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Toyota RAV4 soft top (2000)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Toyota RAV4 soft top
ENGINE:  2.0-liter inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 127 hp @  5,400 rpm/132 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 94.9in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 163.8 x 66.7 x 65.0 in.
STICKER PRICE:  $17,148 (base)

I have to admit that when I first drove the RAV4 several years ago, it was a four-door version and I really enjoyed it. The RV4 and the competing Honda CR-V upped the ante in the small sport utility segment. That raising of the bar has been answered and raised a little higher by the Suzuki Grand Vitara, showing that there is as much competition in this segment as there is in any other.

This week's tester, however, is a different story. Our tester is the two-door RAV4 "convertible." Calling it a convertible means there is a canvas roof over the rear section of the vehicle, similar to the Isuzu Amigo. This gives an open-air feeling, much like in old Jeeps. In style, the RAV4 is more like the Amigo, though. I think it misses the mark.

First, by cutting the number of doors down to two,. You eliminate any carrying capacity behind the rear seats. Access to what's left is severely limited by the two doors and the resultant shoulder belts hanging from the B-pillar.

Once those passengers are back there they are slightly cramped from side to side, but they have decent legroom. Behind that area there is no carrying capacity. Now, the rear seat can be removed fairly easily, but then you have a two-seater with good carrying capacity. It seems to me that if I was going to buy a small sport utility - and it's something I would consider - I'd still want the added convenience of four doors. There are times when you want to bring additional passengers and you'll always need more carrying capacity.

The engine in the RAV4 is the standard 2.0-liter four that's rated at 127 horsepower. It drives the wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. There is a switch to lock the center differential and get four-wheel drive out of the RAV4. We were blessed with exceptionally good weather during our test, so we only switched it into 4WD occasionally. When it was in 4WD it didn't seem as comfortable as when it was in 2WD, so we left it in 2WD.

We had few luxury amenities in this vehicle. We had cruise control, an AM/FM stereo radio with an in-dash CD player, a digital clock, an adequate heater, and that's about it. We had good old-fashioned wind-up windows, non-powered exterior mirrors so we had to stretch and adjust them by hand. But we did have a sunroof so the front-seat passengers could have the same exposure to the elements as the rear passengers. The week we drove the RAV4 it was clear, but it was also extremely cold, so we didn't test our bravery.

At first I thought my lack of appreciation of the RAV4 convertible was an "age problem." I know that several times I disagree with younger people I work with or my daughters regarding the character or quality of the vehicles I drive. So I checked. My daughter didn't like it. Some of my younger co-workers didn't like it. My wife didn't like it. This was a frustrating feeling. I liked the four-door. I liked the hardtop. But I felt this vehicle missed the mark.