2006 Toyota RAV4
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads
Looking at the 2006 Toyota RAV4, it’s hard to believe that this is an evolution of the funky-looking “running shoe” on wheels that was introduced in 1996. This new version is a major departure from that original model, and a significant development of the 2005 RAV4 it replaces. Bigger, sleeker, more powerful, the 2006 RAV4 is targeted at “professional, 30-something, urban consumers who want a versatile vehicle, but not a huge SUV,” according to Toyota Canada’s manager of public relations, Linas Balaisis.

There is a lot to tell you about the new RAV4, so let’s get to it.

First of all, the 2006 RAV4 (for Recreational Activity Vehicle, by the way) is much bigger than the model it replaces. At 4,600 millimetres, it is fully 405 millimetres (15.9 inches) longer, and now only 89 mm less than the Toyota Highlander. Width is up 80mm, and wheelbase grows by 170 mm. Overall, compared with the 2005 RAV4, the 2006 model’s exterior dimensions are 14.5% larger, while the interior space has increased by 21.1%. It’s now about the same size as the Honda CR-V.

2006 Toyota RAV4

2006 Toyota RAV4
Photo: Bill Petro, Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

And to what purpose will you put all that interior space? How about optional third row seating? Yes, the formerly little RAV4 could now be called a RAV7, because it’ll hold seven passengers if required. That third row seat folds flat into a space below the floor when you don’t need it, and should you forego the seat, you get a large, underfloor storage box.

Complementing the new-look RAV4 is choice of two engines, including the expected four-cylinder, and for the first time in a RAV4, a V6. In all, six vehicle configurations are available.

The $28,700 base (all prices add $1,310 freight/delivery), 2.4 litre, four-cylinder RAV4 with variable valve timing produces 166 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 165 lb-ft torque at 4,000 rpm. The transmission is an all-new four-speed automatic with a Super-intelligent Electronically Controlled Transaxle (“Super ECT” — the same technology as found in Lexus products).

2006 Toyota RAV4
Paul Williams (passenger) and Autos contributor, Richard Russell. Photo: Bill Petro, Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

Fuel economy is an impressive 10.1-litres/100 km city, and 7.7-litres/100km on the highway, achieved in large part because of this clever transmission, the equally “intelligent” engine management system, and the vehicle’s low 0.33 coefficient of drag. Interestingly, no manual transmission has been announced.

The $31,200 base 3.5 litre, six-cylinder version with dual variable valve timing produces a whopping 269-hp at 6,200 rpm and 246 lb-ft torque at 4,700 rpm. This engine completely transforms the RAV4, even though the four-cylinder version is adequately powered. Trust me, you’re going to feel the extra 100-plus horsepower when you step on the gas in this vehicle. This engine connects to a five-speed automatic transmission and fuel economy is a still-impressive 11.1/7.8 litres per 100 km, city/highway (virtually the same highway mileage as the four-cylinder RAV4).

2006 Toyota RAV4

2006 Toyota RAV4
Click image to enlarge

In Canada, RAV4’s only come with all-wheel drive (in the U.S. you can get front-wheel drive, but not here) with an electronically controlled coupling that replaces the previous generation’s viscous coupling technology. The system enables the RAV4 to switch continuously between front and four-wheel drive mode, sending torque to the rear wheels when required. A manual locking switch allows a maximum torque split of 55/45 between front and rear wheels, and when locked, the system reverts to Auto mode when the speed reaches 40 km/h or the brakes are applied.

Other standard features on all models and trim levels include vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, 17″ wheels (steel on base models), an improved cruise control system with braking feature, windshield wiper de-icer, electric power steering, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, AM/FM/CD player with MP3 and audio auxiliary jack and six speakers, air conditioning and power doors, locks, windows and mirrors.

But wait, as they say in the infomercials, there’s more!

