2009 Toyota RAV4 Road Test

Better get 'em while they're hot and available, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 V6, that is�"a very quick, roomy, flexible sport-utility vehicle that may sadly go away thanks to the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that take effect in 2016. You'll still be able to purchase roomy, flexible SUVs from Toyota, but our guess is that we might lose the V6 option on the just-right RAV4.

From the driver's position, the RAV4 provides a very functionally designed instrument panel: Some makes are forcing function to follow form in this area. Also, the controls for the sound system are mounted high on the center console. This allows the driver to keep his peripheral vision on the road while turning the bass down from the "Advil needed" level set by his teenage son to one that won't kill nearby songbirds. One complaint: The clock was low, hidden by the shift lever. Since the clock is among the most-consulted instruments, this is a notable oversight. The interior materials of the RAV4 exceed almost all other compact SUV's for feel and appearance.

The second-row seats offer plenty of headroom: No need to remove that Stetson. However, the position of the seatback and feel of the seat cushion means few adults would gladly ride in the back for a long road trip. It's amazingly easy to lower the rear seatbacks to create a nearly perfectly flat cargo area. A single touch of a lever on the side of the left seat drops two-thirds of the seat to the flat position. Move around to the other side and repeat to get a completely flat floor. With the rear seats up, the Canadian-built RAV4 has adequate (but not generous) storage areas behind the seats. It boasts a pair of under-floor storage bins, great for placing items that always accompany the car (emergency kits and the like).

For those who don't read owner's manuals, the RAV4 has a confusing characteristic. While stopped, if you push the brake pedal past a certain point, the vehicle beeps and displays the stability control warning light. This seems like a malfunction until you discover the vehicle is trying to tell you the hill control function is engaged. This function prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards while the driver moves his foot from gas to brake. It also saves an ever so tiny bit of gas as the engine does not have to overcome the urge to roll backwards.

As with all Toyota and Lexus vehicles, the RAV4 comes standard with electronic stability control, a computer system that helps prevent the vehicle from spinning out or sliding straight off the road. It features six airbags, including a full-length side curtain bag. In government testing, the RAV4 received five stars (the highest rating) for driver frontal and side impacts and for rear passenger side impacts, but only four for front passenger impacts and rollover. The RAV4 earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) coveted Top Safety Pick Award.

The 2009 RAV4 is offered in three trim levels: base, the performance-oriented Sport and top-of-the-line Limited. Standard engine is a new-for-the-RAV4 2.5-liter, 179-horsepower four-cylinder. The four gets 22 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. The powertrain de resistance is the 3.5-liter, 269-hp V6. Front-wheel drive is standard and four-wheel-drive (what many would call all-wheel-drive) is optional. The RAV4 boasts very precise and confidence-inspiring steering feel. However, the combination of the RAV4's chassis and Yokohama tires produced an excessive amount of tire and road noise. Also, there was quite a bit of wind noise around the edges of the windshield.

Changes for 2009 are limited but include a new front grille, front bumper and new taillights. Pricing for the 2009 Toyota RAV4 starts around $22,000. MSRP for the top-of-the-line Limited V6 4x4 is $27,810. Optioned out it from there, a fully loaded RAV4 can easily top $31,000. If "Power to the People" still strikes a chord in your heart, you'd better hurry: 269-horsepower compact SUVs probably aren't long for this world.


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