Car Reviews: 2012 Toyota RAV-4 Test Drive

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“This car is cool, Mom.” Megan, 5

We are still car-less (or I guess crossover-less, or SUV-less) but thanks to Toyota Canada we had a great week tooling around in a 2012 RAV-4. We’re so glad we got to add this guy to our Car Reviews page, since it’s pretty high on our short list for looks alone. Drawbacks for us include the steep-ish price tag, even for pre-owned, but I suppose the fact that it retains its resale value could be considered a plus. I found the RAV-4 a blast to drive, and that’s largely because I have a bit of a lead foot and it responded quite nicely. The kids (and Grandma) had plenty of room in the back, and the storage capacity is great.

And now it’s over to Mr. HBWT for his comprehensive review!

2012 Toyota RAV4 Reviews and Test Drive:

Yay:
-It feels to be a really solid, well built vehicle
-The optional V6 really moves this small SUV around
-Ample room for 2nd row passengers and storage / utility
– The door-style tailgate

Nay:
-Same said V6 seems to negate the fuel efficiency of a smaller SUV
-Front seats can feel a bit cramped
-Cost of a well appointed version can push it into competition with mid-size SUVs
-The door-style tailgate

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Not To Be Confused With Our Neighbours’ RAV-4s, Also Silver…

In Tim Burton’s version of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory the Oompa Loompas are all played by one actor and, through the magic of green-screen, this one fellow is magically transformed into a legion of elf-like identical helpers. Excuse the somewhat convoluted film reference but it is a feeling that I can not shake when I look at Toyota’s RAV-4. This ubiquitous compact sport utility vehicle seems to everywhere at once when I am out and about – in fact there are three parked on our street right now. It’s a very popular vehicle, and after spending a week in one I now know why.

As mentioned in my earlier Mazda CX9 review, it is important to me to understand where a vehicle fits into the SUV food chain to truly appreciate its strengths and weaknesses and how it stack up to the competition. The RAV-4 is in the compact SUV category and its main competition is the equally ubiquitous Ford Escape and Honda CRV – vehicles that also fit my Oompa Loompa analogy very nicely. If you see a compact SUV the odds are tremendously good that it is one of these three.

The appeal of the RAV-4 definitely starts in the cabin, with ample room for five people or whatever mix of car seats and big folks you may have ( I must say the ratio of five car seats may not be your insurer’s dream combo as it implies a toddler will be driving – though my 2-year-old is more than willing to give it a try). The 2nd row has adjustable seats, which is a great feature, and all can sit quite comfortably with plenty of storage in the back as well. As also mentioned in my previous review I have a small (or tall) caveat here – I am 6’7″ and the RAV is a bit of a squeeze up front for me. It has gotten better – I actually don’t fit in a RAV pre-2010 – but it is right at the edge of comfort and I am a bit concerned how that would translate in a longer drive. Needless to say I am a bit of an oddity in this category so it isn’t a common concern for most, but if you are of taller stature or pine for the legroom of the ’78 Satellite Sebring you may want to try the RAV on for size.

The cockpit is well laid out, good storage, and has all of the standard bells and whistles depending on what trim level you get (as you can probably tell I don’t really care about all of the Bluetooth and USB and map features and the other techno odds and sods but I will share my rant on that another time). You sit quite high in the RAV, so visibility is quite good (the rear pillars may take some extra getting used to for blind spots).

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Bub liked it, except he couldn’t reach the window button. I liked that 🙂

As we move from inside to out I wanted to take a second to talk about the RAV’s five – yes five – doors. Toyota seems to take a lot of heat from reviewers over their decision to make the tailgate a door-type that opens to the traffic side and I can kind of see where they are coming from. Imagine you are street-parked on a busy street downtown, sandwiched between two cars driven by people who have clearly forgone basic human decency, and your arms are full of shopping bags. It is not a best case scenario, to say the least, for this type of tailgate arrangement. That said, I actually prefer this style of gate in the standard driveway or parking lot as you can avoid the tailgate hustle as you dance back to avoid the gate as it swings up and over your head.

Now that we are outside I would like to point out what I consider to be the best looking, nay… most SUV looking, small SUV on the market. This is all subjective of course, but if you think the Escape or CRV or, gasp, Santa Fe look better – then I can’t help but think there is something wrong with you. The RAV looks like an SUV – and has just enough curves to keep it looking modern.

Performance is great. The RAV is easy to maneuver in heavy traffic, tight parkades, and with the optional V6 is a real roadster (you can actually make the tires, and your toddlers, squeal if you gun it). Not that I actually ever did that, of course.

Overall it is easy to see why the RAV is consistently in the top 5 best selling SUVs year after year. It’s comfortable, practical, looks good, and judging by its used resale values, a very reliable and well-made vehicle. Really the only two things that bothered me about the RAV, in the version we had nicely tricked out with the V6, was gas consumption and price tag. I think this car rates exceptionally well in the small SUV category, but if it has the fuel efficiency and price tag of a mid size SUV like the Pilot or CX9, vehicles with more room, my enthusiasm wanes. Perhaps it is best to forgo the V6 and the bells and whistles then, though I must say keep the seat warming option on the table (it’s goooood) – just make sure you don’t have any Wonka chocolate in you pockets if you do.

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When I installed the car seats, it took me a while to figure out where the tether anchor bolts are (they are on the seat backs, but hidden), be careful not to mistake the cargo net hooks for the tether bolt anchors, as I almost did off the bat. I really loved the RAV-4. It does come with an optional third row, but it is tiny and hard to find. Due to the high-ish price tag, I’m not sure we’ll end up with one, as my husband does not fit in any models older than 2010, and resale prices are good, so that means the pre-owned ones in our price range won’t accommodate his height.

Fully unrelated to driving, I like the touch-screen GPS and entertainment system. You get so used to this technology that you’re all of a sudden spoiled when you don’t have it in your car! This coming from someone who, just mere weeks ago, drove a vehicle with cassette deck.

Right now we are test driving the Chevrolet Orlando, which is a peppy little thing considering its great fuel economy.

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