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New Car Review

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SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide


by Matt/Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 18,098
     Price As Tested                                    $ 22,728
     Engine Type                             2.0 Liter I4 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                  122cid\1998 cc
     Horsepower                                   120 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               123 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   86.6"/66.7"/145.9"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2835 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  15.3 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/70R16
     Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                  5 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            22/27/25          
     0-60 MPH                                       10.2 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17.4 seconds @ 75 mph
     Max towing capacity                                1500 lbs

     * Electronic fuel injection

(This week Matt Hagin sits in for his slightly older brother Tom to review Toyota's new mini-SUV, the RAV4. The title stands for Recreational Active Vehicle - 4-wheel drive, and it has young active adults aimed squarely in its sights.)

BOB - The Sport/Utility Vehicle (SUV) field has gone so upscale and high-ticket that young, first-time buyers have found them priced out of reach. But the market research folks of the auto business are never asleep when it comes to knowing what the public wants, so they've come up with the "compact" SUV. They're, smaller and less powerful, but still very "boppy" and best of all, more affordable. Toyota's in on the ground floor and its new RAV4 is aimed at this market. Even its ads are slanted towards the youngsters.

MATT - They may be kids to you, Dad, but they're my contemporaries. Out of college, into a good job and looking for a statement-on-wheels. Unlike the other 4X4's on the road, RAV 4 has unibody construction, which means that it's not built on a stand-alone frame. In fact, its chassis platform is from the last-generation Camry and a lot of the running gear is from Toyota's Celica line. It's really not so much a rough-and-tumble 4X4, as a full-time, all-wheel-drive passenger car - sort of a tall Toyota four-door sedan with an off-road attitude.

BOB - But some of the mechanicals are definitely off-road stuff, Matt. Our test machine carried the optional limited slip differential in the rear, and for a few bucks more, the buyer can get a device that locks up the front and rear drive systems. It's made to override the viscous drive that splits the power between the driving wheels so they don't "scrub" on pavement, but that's not what you want in the boondocks. Unfortunately, the lock-up is only available with the standard five-speed transmission, and I'll bet that more than 90 percent of the RAV4s wind up wearing the four-speed automatic. I'm glad you can get an optional limited-slip rear differential on all RAV4 models. That would work great for climbing steep hills and boulders.

MATT - But this machine wasn't really meant for those uses, Dad. It's the kind of vehicle that a couple or a small family can jump into for a ski trip without having to go through the rigmarole of putting on chains. The interior is well-equipped with A/C, power windows and door locks, and an upscale cassette player. The ride is really car-like, too, being independently sprung on each corner. But unlike a sedan, it has the added advantage of providing easy step-in for the driver and passengers. It also has the advantage of putting the driver up high enough to see over traffic.

BOB - The engine comes from the Celica line, Matt. It's only two liters, but sports four valves per cylinder and puts out a healthy 120 horses. That's enough to make it easily stay with traffic, and at only 2700 pounds, it doesn't need much torque. It sure gets decent gas mileage for an SUV - we pulled up to 27 miles to the gallon and it's no slug, either - if pressed, it's good for over 100 MPH.

MATT - Being fairly new to fatherhood, I really liked the fact that there's lots of room to carry family stuff. I easily fit our playpen and stroller into the area behind the rear seat. The RAV4 is also available as a two-door, but it's on a much shorter wheel base and there's lots less cargo room. I feel the two-door is essentially a tall sports car that is making a fashion statement. It's not attractive to family guys like me. Besides, crawling over the front bucket seats to strap down the baby's seat could be a giant pain.

BOB - I know all about putting in those baby seats, Matt. You were one of the guys I had to make sure was strapped in tight before we went anywhere.

MATT - Yes, but with all the kids in the family, by the time the car seat got passed down to me it was pretty beat up.

BOB - Maintaining all those overworked baby strollers, bicycles, and car seats is what motivated me to learn how to weld.