Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge


Review by Chris Chase

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Photo Gallery: 2007 Toyota RAV4

Second opinions by Paul Williams and Grant Yoxon

Sidebar: Side-by-side comparison
2007 Toyota RAV4 and 2007 Honda CR-V EX

If you’ve been following our long-term SUV test thus far, you’ll know that the Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4 and Suzuki XL7 we’re comparing are similar in price – MSRPs range from a low of $34,295 for the Hyundai to $37,995 for the Suzuki – and all get their motivation from V6 engines hooked up to five-speed automatic transmissions.

But for all of their similarities, it’s become clear to us over the past couple of months that these three vehicles are all very different beasts. The XL7 looks like a Japanese vehicle but drives very much like the home-grown Chevrolet Equinox it’s based on. The Hyundai Santa Fe is the cushy cruiser here, with a comfy ride and well-appointed interior and styling that belies its lowest as-tested price in this group.

As mentioned, Toyota’s entry here is a RAV4 V6 Sport. A little history: this is the third generation of RAV4 and the largest, thanks to a revolutionary 2006 redesign that turned this once very compact trucklet into something much closer in size to its Highlander mid-size cousin.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

While previous RAV4s were powered exclusively by four-cylinder engines, the third-gen redesign brought with it a V6 option that stuffed the 3.5-litre engine from the latest Camry under the hood. In the RAV4, it makes 269 horsepower – by far the highest power output in this trio – and gives our tester the go-potential to back up the Sport badge that graces the front doors. That the RAV4 feels like the most powerful truck here has to do with the engine’s actual power output, of course, but also with the electronic throttle’s tuning. Tip-in is very abrupt, so it can be tough to move away smoothly, whereas the Santa Fe’s throttle, for example, has a much lazier tip-in, so it might be better suited to drivers who prefer a more relaxed feel.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Also fitting the Sport moniker is our tester’s ride. The Toyota’s suspension is quite firm – more so than a Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Spec.B I drove in December – and makes the RAV4 feel like, well, the sportiest of our three SUVs. Only cornering at stupid speeds elicits serious body roll and handling is very nimble for such a tall vehicle. No doubt the RAV4′s curb weight plays a part here: at 1,668 kg, the Toyota is the lightest of these three trucks. The RAV4 is a touch smaller than the Santa Fe in most dimensions, but the overall feel is one of a significantly smaller vehicle. Comparatively, the Santa Fe drives more like the XL-7.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
Downhill Assist Control and windshield wiper de-icer buttons in the 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by James Bergeron. Click image to enlarge

Perhaps the RAV4′s main downfall in this group is that it’s also lightest on content. With an as-tested price of $34,750, our tester is almost $500 pricier than the Santa Fe, but it lacked leather upholstery, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, automatic climate control and heated front seats, all of which the Suzuki and Hyundai had. I think the secondary audio controls were what I missed the most, though (the RAV4 Limited and Limited V6 models get a different steering wheel with audio controls). The RAV4 V6 Sport starts at $33,590; ours was fitted with the “B” option package, which is fancy talk for power sunroof, in this case. The Sport model also gets 18-inch wheels in place of the 17-inchers on other models in the range.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

The Toyota does have a few nifty features the other two trucks here don’t offer. One is a windshield wiper de-icer – a set of heating elements in the base of the windshield that keeps snow and ice from building up around the wipers. The Toyota is the only one here with a second-row seat that slides for and aft, though all three have adjustable second-row seatbacks. The RAV4 also had Toyota’s Downhill Assist Control which, when the transmission is in reverse or the lowest forward gear range, kept the car moving at a constant speed on downgrades. Nifty, but largely pointless for what most people use these vehicles for, I think.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photos by James Bergeron. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the RAV4 has the most adventurously styled interior of our three trucks. We’ll leave it to you to decide which is your favourite, but personally, I like the Hyundai’s interior look the best. Ergonomically, though, the Toyota’s dash arranges just about everything you’ll need to use regularly where it falls easily to hand. The exception is the location of the power mirror controls, which are on the centre console, behind the shifter.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Interior space is great, with lots of headroom front and rear. Legroom in the rear seat is quite good too; better than in the XL-7, which positions the second-row seats further forward to free up some space for its standard third row seat. The Toyota (and the Santa Fe) is available with third rows of chairs, but I prefer the huge underfloor storage compartment that five-seat versions get – I managed to fit a week’s worth of groceries in it.

With the rear seats in place, the cargo hold is generous; fold the rears down (the bottom cushions drop down and inch or two as you fold the seatback down to create an almost flat load floor) and there’s heaps of room.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photos by James Bergeron. Click image to enlarge

I fit two Christmas trees (not the kind that come in boxes, either) in the back, one of which was about six feet tall. The rear seatback release handles at the rear of the cargo hold are a nice touch. I wasn’t a fan of the retractable cargo cover, which was finicky and spent most of its time in the underfloor compartment. It was joined there by a cargo net – which slots into notches above the rear wheel wells – that mostly got in my way.

