Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sportage, Mazda Tribute, Nissan Xterra, Suzuki Grand Vitara
Toyota's RAV4 has been the leader in the new breed of compact sport utilityvehicles that are based on sedans. Most mid- and full-size SUVs are truck-based,and as such offer hard rides that can be tiring on long trips. Most SUVs alsoaren't driven off-road that much, so four-wheel drive is wasted. True, SUVs thatare driven primarily in northern climates do give their owners an advantage insnowy and icy conditions, but they really aren't off-road vehicles.
So a car-based SUV like the RAV4 could solve a lot of problems. Subaru hasused car-based SUVs and four-wheel drive sedans and wagons to carve an enviableniche in the market that many manufacturers covet.
RAV4was a hit when it was first introduced in 1996,and continues to be a popularvehicle today. For 2001, Toyota completely redesigned the RAV4, making itlonger, wider and taller and building it on a one-inch longer wheelbase. Inaddition, the engine offers a healthy 148 horsepower, a solid 21 more horsesthan the previous version. So for those of us who are always looking for"more power," here it is.
One hundred forty eight horses are more than enough to give the2,943-pound RAV4 power to spare, even with the automatic transmission andfull-time four-wheel drive. Fuel economy is excellent as well, rated by the EPAat 23 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
Besides installing a new engine in a larger car, Toyota redesigned the RAV4to give it a bolder look. This is a vehicle that at least looks like a mid-size,even if it competes in the compact SUV class. The exterior is more aerodynamicthan last year, with a thick hood and front combination lights that incorporatemulti-reflector lamps. There is an arched roofline that leads to aspoiler-shaped rear end that creates an innovative side profile. In addition,the rear lights are wraparound style, giving greater visibility to surroundingtraffic.
Inside,the new RAV4 has a new instrument panel with metallic trim and plated screws fora durable appearance.
Besides its looks, though, the RAV4 is a capable performer. We had theopportunity to drive a RAV4 over some pretty nasty trails. The introductionwasn't planned that way, but it rained the night before and all through themorning, making for a muddy track. In fact, some of the other SUVs that Toyotahad around weren't able to make it through the tougher sections of the course,clogging up the route and keeping other more capable SUVs away. But the RAV4s wedrove handled their portion of the course well. Obviously, the RAV4 isn'tintended for some of the tougher off-road challenges that you'd take a 4-Runner or Sequoia through, but it did well in mud and over rocky terrain.The organizers of the introduction even created a log crossing that our RAV4negotiated easily. Without a Low-Low gearing arrangement, though, we didn't wantto try it on slippery uphill or downhill sections.
However, our test did inspire confidence in the RAV4's ability to handleanything that I, personally, would be interested in trying. I'm not the RubiconTrail type, but I do drive often in rain, ice and snow, so I want a vehicle thatisn't going to send me off the road because it can't handle these difficultconditions. The four-wheel-drive system in the RAV4 proved itself capable ofhandling slippery mud, which is the same as ice and snow, but warmer.
Iliked the new aesthetics of the RAV4. The exterior and interior design gave acomfortable feeling about what the RAV4 was all about. It told the driver thathere was a rugged vehicle that was a step or two above a sedan, but not in thesame league as a Land Cruiser, to push the extreme. The RAV4 is not an incapableperformer as a family vacation vehicle. With a 1,500-pound maximum trailerweight, the RAV4 can tow a snowmobile or wave runner and can do it well.Interior cargo capacity is 29.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 68.3 cubicfeet with the rear seats removed. This is more than enough room for a family offour to stow all the luggage they need, or for a single driver to use the RAV4as a truck, hauling almost anything. I liked the RAV4 when I first drove it backin 1996. Interestingly, at that introduction, a "more capable" SUV gotstuck as well, while the RAV4 easily handled wet snow. Maybe this is a bettervehicle than Toyota thinks it is.