2006 Toyota RAV4
2006 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase

The Toyota RAV4 debuted in 1996, making it one of the originators of the “cute-ute” compact SUV segment, along with the Suzuki Sidekick and Honda CR-V. Through its first two generations, it was indeed compact, but the third generation, underwent a significant transformation into a vehicle verging on mid-size crossover territory.

This seemingly steroidal upgrade brought a number of firsts to the RAV4, including a V6 engine and three-row seating. The basic RAV4 was powered by the same 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine found in the previous generation, its 166 hp/165 lb.-ft. of torque proving adequate, but not amazing, in its new, heavier host. The optional 3.5-litre V6 was a more satisfying choice with its 268 hp/246 lb.-ft., but a jumpy throttle made it feel almost like too much motor. All-wheel drive was standard, as were automatic transmissions; the four-cylinder got a four-speed, and the V6 was mated to a five-speed.

As with any vehicle, the RAV4 received a number of running changes as the model years progressed. In 2007, Toyota made side/side curtain airbags standard (they were optional in the top-end Limited in 2006), and in 2008, the tiny, cramped third row seats were dropped (they were only offered in the priciest Limited V6 model anyway).

2007 Toyota RAV4
2007 Toyota RAV4
2007 Toyota RAV4 (top) and 2010 RAV4 with Sport Appearance Package (bottom); photos by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

In 2009, a front-wheel drive model was added that could be ordered with either engine, styling was updated ever-so-slightly, and the 2.4-litre four-cylinder was replaced with a stronger, smoother and more efficient 2.5-litre motor. Its 179 hp/172 lb.-ft. power specs helped narrow the gap between the old, slightly underpowered base engine and the athletic V6. This was also the first year for RAV4 production at Toyota’s Woodstock, Ontario plant.

For 2010, the only change was the addition of a Sport Appearance Package that removed the spare tire from the tailgate. It was an attractive option as it both cleaned up the look of the back end considerably and make the swing-out tailgate lighter and easier to open and close. The downside was that the package included run-flat tires, which, while arguably necessary, are expensive to replace and ride harshly on rough roads. Seven-passenger seating returned in 2010, as an option on V6 4WD models.

For 2011, the front-wheel drive option was limited to four-cylinder RAV4s, making all V6 trucks 4WD.

In early models (all of which were 4WD), fuel consumption ratings for the two engines are surprisingly close, at 10.1/7.7 L/100 km (city/highway) for the four-cylinder and 11.1/7.8 for the V6. 2009’s new four-cylinder was more efficient, rated 9.7/7.2 L/100 km with 4WD, and 9.4/6.9 with the also-new two-wheel drive-train. The V6 2WD model’s numbers were 10.7/7.4 L/100 km.

Consumer Reports names the RAV4 to its “good bet” used vehicle list. Four-cylinder models are rated higher, though, with V6 versions from 2006 and 2007 earning only average reliability scores, thanks for a couple of problems specific to six-cylinder models.

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