Small item storage is good too: up front, there’s a well-concealed (so much so that I didn’t notice it until I’d been driving the car for about a week) stash space beneath the heater controls; a coin box to the left of the steering wheel; another little cubby sits just behind the ill-placed mirror switches; there’s the requisite centre console bin and there’s a two-level glove box that’s very handy.

The RAV4 earned first-place honours in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s 2006 TestFest voting in the SUV under $35,000 category, which isn’t surprising. Personally, the Santa Fe was my favourite in that group of nine vehicles; it and this Toyota are the segment front-runners in my mind. Keep watching this space for an upcoming review of our long-term Santa Fe.


Second Opinion: Paul Williams

The exterior design of the new look, bigger-and-better Toyota RAV4 is modern and attractive, but in comparison with the Hyundai Santa Fe and Suzuki XL7, the RAV4 Sport interior comes off as rather dull. True, you can get RAV4s with a fancier interior (RAV4 Limited), but given that the emphasis on the Sport model is performance rather than luxury, I think it should be, well, sportier.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

Personally, I don’t mind blue-collar cloth seats, especially in the winter when cold leather seating surfaces can be somewhat surprising at first contact (although I’d at least like them heated at this price-point). But really, I’d like to see a genuine sport seat, sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel (with remote controls), and a touch of real performance flair from the interior design.

In short, the RAV4 Sport needs a proper ambiance for its occupants. Contributing to the bargain interior look are the grey panels, and window and door lock buttons that aren’t illuminated. I’m not saying you need leather seating surfaces, but maybe that ballistic nylon-type fabric, with side bolsters and snug adjustability – something like that.

What you do get in the RAV4 Sport is a VERY willing V6 engine, handsome 18-inch alloy rims, and some desirable exterior enhancements (fender flares, sport badges, black headlight surrounds). It’s a nimble, tossable vehicle that always feels stable, and is very practical, but as I say, the inside needs some attention to match its “Sport” designation.


Second Opinion: Grant Yoxon

Those of you who, like I, think of a Sport Utility Vehicle as a contradiction in terms, will be surprised by the 2007 RAV4 Sport. It is light, nimble and incredibly quick. It may well be the perfect compromise for those who prefer more sporting transportation but find their life circumstances dictate a vehicle that puts more emphasis on the second word in the acronym SUV.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

But for people who place a higher priority on Utility than Sport, the RAV4′s 269 horsepower V6 may be just too much engine for a vehicle as small as this. Torque steer can also be a bit of a problem. And there is a price to pay for having the quickest SUV on the block – compared to the Hyundai Santa Fe and Suzuki XL7 the RAV4 V6 Sport is seriously under-equipped with no more luxury features than found in a base RAV4.

On the practical side, the dual glove compartments, standard cargo net, under floor storage box, and rear seats that flip forward with a lever placed inside the rear cargo door are notable. But unlike the rear hatch style doors on the XL7 and Santa Fe, the RAV4′s cargo door opens to the side and still has that spare tire attached to the rear.

Another oddity is the RAV4′s standard downhill descent control, a feature that will modulate the engine speed and apply the brakes to permit a careful descent of a steep rough slope. Considering that the RAV4 is more at home on urban streets than in the bush, I’m not sure who, if anyone, would ever use this feature.


Side-by-side comparison: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport vs. 2007 Honda CR-V EX

What did Honda and Toyota know in 1997 that no one else did?

That was the year these two Japanese archrivals launched their respective compact, car-based SUVs, the CR-V and RAV4, arguably creating a new market segment. Suzuki and Jeep were building tidy trucklets for years before Honda and Toyota, but the Suzuki Sidekick (also sold by General Motors as the Tracker) and later, Vitara, models and the Jeep Cherokee were actually trucks, with body-on-frame construction. The RAV4 and CR-V looked like trucks (well, sort of) but rode on platforms based on cars.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; CR-V photo by Chris Chase, RAV4 photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

It would be years before other automakers caught up and started offering similar vehicles. In 2001, Ford’s Escape debuted and quickly became the Canadian best seller in the class (the CR-V was top-dog before the Ford came along); the Hyundai Santa Fe also arrived that year.

The CR-V and RAV4 on sale today are, in many ways, similar to their 1997 ancestors, retaining their car-based running gear and relatively car-like performance. But while they’re still similar enough in design, the philosophies behind each vehicle have diverged slightly for these third-generation versions.

