With the RAV4s introduction in the 1997 model year, Toyota became one of the first manufacturers to offer a small, car-based sport utility vehicle. A second-generation RAV4 debuted for 2001, which was wider and longer than the original and came with a more powerful 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Except for new body colors and color-keyed bumpers on the L model, the RAV4 is unchanged for 2002.
The original RAV4 came as a two-door convertible and four-door hardtop. Since the 2001 face-lift, only the enclosed four-door has been available. Key rivals include the Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Subaru Forester and the newly redesigned Honda CR-V.
Slightly wider, taller and longer in its current form than the original, the RAV4s styling is more chiseled these days, with sharp creases instead of curved lines. Front and rear overhangs are shorter than they used to be. The RAV4s overall length is 165.1 inches, about 8 inches shorter than the Ford Escape. Toyotas compact SUV rides a 98-inch wheelbase, measures 68.3 inches wide and stands about 65 inches tall. The tailgate swings open to the right.
The RAV4 seats five occupants. The interior is designed with a 50/50-split, folding rear seat. Cargo volume is 29 cubic feet behind the rear seat or 68 cubic feet with the backseat folded. Options include air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker sound system with CD player, fog lights, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors and a hard spare-tire cover. Leather upholstery and a power moonroof are available separately.
Under the Hood
Toyotas 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine develops 148 hp and teams with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The RAV4 is available with either front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive. Antilock brakes and daytime running lights are optional.
Steering with a particularly light touch, the RAV4 is easy to drive and maneuver. Ride comfort isnt bad, but you can expect the usual short-wheelbase choppiness. This version of the RAV4 feels light on its feet, with less of a tinny sensation than the original model delivered.
The automatic-transmission RAV4 is frisky when accelerating from a standstill and at low speeds, but its not quite so brisk at higher velocities when extra strength is needed for passing. Slight transmission hesitation at lower speeds is also noticeable. Seats have short bottoms but reasonably good support. The driver enjoys a high view of the road ahead, which is pleasing in a vehicle of this size.