1996 TOYOTA RAV4 SPORT UTILITY
Used Truck - 1996 Toyota RAV4 Sport Utility in Bedrock, Mn
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1996 Toyota RAV4 ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
The new king of the minis.
No one here has ever suggested that fun was invented by Toyota, but even so, the new RAV4 certainly lends a fresh dimension to the concept.
More than that, it lends a new and more viable definition to an emerging class of vehicles--the mini sport-utility. The difference: the RAV4 is as versatile and almost as practical as its bigger contemporaries--Ford Explorer, Chevy Blazer, the Jeep Cherokees, regular and Grand, to name just a few.
And its appeal isn't limited to the young and restless members of Generation X. We can imagine all sorts of people finding uses for a RAV4, from suburban errand-runners to commuters to small families headed out for a week in the woods.
The historic problem with other entries at the small end of this spectrum--going back to the tiny Suzuki Samurai--is that they've tended to be cramped, a little stiff in the ride department and noisy. Okay, the RAV4 isn't exactly an Explorer when it comes to roominess, and it isn't exactly a Lexus when you start counting decibels. But in 4-door trim it's got enough room inside for four passengers (Toyota, of course, says five), there's a surprisingly big cargo well behind the rear seat and it's the only sport-utility in this size and price class to offer full-time all-wheel drive.
True, you can get the extra traction of full-time all-wheel drive for a little less money--the subcompact Subaru Impreza, for example. But the little Subaru can't go where the RAV4 can go, and it isn't nearly as much fun.
There's that word again. Fun.
Even after extended seat-time in several locales, we're a little hard-pressed to quantify just why this little scooter is such a hoot to drive. Maybe it's because the interpretation varied from driver to driver.
But regardless of personal reaction, we were unanimous on the fun-to-drive quotient, 2-door and 4-door alike. For our report, however, we settled on the more practical 4-door version.
Cute is a word we use very cautiously in connection with motor vehicles, but it does seem to apply here. The boxy shape with its rounded corners strikes the tame-but-rugged tone that's current in larger sport-utilities, and the scale makes it more appealing, like a puppy.
We think the proportions of the much longer--by 16.4 in.--4-door are a little better looking, and the extra set of doors makes the vehicle distinctly more useful. The 2-door's rear seat is tough to access (although rear legroom is the same) and there's far less cargo volume.
The 4-door also holds an edge in ride quality. At 94.9 in., its wheelbase is 8.3 in. longer than the 2-door, which makes the going a bit smoother. This is not to suggest that the RAV4 4-door is a Camry when it comes to ride quality. A 94.9-in. wheelbase is still short, and having enough starch in the suspension for off-road driving means giving up a little in the compliance department.
But it's certainly not harsh and it feels remarkably supple when the going gets lumpy, as in off-road.
The bottom line here is that most drivers will probably call the RAV4's general behavior sporty. And we'd be surprised if anyone calls it trucklike. That would be a mistake, because unlike other sport-utes, the RAV4 ain't a truck. It's basically a car.
To be more precise, it's several cars. Toyota engineers used chunks of the Camry, Corolla and Tercel--all front-drive sedans--to create the RAV4, and the all-wheel drive system is borrowed from the old Celica All-Trac.
As a result, the RAV4 is basically a unibody front-drive vehicle. Most sport-utilities--including all the RAV4's direct competitors--are built truck-style, with the completed bodies bolted to separate frames.
The benefits of the unibody approach are two-fold.
First, the passenger car construction yields a lower cabin floor, making it easier to climb in and out.
Second, unibody construction reduces weight, which pays off in livelier handling, better acceleration and better fuel economy.
Although the RAV4 is a passenger car underneath it all, Toyota did a nice job of creating a sport-utility feel inside the airy, efficiently designed interior.
As noted, the seating position is higher than you'd find in a sedan--something most sport-utility drivers like--and the front seats are sporty buckets, with good lateral support.
There's also plenty of front seat legroom in both RAV4 body styles, as well as lots of headroom. And the rear seatback can be fully reclined or flopped forward, to expand cargo volume, which is easy to get at, thanks to the hinged rear tailgate. Grab the latch and it swings open like a door.
The combination of the relatively high seats and the short, sloping hood provides excellent forward visibility, while the extensive glass area pretty much eliminates the blind spots you find in a lot of other sport-utilities.
The sporty theme is reinforced by the rest of the RAV4's interior, which is purposeful without being stark.
It's got the right stuff--cupholders, several places to stow small items like sunglasses and cassettes, standard analog instruments, well located controls that are generally easy to use.
And it's got the kind of safety features you'd associate with a passenger car: Dual airbags, side impact protection, adjustable upper seatbelt anchors for the front seats and the option ($590) of 4-wheel ABS.
Although the RAV4 isn't available with a soft top, you can add sunshine and fresh air to the driving experience with the sunroof option ($600)--or, to be accurate, make that sunroofs; there are two of them, mounted in tandem, like the Previa minivan (dual sunroofs are available on the 2-door model only).
Fun-to-drive is a trait we usually associate with cars that pin you against the seatback when you tramp on the throttle and knife through a slalom like Deion Sanders heading for the bank.
The RAV4 doesn't do those things. It's not going to make anyone forget the Mazda Miata. Nevertheless, it delivers peppy acceleration, it's light on its feet and it has exceptionally precise steering. The all-wheel drive system provides excellent grip on slick pavement, and it doesn't miss a step when the pavement comes to an end.
A locking center differential lends extra scratch for gooey going--just press a button in the middle of the dashboard--and there's adequate ground clearance for rough terrain: 7.5 in. for the 4-door, 7.7 in the 2-door version.
That's a smidge more ground clearance than you get in an Explorer, and it's what you want when you're picking your way over rocks or traversing deep ruts or slogging through mud bogs.
We called the acceleration peppy, which requires some amplification. The RAV4 competes in an arena where get-up-and-go is largely conspicuous by its absence. With the standard 5-speed manual transmission, the 120-hp 4-cyl. engine will tow the RAV4 to 60 mph in about 10 seconds.
That's not exactly nosebleed territory, and things slow down even more with the optional 4-speed automatic transmission (available only on 4-door models). But it's quicker than most sport-utilities, and the RAV4's fuel economy is very good. We averaged a shade over 22 mpg during our test driving, which included everything from blasting down dirt roads to high speed interstate cruising.
The interior begins getting a tad noisy at speeds above, say, 60 mph, and acceleration gets leisurely at higher speeds, particularly in 5th gear.
To be fair on this latter point, the RAV4's gearing is aimed at good performance at lower speeds. But passing on two-lane highways definitely requires a downshift to 4th gear, plus a good stretch of straight road.
The manual transmission shifter is another soft spot. It's a bit vague, and getting reverse to engage sometimes requires coaxing.
Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine a better package for the money, even though it's wise to take care when you start checking boxes on the option list.
RAV4 pricing starts at $14,948 for a basic front-drive 2-door, which won't be available until later this year.
The sticker in our tester, which included all-wheel drive as standard equipment, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, power windows, locks and mirrors and air conditioning, totaled out at $19,170.
True, you could save some dough and wind up with a lot more off-road capability with the new Jeep Wrangler. The RAV4 isn't in the Wrangler's ballpark when it comes to playing dirty. Nor does it pretend to be. But its combination of small sedan driveability and sport-utility fun is unique.
Toyota has done a brilliant job of engineering here, creating a vehicle that will certainly set the standard for this new class.
Options As Tested
Air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette sound system, power windows, power mirrors, tilt wheel, all-weather package.