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Weidel on Wheels: Toyota packs plenty into this little SUV

Compact RAV4 has performance, room and good versatility
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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After thoroughly researching the competition, a few years ago a friend decided to purchase a Toyota RAV4. After some modest praise concerning his selection, I couldn’t overlook this one fact: “You know it’s a chick car, right?” Although my male friend was unaware of the designation, his mind was made up. He went with the RAV4 and I silently thought it was a regrettable decision. Fast forward a couple of years later and here I am none too thrilled about test driving the 2009 RAV4. The woman-friendly reputation is as strong as ever, but I must admit the RAV4 exceeded my expectations. That I thoroughly enjoyed driving the RAV4 didn’t come as a total shock, considering my admiration for Toyota products. And keep in mind I was driving the more powerful V6 version, while my friend decided a four-cylinder with better gas mileage suited his needs. However, the 19 to 26 miles per gallon in the V6 is not that much less than the four-cylinder. Even with additions like a new grille and bumper design, the RAV4 still is on the small side for a sport utility vehicle and retains that “cute” appearance. Yet the V6 Sport with all-wheel drive (3.5-liter, V6 engine with 269 horsepower) does have some manly qualities like ample power, evidenced by it going 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, and a hauling capacity of 3,500 pounds. The less demonstrative four-cylinder also has solid performance; the 2.5-liter now features 179 horsepower, which makes it a leader in the compact SUV category. The V6 Sport goes for around $26,530, while the four-cylinder version has an estimated $21,500 sticker price. Regardless of performance, all RAV4s offer good interior seating room, feature an array of standard features and provide peace of mind with its many safety considerations. In short, it’s a great vehicle for a family of four to five people. What some car shoppers might not like is the RAV4’s plastic-like interior feel and a rear gate that opens from the side, which is a flaw that an intelligent company like Toyota shouldn’t be making. Speaking of intelligence, Toyota has made the RAV4 quite user-friendly by folding up the second row seating and removing the headrests with the flip of a lever, resulting in a flat floor for loading purposes. One will also enjoy driving the RAV4, which comes in three trims (base, Sport and Limited) and features one of the longest wheelbases in its class. While the ride is hardly athletic, it is smooth, handles nicely, and possesses very little road noise. __________ 2009 RAV4 Sport all-wheel drive Price: Starting at $26,530 Mileage estimate: From 19 mpg city to 26 mpg highway Power: 3.5-liter, V6 engine with 269 horsepower Standard features include: Antilock disc brakes; stability and traction control; keyless entry; six-speaker stereo, in-dash six CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, and an auxiliary audio jack; rear tinted windows; sport-tuned suspension; foglights; dual-zone automatic climate control; leather-wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel