A V-6 engine is available for the first time in the fully redesigned, greatly enlarged 2006 RAV4 sport utility vehicle, which includes a new Sport model. Base and top-of-the-line Limited models also are available. More than 14 inches longer overall than its predecessor, and 3.2 inches wider, the RAV4 can be fitted with an optional third-row seat for the first time.
Hill-start Assist Control, which holds the vehicle in position for 2 - 3 seconds, is standard on V-6 models and four-cylinder versions with the third-row seat. Downhill Assist Control also is included on these RAV4s, and works to control vehicle speed during offroad descents.
Toyota says the third-generation RAV4's exterior styling follows a "modern-rugged theme." The body is free of cladding, and the spare tire is mounted to the tailgate.
Sport models have 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, fender flares and fog lamps. Four-cylinder-equipped base models have standard 16-inch wheels, while V-6-powered base models and Limited versions get 17-inch wheels.
When equipped with the 50/50-split, flat-folding third-row seat, the RAV4 can seat up to seven people. Seating for five is standard. The second-row split-bench seat can move fore and aft and also recline. Optitron gauges are installed.
Standard features include air conditioning, remote keyless entry, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a CD stereo that can accept input from an auxiliary source, like an MP3 player. Additional Limited features include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a six-CD changer, automatic dual-zone climate control and heated mirrors. Sport models have dark charcoal-colored fabric seats.
Under the Hood
The RAV4's standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder develops 166 horsepower and 165 pounds-feet of torque; it teams exclusively with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The new 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 produces 246 pounds-feet of torque and drives a five-speed automatic. Both front- and all-wheel-drive models are offered, and V-6 RAV4s can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped.
Antilock brakes, traction control and Vehicle Stability Control are standard. Roll-sensing side curtain-type airbags for the first two rows of seats and side-impact airbags are optional.
The RAV4 steers with a light touch and is easy to drive and maneuver; a compliant suspension gives it a pleasing ride. The new model doesn't feel as big as its enlarged dimensions suggest, and despite space for a third-row seat it's still a relatively small SUV.
Acceleration is sufficiently energetic with the four-cylinder engine, which is aided by a capable automatic transmission. Comparatively, though, the optional V-6 virtually leaps ahead. Many buyers won't need the V-6, but it makes the RAV4 feel almost like a sport sedan rather than an SUV.
The busy-looking dashboard has a unique appearance, and comfortably accommodating seats offer more side bolstering than expected. In the backseat, headroom is ample and leg space is sufficient, but the seat cushions are somewhat hard. The third row is essentially useless for grown-ups.