Full 2009 Toyota RAV4 Review
What's New for 2009
A more powerful four-cylinder engine, a restyled grille and bumpers and the adoption of active headrests for the front seats mark the changes for the 2009 Toyota RAV4.
Like the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz," a body of metal is nothing without a heart. Thankfully, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 -- when fitted with the optional V6 -- has plenty of heart, thanks to 269 horsepower, potent acceleration and a modest appetite for fuel. In fact, this V6 gets about the same fuel economy as some four-cylinder-equipped competitors.
The RAV4's four-cylinder engine gets a power boost for 2009, to 179 hp, making it the class leader among rival fours. Fuel economy has increased slightly with this engine as well. A new grille and bumper design further modernize the latest RAV4. And with a cavernous 73 cubic feet of cargo space and room for five adults, the current RAV4 presents a nice balance of roomy functionality and ease of maneuverability. There's even a third-row seat available, though it's only roomy enough for children.
As much as we like the 2009 Toyota RAV4, there are still a few competing models you might want to check out. Family-bound driving enthusiasts might enjoy the more intimate connection to the road provided by the Mazda CX-7 or Mitsubishi Outlander. And unless you really need a third-row seat, the Honda CR-V is a more well-rounded and luxurious choice. Still, the RAV4 is hard to beat for families in search of a vehicle that offers plenty of space, power, features and value.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 crossover SUV is available in three trim levels: base, Sport and Limited. Seating for five is standard. An optional third row on the base and Limited trim levels increases capacity to seven people.
Standard features for the base RAV4 include 16-inch steel wheels (17-inch alloys are optional), full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Sport adds 18-inch alloy wheels, rear tinted windows, a sport-tuned suspension, foglights, heated side mirrors and several exterior details. The range-topping Limited trim includes 17-inch wheels for a smoother ride, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an in-dash six-CD changer with satellite radio (optional on the two lower trims).
Options include a Sport Appearance Package for the V6 4WD models that will get you run-flat tires, a different rear door without the mounted spare tire and an upgraded audio system with a six-CD changer and satellite radio. Optional on the Limited and Sport trims are a sunroof, leather seating, a power driver seat, a back-up camera and an upgraded nine-speaker stereo system with satellite radio and Bluetooth. Exclusive for the Limited trim are optional heated front seats and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The exact content and availability of Toyota's option packages can vary based on region.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 RAV4 comes standard with a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder that delivers a healthy 179 hp and 172 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard. Optional on all trim levels and coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces an impressive 269 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. In performance testing, the RAV4 V6 4WD delivered a very quick 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds.
All RAV4s can be equipped with either front-wheel or four-wheel drive. Front-drive models have a limited-slip differential. In 4WD models, the electronic 4WD system sends most of the power to the front wheels until slippage is detected, at which point power is also sent to the rear wheels. Unlike many competing vehicles, the RAV4 offers a true 4WD lock feature that fixes the front/rear power split 50/50, which is useful for driving in snow and light off-roading.
The EPA estimates a four-cylinder, front-drive RAV4 gets 22 mpg in the city/28 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg combined. The 4WD model has a 21/27/24 mpg rating. The V6 gets virtually the same fuel economy as four-cylinder crossovers, with 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined ratings for the front-drive version. Four-wheel drive results in a loss of only 1 mpg on the highway.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, active front headrests, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on every 2009 Toyota RAV4. Vehicles equipped with the V6 and/or the optional third-row seats also come with hill-start assist and downhill assist control.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the RAV4 earned a perfect five stars for driver protection in frontal impacts and four stars for front passenger protection. It earned five stars for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. Toyota's smallest SUV also performed well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, earning the top rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the RAV4 is a clean design with large, simple controls and lots of storage space. The cabin isn't as plasticky as previous-generation RAV4 cabins were, but it still has a budget feel compared to competitors like the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Rogue. Nevertheless, the Toyota offers a highly practical design. The rear seats recline and can slide forward or backward to optimize passenger space or cargo capacity. Normal seating capacity is five, while the optional third-row seat bumps it to seven. Though this seat is meant only for children, it is at least reasonably sturdy and spacious.
To configure the RAV4 for cargo, all you need to do is flip a lever. There is no need to remove headrests or fold up seat cushions to get a flat load floor that can hold a maximum of 73 cubic feet of cargo. The load floor is also quite low for this class, which minimizes the strain of loading a week's worth of groceries. However, the Toyota's side-hinged tailgate can be an inconvenience when you're parked on the street, as it opens toward the curb.
Although relatively capable off the beaten path, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 is meant for -- and succeeds -- at a life on pavement. Its taut suspension and quick electric steering (which can nevertheless feel a little vague) make daily errands much more enjoyable than they would be in most SUVs. The RAV4 is not as athletic as the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-7, but in trade, the Toyota offers a smooth ride that's forgiving enough for commuters who drive on crumbling expressways. Road noise can be an issue at times, but wind noise is well-controlled.
If we were to buy a RAV4, it would have to come with the optional V6. Despite having 100-plus more horses than most four-cylinder SUVs, the V6-equipped RAV4 manages to get almost the same fuel economy. The four-cylinder version, however, is a reasonable choice for most buyers, as it provides adequate power for day-to-day driving.