Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four-cylinder. Click image to enlarge

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2009 RAV4 Owner Reviews

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2009 Toyota RAV4

Ottawa, Ontario – It doesn’t seem that long ago that the only way to get 180 horsepower in a car or truck was to choose a six-cylinder engine. Go back to 2002, and there were few four-cylinders making close to that figure without the aid of turbocharging or advanced variable valve timing technology.

Not so today. Now, a big four-cylinder (around 2.5 litres in displacement) is considered low-tech if its output doesn’t at least approach 200 horses. The latest addition to the high-horse four-banger club is Toyota, whose 2009 RAV4 crossover comes standard with a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine rated at a healthy 179 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque.

The Volkswagen Tiguan is the only four-cylinder compact crossover with more power, but its 2.0-litre engine makes its 200 horsepower with the aid of forced induction.

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four-cylinder. Click image to enlarge

Toyota is quick to point out that while the new motor is more powerful than the 2.4-litre 166-hp engine it replaces, it is also more efficient. Transport Canada EnerGuide ratings for the 2.5-litre RAV4 are 9.7/7.2 L/100 km (city/highway) compared to 10.1/7.7 for last year’s smaller engine.

The updated engine addresses one of my personal nitpicks with the RAV4: the previous four-cylinder’s power felt barely adequate, while the available 3.5-litre V6 feels like overkill in many situations.

While the 2009 model retains the right-now throttle response that can make the car feel jumpy in city driving, the upgraded four-cylinder is otherwise just right. The new engine has no trouble keeping up with city traffic, and if it lacks the highway passing prowess of the six-cylinder engine, this four-cylinder pulls nicely at high revs and rarely feels breathless. The only similarity to the old four-banger is a lack of torque off idle; after all, torque is up just six pound-feet (compared to the 13-horsepower upgrade), and it still peaks at a relatively high 4,000 rpm.

As with last year’s RAV4, the 2009 model can be had with naught but a four-speed automatic in 2.5-litre trim; a five-speed auto is bundled with the six-cylinder engine. The four-speed may lack a gear or two compared to some competitors, but it shifts smoothly and its ratios are well-matched to the engine.

As per its Sport trim designation, my tester used a sport-tuned suspension which starches up the ride noticeably. It can make for a jarring experience on rough roads, but provides satisfying handling considering the RAV4’s elevated ride height.

Fitted with Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC) and Active Torque Control all-wheel drive system – all standard features – and a set of winter tires, the RAV4 felt sure-footed in snowy conditions. The only annoyance brought by the stability control system is the beeping warning announcement it makes when it’s at work. I suppose it’s handy as a way to help drivers adjust for the conditions (safe is silent, in this case), but I’d rather the system just do its thing and, at most, flash a light on the dash when it’s active.

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four cylinder toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport four-cylinder. Click image to enlarge

My tester came wearing the optional “Leather” package (which was less intimidating and more comfortable than it sounds). Checking this box on the order form adds leather seats and synthetic leather door trim, heated front seats and eight-way power adjustment for the driver.

For its $32,350 price (the Sport model starts at $30,235, while the base four-cylinder model comes in at $26,555), my tester’s standard feature list included 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, colour-keyed spare tire cover, automatic headlamps and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated backup camera. New standard kit for 2009 also includes active head restraints, fuel consumption readout (with a toggle button on the steering wheel) and a stability control cancel button.

A few styling updates are the other news for 2009, though these are minor: they include a new grille and taillights. I’d love to see Toyota find a way to dispense with the spare tire hanging off the tailgate, which seems like an old-fashioned way of storing the spare; however, stowing under the cargo floor would take up space needed for the optional third-row seat, and in five-seat models (like my tester), would eat up the handy under-floor storage compartment. Also, I don’t doubt that moving the spare under the floor would force Toyota to downsize it from a full-size wheel and tire to a less useful compact spare. No easy answers here.

Cargo space is generous, thanks to the upright tailgate and back seats that fold nearly flat, both of which expand the car’s capacity significantly. When the rear seats are upright, there is plenty of leg- and headroom for passengers; a mostly-flat floor makes the best of an uncomfortable situation for the person stuck riding in the centre seat.

Front seat comfort and space are excellent. The hot-or-not seat heaters would benefit from low and high settings, but honestly, any heat is good heat when the temperature is minus 20 degrees Celsius. The heater controls are the same chunky pieces found in a multitude of Toyotas, but they’re simple and work well. Note that automatic climate controls are available only in the top-range Limited and Limited V6 models.

The rearview camera is a nice touch, as a feature normally bundled with expensive navigation systems. The image may be small, but it’s useful all the same for making sure you’re not about to run over something (or someone!), and simply having a better view of what’s behind you might be preferable to the beep-beep of a back-up warning system.

The RAV4’s new four-cylinder engine is a nice upgrade for shoppers looking for a compact, four-cylinder-powered crossover. Another move sure to solidify the RAV4’s popularity among Canadians is Toyota’s decision to build this model at a recently-opened plant in Woodstock, Ontario.

Not that the RAV4 needed much help in the popularity department: its 2008 annual sales of 20,522 ranked it eighth in Canadian light truck sales. But you don’t achieve the kind of success that Toyota is enjoying without continuously improving your products. More power to them.

Pricing: 2009 Toyota RAV4 Sport
  • Base price: $30,235
  • Options: $ 2,115 (Leather package of power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery and synthetic leather door trim)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,440
  • Price as tested: $33,890
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

    Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Toyota RAV4

    Competitors
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Acura RDX
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Chevrolet Equinox
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Ford Escape
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Honda CRV
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Jeep Patriot
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Kia Sportage
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Mazda Tribute
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Nissan Rogue
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Pontiac Torrent
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Saturn Vue
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Subaru Forester
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Toyota Canada