Sharp looking RAV4 continues fun driving tradition

Posted Friday, Jul. 04, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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Toyota introduced the RAV4, its sporty compact SUV, in Japan in 1994 and brought it to the U.S. in 1996. The 2001 model debuted RAV4's second generation, and now, the vehicle is in its third generation with a redesign last year.

The RAV4 now seats five and brings a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Third-row seating and the V-6 engine are no longer available.

For the 2014 RAV4, Toyota now offers its Entune Audio suite as a $785 option and a Technology Package for $725 on Limited models.

RAV4 comes in six trims, ranging from $23,550-$29,720, and offers several options packages such as Remote Engine Start for $499 and Roof Rack Crossbars for $315.

There are eight exterior colors, including Barcelona Red Metallic (my tester), Pyrite Mica and Shoreline Blue Metallic. Four interior colors are available, depending on which trim is selected, and include Ash (my RAV4), Black, Latte, and Terracotta.

The 176-horsepower four-cylinder engine is standard across the line and is mated with a six-speed automatic transmission. Each trim (LE, XLE, Limited) is available in front- or all-wheel drive.

Front-wheel drive models are EPA rated for 24 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, while all-wheel drive models are expected to achieve slightly lower mpg at 22 city/29 highway.

During my test, the front-drive RAV4 Limited averaged 25.9 mpg, with a mix of neighborhood, town and highway driving without using ECO mode.

Toyota includes the Star Safety System on all its vehicles, and starting in late 2010 the system included Smart Stop Technology. Toyota created the braking enhancement system to automatically reduce engine power when the accelerator and brake pedal are pressed at the same time. If the accelerator is pressed first and the brake pedal is pressed firmly for longer than one-half second at speeds over five mph, Smart Stop Technology intervenes to allow the vehicle to slow down or stop.

The Star Safety system includes enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. The RAV4 also has eight air bags, whiplash-injury-lessening front seats, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCh), child-protector rear door locks and tire-pressure monitoring.

My RAV4 came with lots of great standard equipment, such as a height-adjustable power liftgate; power/heated outside mirrors; power moon roof; roof rails; automatic projector beam headlights (auto high beam comes in a technology package for $725); integrated fog lights and daytime running lights; privacy glass and acoustic noise-reducing front windshield glass; and variable-intermittent windshield wipers.

The liftgate can easily be programmed to stop at the height the driver prefers, for avoiding low-hanging objects in garages or to avoid obscuring the view of the vehicles parked behind at the drive-in movie.

The Technology Package with the auto high beam feature also includes a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning. The high beams will activate in certain low light situations, at certain speeds to better light the road ahead, then switch back as conditions change (such as oncoming traffic).

My RAV4 had Softex artificial leather seating surfaces, which is less expensive, cooler, longer lasting, and easier to clean. The driver's seat was power adjustable with memory settings, and both front seats were heated. The leather-trimmed tilt/telescopic steering wheel included controls for audio and Bluetooth functions.

The two-tone gray (Ash) interior was stylish and accented by stone-colored satin-finish metallic trim on the interior door pull, the lower steering wheel spoke, the upper dash and door panels, the instrument panel surround, and the 360/90 vent housing.

Door armrests where the window and door lock controls were located and the center console/shifter surround were basket-weave textured plastic. The roof rails were also stone-colored satin-finish metallic.

Front passengers had dual-zone climate control with air filter, a sliding center armrest with a medium storage cubby underneath, and an illuminated entry system with lights on the lower door panels and in the foot wells.

My RAV4 had a Smart Key system with pushbutton start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and an Entune Premium JBL audio package with navigation and app suite, a $785 option.

The package was loaded with the Entune Bundle, which included a 6.1-inch high-resolution touch screen with split screen and backup-camera display, AM/FM/CD player with MP3/WMA playback, 11 JBL Green Edge speakers in seven locations, (including subwoofer and amplifier), auxiliary audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone capability, phone book access and music streaming via Bluetooth.

It also included Entune App Suite, HD radio, HD predictive traffic and doppler weather overlay, AM/FM cache radio (records and plays back the last 20 minutes of the content of the current station; cache info is erased when a different station/mode is selected or the vehicle is turned off), satellite radio (90-day free trial) and Gracenotes album cover art.

Navigation/audio systems are becoming increasingly complicated, which can be frustrating when one has only a week to acclimate. The navigation was relatively easy to program, though time-consuming, with several steps for each function. The audio controls were overly complex as well.

My RAV4 also had all-weather mats and cargo tray, a $200 package; and a cargo net for $49. A Vehicle Intrusion Protection security system, a $359 option, brought an alarm and glass-breakage sensor; automatic re-arming and re-locking, door-ajar warning, interior light activation, panic alarm, rolling code technology and starter disabling.

The rear seatbacks were versatile, reclining and folding flat in a 60/40 configuration. The middle seat was actually very comfortable, with only slightly less head and legroom. However, reclining either side of the seatback was uncomfortable for the middle passenger. Rear passengers had 38.9 inches of headroom, the same amount as front passengers, and 37.2 inches of legroom in comparison to 42.6 inches up front.

RAV4 is fun to drive, sharp looking, and very useful. The load height is low enough for a short person to easily load groceries, gardening supplies or luggage, and the cargo door and walls are as wide at the top as they are at the bottom, with room for tall and/or bulky items (dorm refrigerator, bean bag chairs, bed-side tables).

It has 38.4 cubic feet of space (rear seatback in place) and includes a tonneau cover for privacy and containment of smaller items.

With $2,118 in options and $860 freight, my RAV4 Limited delivered for $31,298.

The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at . 

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