And now, please welcome our final contestant, the 2008 Toyota RAV4 4WD. Much like Subarus, the RAV4 seems to have quite a following in northern New England (as does the CR-V, which I failed to mention), based on my completely unscientific observations.
Keeping with our more utilitarian bent, we looked at a base model four cylinder with, of course, four wheel drive. Fit and finish on the Toyota was much more like the Honda, which is to say, generally of higher quality than the Jeeps and Subaru, but only slightly better than the Fords and Chevy. While aesthetics are not a primary concern the RAV4, also not unlike the Honda, has a quirky – if not downright odd – appearance, especially from certain angles. The interior is likewise a mixture of curves and angles, which would be easy enough to get used to, but still different. A Toyota-phile might consider it “distinctive.” One thing I noticed about the interior during our test drive was the reflection off the smooth, painted plastic of the center dash console. Every car is likely to have certain things that catch the sun and reflect it back in your eyes, but this was particularly noticeable.
On the road, the RAV4 was easily comparable to the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, and more refined than the Subaru. Controls and switches were logically placed and easy to operate. The 2.4-liter four cylinder seems tuned to getting off the line well in traffic, much like the CR-V and the Escape (also with fours of similar displacement), but seemed to get a little breathless accelerating up to highway speeds. And even though more than two decades have passed, I couldn’t help hearing the same engine note as in a friend’s 1984 Toyota Tercel hatchback. The salesperson did point out the RAV4’s 4WD lock button, a feature we only saw in the Jeeps, with all the other 4WD and AWD contestants leaving which wheels to drive up to the car and not the driver.
Taking my turn in the front passenger seat, I noticed a distinct lack of leg room even with the seat all the way back. At 6′-4″ this is not really that unusual for me, though I didn’t notice the same thing in the driver’s seat. And since I will likely not spend a lot of time in the front passenger seat, it isn’t that big of a deal – except there are other contestants that were a little more generous in this regard.
Of all the vehicles in our lineup the Toyota was the only one with a rear-mounted spare tire. There is a decorative vee-shaped indentation pressed into the spare tire cover, but there doesn’t seem to be a particular orientation for it. Perhaps the way you orient the swoosh on the spare tire cover can be used to send secret messages to other RAV4 owners? Okay, we won’t go there.
Anyway, another feature that distinguishes the RAV4 from its competition is the rear door, which swings open to the right instead of being a lift gate. That the door opens to the right would seem to be the wrong way if you’re parked at the curb and need to get things into the rear cargo area without having to walk through traffic. And if the car behind you is parked too closely – well, if there’s another car parked behind you at all, forget using the rear door.
Overall, the RAV4 left us a little disappointed. Even more than the CR-V, it just seems to be trying too hard to be more than it is.
Now that we’ve met all of our contestants, it’s time for the swimsuit portion of our show. No, not really. But it is time to pare down the choices and – wait, we’re out of time! You’ll just have to tune in next time to see who makes the cut and who gets voted out of the showroom.