By Bob McHugh
Quick to twig to a growing demand for a small sport utility vehicle with
car-like driving manners, Toyota gave us the first generation RAV4
(Recreational Active Vehicle) back in 1996, as a ’97 model year vehicle. It
was an instant hit in Canada!
Although it may ride high and look like a truck the RAV4 has its’ roots in
the Toyota car line. It sits on a revised car platform and uses a modified
version of a Celica powertrain and all-wheel-drive system (that came with
the turbo version). The benefits are a lighter, more fuel efficient and
agile road vehicle that’s equally at home on a gravel road or a cottage
trail. On the other hand, it’s probably not a good vehicle choice if you’re
a more adventurous, real rough-stuff off-roader.
During the first two years of its existence the RAV4 was available in two
body styles and three versions, a two-door (4×2) and four-door (4×2 and
4×4). In ’98 a 4×4 version of the two-door was added to the line and the
2-litre engine got a power boost up to 127 horsepower. A new two-door soft
top (4×2) was introduced in ’99 and then it was dropped in 2000. The hard
top line, both two and four-door versions, came with four-wheel-drive (4×4)
only, during the final two years of this generation RAV4.
The RAV4 4×4 drivetrain has a locking centre differential, engaged by a
pushbutton on the dashboard, and a limited-slip rear differential was
option. However, it does not have the low-range in the four-wheel drive
mode, like most of its larger SUV competitors.
1997 Toyota RAV4 2 door
1998 Toyota RAV4 Soft Top
click images to enlarge
The most common owner complaints about the RAV4 are its lack of engine
power, the limited amount of rear seat room and a sometimes awkward to use
rear door that is hinged on the right side. However, the RAV4 also comes
with the Toyota dependability gene and compared to most SUV’s it’s a fuel
miser “extraordinare”. A 4×2 with a manual transmission will consume only
10.9 L/100 km in the city and 7.7 L/100 km on the highway, according to the
government fuel consumption guide.
On the safety front, the RAV4 did reasonably well in frontal impact tests
done by NHTSA (National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration), but not
as well in offset crash tests performed by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety), where it received a “marginal” overall rating. A daytime
running lamp relay that was not installed during assembly on some RAV4’s
made in ’97 was the only official safety recall.
Right now demand is high and prices are also high in the small SUV market
segment. And with gasoline prices also going through the roof that’s
unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, so an economical SUV is
probably a good investment. The versatile Toyota RAV4 is certainly right for
the times and a perfect fit with the active lifestyle generation.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.