Honda’s taking the CR-V in the direction of the crossover-type vehicles that are emerging all over the place; from what Honda told us at a CR-V mini press launch in Ottawa a few months back, we figure the company wants this new model to compete more closely with a car like the new Ford Edge, for example. Ride height is lower compared to the previous CR-V and the lack of a centre differential lock for the all-wheel drive system (which the RAV4 and the new Hyundai Santa Fe have) speak to the new CR-Vs on-road bias. The CR-V’s stability control system can be turned off, which is actually handy in some low-traction situations; in the Toyota, the traction nannies can’t be ordered away. I can’t speak for the driving habits of all SUV owners, but to me, being able to shut off the stability control is more useful than a differential lock in a vehicle like this. Point: Honda.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photos by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Toyota, on the other hand, seems to make no apologies for the fact that the RAV4 is still very much a small truck, even if it’s not capable of tackling really rough terrain. The RAV4 sits higher, so it’s a little tougher to get into for short people or, say, your 90-year-old grandmother. If she tags along often, she’ll like the CR-V better. Again, I can’t see many buyers here needing more ground clearance than the CR-V offers, and even with the lower ride height, visibility is still very good. Point: Honda.

Both of these trucklets drive very nicely and both have firm suspensions that make them feel like cars. But the RAV4 is the driver’s vehicle of the two. It seems to handle more confidently, with what feels like less body roll and generally fulfills the “sport” part of the SUV equation. Many might prefer the Honda’s slightly cushier ride – I too found the Toyota’s ride jarring on some less forgiving surfaces – but the fact is that it’s just more fun to drive.

The third generation RAV4 is also the first of its kind to be offered with a V6, a 269-horse version of the 3.5-litre motor from the new Camry sedan. Where the CR-V’s four-cylinder-only powertrain is adequate for most situations, a V6-powered RAV4 is the one you want to be in for tricky highway passing manoeuvres. Spirited acceleration feels nearly effortless and in normal driving, the Toyota has a very efficient feel to it. Not as efficient as the Honda actually is, however. The on-board fuel consumption display in a CR-V tester I drove in December showed just under 11 L/100 km in a mostly city driving; the RAV4 used about 13 L/100 km in similar driving conditions. No doubt a four-cylinder RAV4 – which sports very similar power figures to those of the Honda – would do better on gas. Low fuel consumption is certainly something I can appreciate, but in the end, I’m a car guy: I like powerful motors and preferred the Toyota’s more sprightly acceleration and the V6′s throaty exhaust note. Point: Toyota.

Inside, the CR-V EX I drove had a more useful rigid cargo cover than the Toyota’s fiddly roll-out cover. Missing in the Honda, though, is the capacious underfloor cargo compartment found in the RAV4. In the Honda, this space is full of spare tire; the Toyota’s spare hangs off the tailgate. This arrangement also allowed Toyota to offer third-row seats, something Honda opted to leave up to its Odyssey minivan.

Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
Long term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport toyota car test drives
2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport; photos by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

The CR-V’s rear seats offer seatback angle and fore-and-aft adjustment, just like the Toyota, but where the Toyota’s rear seats fold flat, the Honda’s don’t. Instead, you get the option of flipping the folded seat forward against the front seatback, which takes away from the length of the cargo area. Point: Toyota.

The CR-V gets a double-decker glove box like the Toyota; overall, though, the Toyota’s small-item storage is more user-friendly. There are a couple of cubbies at the bottom of the CR-Vs centre stack, which makes them a reach from the driver’s seat. The CR-V EX I drove also lacked a console storage bin, being fitted instead with a fold-down shelf unit that seemed out of place. I like the look of the CR-V’s driver’s environment better, but it seems like Toyota put more thought into the functionality of that in the RAV4′s control room. Point: Toyota.

Finally, there’s the subjective issue of looks. Overall, I think the new CR-V is a nice-looking vehicle, but the oddball front end puts me off. The Toyota looks better-proportioned to me; it also looks as fast as its V6 option makes it. Sure, opinions are like you-know-whats, but regardless – Point: Toyota.

Price-wise, my CR-V tester came in with a price-tag of $32,600; the RAV4 V6 Sport in our long-term test fleet is worth just under $35,000. Opt out of our Toyota’s optional sunroof and the price drops to $33,590, and there’s a base V6 model for $31,800 that doesn’t give up too many niceties to the V6 Sport. For the record, a basic CR-V LX AWD is worth $29,700 (the value leader is the front-wheel drive version at $27,700) and a four-banger RAV4 (there’s no front-wheel drive version available) starts at $29,300. Toyota’s doesn’t often win comparisons of price, but here, it gets the nod for offering a V6 model for similar money as my CR-V EX tester was worth. Point: Toyota.

This isn’t to say that the new CR-V isn’t a great vehicle. It is, and many buyers will love it. In my mind, it’s simply missing a few key elements that would make it stand out more in what’s becoming a very crowded segment.


Pricing: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport


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