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Toyota RAV4 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

"Comprehensive" is a good description of Toyota's sport- utility lineup. The five vehicles included - the RAV4, Highlander, 4Runner, Land Cruiser, and Sequoia - cover a size range from compact to full-sized. And three, the RAV4, midsized Highlander, and full-size Sequoia, are brand-new this year.

The RAV4 name is familiar, having graced Toyota's smallest SUV since 1996. But, with new styling outside, the face is new. As is everything underneath. A longer wheelbase adds passenger space, and a new engine adds power with no loss of fuel economy. Lighter weight also aids performance and economy. The two-door version of the original RAV4 was discontinued a few years ago, and won't reappear. The 2001 RAV4 is offered only in four-door form, with front- or all-wheel drive.

But, as I discovered after a week with a new front-wheel drive RAV4, the sporty character of the old two-door has been mixed with the versatility and practicality of a four-door to make a vehicle that can appeal to many different types of people. The combination of space, handling, economical operation, and features like the reclining rear seat backs make it a winner.

APPEARANCE: The second-generation RAV4 is a more mainstream design than its predecessor, but it is no less distinctive. Although Toyota says it's "more aggressive" than the old RAV4, "aggressive" is not really applicable to a small, friendly vehicle in a class sometimes called "sport-cute." Macho it's not, but it could be called "playful" or "jaunty", which suits its character just fine. The new RAV4 has a contemporarily-sculpted two-box shape with a wedge-like profile suggested by the lower side window line. With its darkened upside-down trapezoidal grille and pentagonal headlights, the front has a definite face. De rigueur SUV bumper, fender flare, and lower side cladding helps give it "the look," and protects against minor parking lot damage.

COMFORT: The new RAV4 is as stylish inside as outside, but not at the expense of practicality and versatility. It's relatively narrow, but tall, with plenty of headroom and good space for four real people. With its four doors and low step-in height, access is easy. Up front are sporty-looking and comfortably-padded buckets; rear passengers have a 50/50 split contoured bench that features fore- and-aft and back angle adjustment. Each half of the rear seat can be flipped, folded, or removed, and there is reasonable cargo space even with both halves in place. For the driver, instrument and control placement is good, and the instrument panel is enhanced by sporty black-on-cream gauges with a titanium-look plastic bezel, and similar trim around the central control pod and door handles. The tilt-adjustable steering wheel and shift knob are covered with grippy synthetic materials. Convenience is paramount, with handy storage spaces around the cabin, a locking glovebox, and trick adjustable cupholders. The cargo area is accessed by the side- hinged tailgate, and the liftover height is a low 22 inches. The spare tire is mounted externally, on the rear door, but it's low enough to have no adverse impact on visibility.

SAFETY: The 2001 Toyota RAV4 has dual front airbags, three- point safety belts for all seating positions, side-impact door beams, and child seat anchor brackets.

ROADABILITY: It may look like a small truck, but the new RAV4 feels, rides, and handles more like a car, albeit a tall one. It's solid as any Toyota, with no flex or truck-like thumpiness thanks to its rigid unit-construction chassis. On the road, it is comparable in ride quality and quietness to a small family sedan. Its fully-independent suspension is compliant and well-damped, and controls body roll and fore-and-aft motion well. Because of its relatively high stance, body motion is somewhat exaggerated, but not overly so. If its cornering abilities aren't quite up to Celica GTS standards, they are better than those of most SUVs. And the RAV4 has more space and versatility than a sports coupe. It's offered with front- or all-wheel drive, and is meant for street or light-duty off-road driving.

PERFORMANCE: Although its horsepower and torque peaks are at relatively high engine speeds - 148 hp at 6000 rpm and 142 lb-ft at 4000 rpm - the RAV4's brand-new 2.0-liter twincam four-cylinder engine has great low-rpm power and never stops pulling enthusiastically, right up to redline. Credit is due its 16-valve design and VVT-i variable valve timing system, which allow the engine to breathe well and make smooth, efficient power at all speeds. It beats the previous-generation engine by 21 hp and 10 lb-ft, and gives the RAV zippy acceleration, particularly with the standard five-speed manual transmission. Good shift linkage and a sporty four-cylinder snarl add a fun-oriented character, and good gas mileage is a plus. It's not really a sports car, but neither is it a boring utility vehicle.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2001 Toyota RAV4 is a sporty cross- category useful utility vehicle.

2001 Toyota RAV4 4x2

Base Price              $ 16,215
Price As Tested         $ 20,260
Engine Type             dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-
                          cylinder with VVT-i variable valve timing
Engine Size             2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower              148 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          142 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission            5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length      98.0 in. / 165.1 in.
Curb Weight             2711 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   18.3
Fuel Capacity           14.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                   P215/70 SR16 Toyo Transpath
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent double wishbone
Drivetrain              front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      25 / 31 / 26
0 to 60 mph            9.9  sec
Towing Capacity        1500 lbs.

Anti-lock brakes               $   590
Roof rack with center rails    $   220
4 16-inch alloy wheels and one full-size spare
 with steel wheel              $   400
Front and rear mudguards       $    60
Quick Order package - includes: air conditioning,
 cruise control, 6-speaker AM/FM/cass/CD stereo,
 power windows, mirrors, door locks, carpet
 floor mats                    $ 2,295
Delivery charge                $   480