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2009 Toyota RAV4 Review

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2009 Toyota RAV4

MORE: Compare Toyota Specs and Prices-Toyota Buyers Guide


By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 has a tougher restyled exterior and engine with an optional third-row offered on the Base and Limited trims. With a 104.7-inch wheelbase, redesigned grille and both head and tail lamps, you're going to look like you're driving more of a smaller Highlander or 4Runner now.

I drove a 2009 Toyota RAV4 4x2 with the 179-horsepower 2.5-liter engine. Highlights of standards included the improved 4-cylinder engine; Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA); UV reduction windshield; rear spoiler; gated shifter; and rear cargo hidden storage area. Extras included a $690 Extra Value Package (17" 5-spoke wheels, roof rails); $450 tube steps; and a few other optional items like a security system that took the $21,500 price to a total of $23,642.

The Toyota RAV4 isn't the only nerd on the dealer lot who blossomed into a stud. Its main competition is 2009 Subaru Forester, which also dropped goof appeal and took on some SUV muscle for 2009. Both vehicles are the highest rated and recommended for its class, the smaller SUV, and best to compare side-by-side in this review


Stylish But Comfortable Results: Well-designed interior but could be perceived as cramped. Steering wheel controls are basic (the Prius has climate controls on the wheel – why not the RAV4?) Useful backup camera appears in rear view mirror. Climate control dials have set modes and a bit stiff to turn. Great slanting armrest design on inside door to create a sense of space. Pockets of space on side panels and center console. Short distance between windshield glass and dashboard. I do love both the new RAV4 and the Forester, but I felt the RAV4 had a more solid feel – there's just something more satisfying than hearing the RAV4's steel door slam than the echoing ping of the Forester's.

Reliability & Safety Factor: It has that agile and sporty handling, and the new 2.5-liter is very impressive – I really did think I was sitting behind a V6. Toyota offers the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) as a standard; this safety feature is usually an extra cost and needed for handling control at high speed in bad weather or on bad roads. Overall, the entire STAR safety system is loaded with everything a car today should have for road control (out-performs the Forester with this package deal).

Cost Issues: The Forester's 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylindar Pzec (Partial Zero Emissions) engine and standard symmetrical all-wheel drive with about the same interior clout runs $25,623. If you were looking for more capability or 4-wheel drive in the RAV4, this $23,642 price (that's with a $570 Toyota discount) would be pumped up a few thousand because to go 4-wheel drive, you'd need the V6 engine. However, I think you can do without a lot of the RAV4 optional extras, like $199 floor mats, $199 side body molding, the $450 tube steps and $70 emergency kit.

Activity & Performance Ability: Probably most powerful 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine I've ever driven – it leaves a faster impression when accelerating than the Forester. Almost too much muscle for this size of this car, but in combination with the STAR safety system, Toyota has nailed the smaller SUV.

The Green Concern: The RAV4's 179-horsepower 2.5-liter engine gets 22-mpg city and 28-mpg highway an for an average of 24-mpg; the Forester's 170-horsepower 2.5-liter with all-wheel drive gets 20-mpg city and 26-mpg highway for an average of 22-mpg driving. If you went with the RAV4's V6, EPA estimates 21-city and 27-highway – if you drove right, 23-mpg.

An excellent 2.5-liter engine, tougher looks, great gas mileage and affordable price puts the Toyota RAV4 as a top pick. An overall better deal, both cost and performance wise, if you went with the stronger V6 4x4 at 23-mpg verse the Forester's 4-cylinder all-wheel drive at a close 22-mpg.

Katrina's Car Tips For Women Drivers
Katrina's 2010 and 2009 Model Reviews For Women Drivers
Katrina's 2008 Model Reviews For Women Drivers

2008 Katrina Ramser

MORE: Compare Toyota Specs and Prices-Toyota Buyers Guide