note that road noise can be intrusive at times.
Review: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
2. Edmunds Inside Line
In a three-way test, the 2008 Toyota RAV4 tops the 2009 VW Tiguan and 2008 Honda CR-V by simply doing everything well and offering features the other two small SUVs can't match, such as a third-row seat and a remarkably powerful V-6. While an '08 model was evaluated here, there are no mechanical differences in the '09 Toyota RAV4 V-6.
Review: 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan vs. 2008 Honda CR-V vs. 2008 Toyota RAV4, Jason Kavanagh, Sept. 14, 2008
MotherProof.com's Sara Lacey reviews the 2009 Toyota RAV4, which she deems a "chick car," albeit one with a "masculine-looking" interior. The small SUV's spaciousness and practicality win her over, though she notes that the top-tether anchors for child seats are very difficult to access.
Review: RAV4 Still Too Cute-Looking for Guys, But It's Great for Moms, Sara Lacey, March 2009
Reviewer John Matras extols the virtues of the Toyota RAV4 with its new, more powerful base four-cylinder. After driving it, he feels the V-6 is unnecessary unless you need the added tow capacity it offers.
Review: Road Test: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Limited 4-cyl. 4WD Car Review; No V-6 Needed, M'am, John Matras, Jan. 21, 2009
5. Edmunds Inside Line
Inside Line reports on the results of Consumer Reports latest small SUV comparison test, which sees the 2009 Toyota RAV4 eke out a win over the 2009 Subaru Forester.
Review: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Edges Out 2009 Subaru Forester 2.5X in New Test, Anita Leinert, April 7, 2009
6. Car and Driver
The Toyota RAV4 places first in a Car and Driver test of nine compact SUVs. Editors praise the RAV4's roomy interior, good fuel economy and comfortable seats, but feel the test car's base powertrain would benefit from a five-speed transmission. They also find the engine to be noisy. Since this test, the winning RAV4 has been upgraded to an even more powerful base engine than the one used in the comparison.
Review: 2008 Toyota RAV4 vs. Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape and Five More Compact SUVs, John Phillips, Feb. 2008
ConsumerReports.org purchases, tests and reviews most cars on the market. These reviews include predicted reliability ratings based on survey data. Editors focus their attention primarily on reliability, ride quality, handling and safety.
Review: Toyota RAV4, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Editors at ConsumerGuide.com have not yet tested the 2009 Toyota RAV4's new four-cylinder engine, but they say the optional V-6 is impressive. The RAV4 has ample cargo room, but editors note some cheap interior materials, as well as road and wind noise at highway speeds. ConsumerGuide.com gives the RAV4 its Recommended rating for '09.
Review: 2009 Toyota RAV4, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
9. Car and Driver
Car and Driver published this review in late 2008, in part to discuss the Toyota RAV4's new, more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Editors warn that although both the standard four-cylinder and optional V-6 engines get similar fuel-economy ratings in government tests, the V-6 version fell quite a bit short of EPA numbers in Car and Driver tests. (Editors say this is "likely because the six inspired more stoplight shenanigans.")
Review: 2009 Toyota RAV4 - Review, Editors of Car and Driver, Sept. 2008
DogCars.com gives the '09 Toyota RAV4 a "five-paw" rating. With its back seats folded, the small SUV can safely and securely carry two midsize dog crates side-by-side. As a result, reviewer Keith Turner says it "exceeds the grade with an extra tail wag."
Review: 2009 Toyota RAV4, Keith Turner, April 26, 2009