[Update: It occurs to me that journalistic ethics require me to explicitly point out that the front license plate has been photoshopped in.]
My wife and I bought a brand new Toyota RAV4 in February, and we just hit the 5000 mile mark, so I thought I’d post a bit about our experience, in case anyone is thinking of buying one.
The short answer is that the 2008 Toyora RAV4 is pretty amazing. It’s certainly the most fun-to-drive car I’ve ever owned.
The RAV4 what they’re calling a “crossover” vehicle—part SUV, part something else. Toyota likes to say it can’t be categorized, but I’d call it a fast and nimble car-like SUV. It’s like my old Camry, but jacked up off the ground just a bit.
It’s certainly high enough off the ground not to scrape either end when driving across steep curb cuts, which is something my Camry couldn’t do, and the suspension is just a tad stiffer than on the Camry, so I feel the small bumps a bit more, but it will take the larger bumps without reaching the limits of its travel (another problem with the Camry). It just sort of bounces its way over uneven pavement, speed bumps, and other impediments to driving. I like that.
We got the V6 engine, which puts out 269 horsepower, so it’s pretty quick.
(I think it was my mother who asked me if it could really go 140 mph like the speedometer shows. I told her that was just some sort of marketing choice. It turns out I was wrong. Since the speedometer is labeled in increments of 20 mph, a maximum speed of 120 mph would not have been enough: Car & Driver magazine got one up to 129 mph on the test track.)
Now I’d like to talk about a few of the downsides of this otherwise terrific vehicle.
I’m used to smaller cars, so fuel consumption kind of sucks. It’s EPA rated 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, but I’m only getting about 16 mpg. That’s also what Car & Driver got. Their explanation was that they were doing a lot of mountain driving. My explanation is that I’m a leadfoot who’s often stuck in heavy Chicago traffic.
I know I could to better—with a 5-speed transmission, the car can creep up to highway speeds without ever exceeding 2000 rpm—and I really do know how to drive for minimal fuel consumption, but this car is too much fun for that. Why plan ahead and change speed smoothly when you can punch it and feel the kick in the ass?
As I mentioned before, the car is kind of complicated. I have two degrees in computer science and I own a lot of gadgets, but I still found the environmental control console a bit intimidating:
It turns out I mostly just have to press AUTO and adjust the temperature to use it. I eventually figured out what everything else did.
The windshield wiper control arm, on the other hand,is complicated because it controls front wiper speed, intermittent timing, and the windshield washer spray as well as the rear wiper and its separate windshield spray:
The pictograms are easy enough to figure out, but at night, trying to make sense of it in the dark, by feel, while driving through the rain…that’s still a trick or two.
Another annoyance is the passenger seatbelt warning system, i.e. the mechanism that flashes a light and sounds an alarm when the front-seat passenger doesn’t have a seatbelt fastened.
The problem is that the sensors that detect a passenger are too sensitive. If I put my camera bag on the passenger seat or rest my arm on the passenger seat back, the alarm sounds and the light comes on:
The real achilles heel of this car, however, is the front cupholders. They both have removable rubber liners to grip the cups. However, the rubber is so soft and grippy that the liner often stays attached to the cup and pulls out of the holder:
My wife and I have each thrown one away by accident and had to go back for it. We should probably just order the replacements now and keep them in the back.