Review and photos by Derek Mau
- Toyota quality and ergonomics
- Lots of space for people and their stuff
- Very good fuel economy for an SUV
- Star Safety System™
- 4-speed automatic transmission
- Optional side-step rails only work for small feet or loading the roof rack
- Standard audio system is weak sounding
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 gets a new 4-cylinder engine and slightly freshened exterior styling. This compact crossover SUV comes in Base, Sport, and Limited trims. Each is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a locking center differential. RAV4 seats five, but an optional 3rd-row bench on Base and Limited increases seating capacity to seven.
The new 2.5L unit that produces 179 HP at 6,000 RPM, along with 172 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 RPM (versus 166 HP and 165 lb.-ft. respectively of the previous 2.4L), is mated to a new 4-speed automatic transmission. According to Toyota, fuel efficiency is improved over the 2008 RAV-4 2.4L with EPA mpg estimates of 22 city/28 highway on 4×2 models and 21 city/27 highway on 4×4 models. The top-of-the-line 269 HP 3.5-liter V6 remains unchanged and has a 5-speed automatic.
Maximum towing capacity is 1,500 pounds with the 4-cylinder, 3,500 lb with the V6. Standard safety features include tire pressure monitoring system, ABS, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with traction control (TRAC), curtain side airbags, and front side airbags. Hill ascent/descent control is standard on seven-seat 4-cylinder models and on all V6 RAV4s. All have a side-hinged cargo door. Sport models have a sport suspension. Leather upholstery and a navigation system are optional on the Sport and Limited.
Toyota’s RAV4 is a compact sport-utility vehicle that is slightly larger than some of its competition — it’s one of the few vehicles in its class to offer a third row. But despite its relatively large size, it’s also one of the lightest vehicles in its segment, a trait which pays dividends in the RAV4’s driving dynamics and fuel efficiency. We recorded 26 mpg overall when driving like Ray’s grandpa motoring off to church with the canasta club, and up to 29 mpg on the highway drafting big rigs or impeding traffic flow in the far right lane.
Maneuverability in tight urban areas and fitting the RAV4 into parking spaces was very good. A “command” seating position helps the driver see above the traffic. Unloaded with passengers and heavy cargo, the RAV4 squirts around town with ease and clambers up the hills without wheezing too hard. Although, driving over tall mountain passes burdened with passengers or a heavy cargo load does make the 4-cylinder feel anemic when put to the task. For most us suburban flatlanders, we would rarely need the ooomph that the 6-cylinder provides. My question is, “why didn’t the 4-cylinder get the 5-speed tranny, too?” Certainly, it could have benefited from the extra gear with slightly better fuel economy and throttle response.
I can only imagine the numerous studies Toyota carries out to perfect the ergonomic layout of dashboard controls. The interior boasted lots of soft-touch surfaces except for the brushed aluminum looking plastic trim. All of the instruments were easy to read and reaching for the controls felt natural. What was missing were steering wheel controls for the audio functions and hands-free phone capability with Bluetooth®. Keeping both hands on the wheel is a good safety feature even it isn’t available as a factory option.
The RAV4 boasts class-leading interior space. Second-row seats are adjustable and offer spacious legroom. Third-row seating is less comfortable and is best suited for children, but most of the RAV4’s competition doesn’t even offer third-row seating. Without the third row, or with the third row folded, cargo capacity behind the second row is an impressive 36.4 cubic feet.
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