A Limited trim package boosts the price of the base, four-cylinder version to $32,595. For this, you get many useful and desirable features including aluminum alloy wheels, automatic, dual zone climate control, in-dash six-disc CD changer with steering wheel mounted controls, power driver’s seat, reclining an sliding rear seats, premium cloth interior, sunroof, moulded spare tire cover, fog lamps, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and chrome exterior accents.

The same Limited package on the V6 RAV4 increases its price to $36,370 and adds the third row seating, or you can select a Sport or Limited with “B” package in combination with the V6 engine.

2006 Toyota RAV4

2006 Toyota RAV4
Click image to enlarge

The $32,990 V6 Sport version includes colour-keyed fender flares, black headlamp surround, upgraded cloth interior and 18″ alloy wheels (including the spare). The $38,670 V6 RAV4 Limited with “B” package foregoes the third-row seating, but adds a nine-speaker JBL audio system, seven-airbags, heated front leather seats, rear seat remote release in the cargo area, and the colour-keyed fender flares.

Because they’re about the same price, one of the interesting choices that Toyota gives prospective RAV4 buyers, therefore, is a loaded four-cylinder with modest, but sufficient performance and all the toys, or a road-rocket V6 with basic amenities. Decisions, decisions.

Special mention should be made concerning the build quality of the 2006 RAV4. Panel gaps are perfect, there’s not a rattle or squeak to be heard, the exterior paint, and interior surfaces are flawless. It’s a very impressive piece of automotive manufacturing throughout.

2006 Toyota RAV4
Click image to enlarge

On the road, the four-cylinder RAV4 has an excellent, car-like ride, and doesn’t feel at all tippy in the corners. The four-speed transmission is amazing. The vehicle runs at 1,500 rpm at 60 km/h, 1,800 rpm at 80-90 km/h and barely makes 2,400 rpm at 115 km/h. Toyota says it’s an intelligent transmission; but genius would better explain the quietness in the cabin from the low engine speeds, and the excellent fuel economy. That being said, put your foot on the gas, and the correct gear is right there.

Our short preview of the 2006 RAV4 introduced yet another vehicle that raises the bar in its market segment. There are some areas where criticism can be made, however. The lack of side curtain airbags on all but the most expensive V6 with “B” package vehicle seems an odd decision by Toyota. Competitors like the Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage include ABS, stability control, traction control and side curtain airbags as standard equipment across their range.

2006 Toyota RAV4
Paul Williams driving. Photo: Bill Petro, Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge

The cruise control with braking seems a superfluous technology. Maybe I’m missing something here, but I didn’t get it. The idea is that you can activate the brakes by pushing down on the cruise control lever. This slows the vehicle more abruptly than the usual “coast” button, and presumably enables you to better control it when encountering traffic. But the cruise doesn’t resume your speed after braking when you hit “resume”; what it does is slow the vehicle and reset the cruise speed. I think using your foot on the brake pedal for braking, and the cruise control for cruising is a safer way to drive.

2006 Toyota RAV4
Click image to enlarge

Finally, the scan feature on the radio skips through stations so quickly, that by the time you get you finger on the button to select one, it’s moved on to the next station. Not a big deal, but this is the kind low-level annoyance that lingers. Satellite radio will probably make this criticism redundant, I suppose, although at this point you’ll have to plug in your own.

However, these criticisms don’t diminish my opinion that the 2006 Toyota RAV4 is a major advance on the model it replaces, and should definitely be on your shopping list if considering a vehicle of this type. It’s a very nice piece of work.


2006 Toyota RAV4

  • Type: Five — seven passenger compact utility vehicle

  • Price: $28,700 – $38,670 (plus $1,310 freight/delivery)
  • Notable: Major increase in size for RAV4 (especially length) over previous model; standard stability control; new, very powerful V6 engine option
  • Built: Japan, but assembly will begin in the new Canadian Toyota plant in Woodstock, Ontario, scheduled for opening in 2008
  • Available: Four-cylinder RAV4 at end of December, 2005; V6 RAV4 in February 2006

Connect with Autos.ca