Used 1998 Toyota RAV4 SUV

Pros & Cons

  • Cute styling and Toyota reliability.
  • Looks like a jellybean. Doen't offer the ultility or value of the Honda CR-V.
List Price Estimate
$1,041 - $2,203

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Vehicle overview

The mini-SUV business is booming. Introductions of fresh models by Honda, Kia and Subaru indicate that there continues to be a large market for those who want the security of an AWD truck without the punishing ride and gas mileage that goes with it. Largely comprised of car-based AWD vehicles, this new market will gain even more entrants over the next few years as Land Rover, BMW and Mercedes introduce small trucklets to the US. One of the early players in the game was Toyota, which recognized this potential boom early on and jumped into the fray with the RAV4 in 1996.

A 2.0-liter, 120-horsepower engine hooked to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission powers the front or all wheels of the different RAV4 models. This makes the RAV4 the first sport utility available with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models use powertrain components from the now-defunct Celica All-Trac. Four-wheel antilock brakes are optional on all RAV4s. Minimum ground clearance is 7.5 inches on the four-door model; two-door RAV4s get .2 additional inches of clearance.

The RAV4 is a pretty decent around town driver, handling more like the car from which its platform is derived than a traditional SUV. Power is on the low side, however; the 120-horsepower engine works hard to drag this mini-ute up even small hills. The interior is not a bad place to spend time, offering fairly comfortable seating for four adults in the four-door models. The cargo area of the four-door is larger than one would expect, too, offering more room behind the rear seat than a Ford Crown Victoria. Two-door models are fine for singles or couples without children. The rear seat is tiny, and less than 10 cubic feet of cargo volume is available with the back seat up.

The Toyota RAV4 is a convincing package. Its eye-grabbing looks appeal to those who are young or just young at heart. Around college campuses the RAV4 litters the streets in front of Greek Row more than smashed bottles of Boone's Farm. Surprisingly, however, we have also seen the RAV4 towed behind a large number of motor homes that swoop into Arizona, Texas, and California every winter, leading us to believe that they are a hit with the more mature crowd, too.

We are fond of the RAV4, but there are a number of choices in this growing segment and we can't help but think that the more refined and powerful Honda CR-V might offer shoppers more of what they are looking for in a small truck: power, utility and value.

1998 Highlights

Toyota's mini SUV enters its third year of production with minor changes to the grille, headlights, taillamps and interior. Four-door RAV4s get new seat fabric. A late-year introduction of the new RAV4 convertible makes this sport-ute more appealing for those who live in the sunbelt.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 1998 Toyota RAV4.

Trending topics in reviews

Most helpful consumer reviews

My work horse!
Kathryn Porter Leary,03/16/2017
4dr SUV
***UPDATES: 410,000 (yes, those are 3 zeros after the comma) later and still kicking!! I would buy this car again and again! My hope is that my 5 year old will be able to take her driving test with it!***I bought my 1998 Rav4 off of a used car lot in 2006. It had almost 80,000 miles on it. It was my everything car! Daily commuter (160 miles round trip DAILY), dog shows, camping trips, Burning Man, kid shuttle, etc. It currently has 396,000 miles on it 10 years later. I would guess that half of those miles I added are highway and the other half are stop and go commute traffic. I have loaded it with gear for week long camping trips, 4 dogs in kennels, 3 kids with backpacks, stuffed animals and Goldfish Crackers. I was even able to put a Washing Machine in it (and still closed the doors)! Hands down the most reliable, convenient, easiest car I have ever owned. If it keeps on 'truckin', it will be the car I teach all 3 of my girls how to drive. There are ZERO blind spots. I have often joked that is it a 'fish bowl on wheels'. Maintenance costs have been minimal. My husband is a mechanic and he is in awe about the lack of attention he needs to give my car. Brakes are STILL THE ORIGINALS! (Take that, Bay Area traffic!)! It blew a head gasket about 3 years ago and he pulled it out and took it to a machine shop to have it fixed. The guys at the shop commented on the shape of the engine and that we should, 'keep this car forever'. I will. I know it will hit 400k within the next few months but I'm already looking at 500k! The only issue I have with it (and boy is it a minor issue) is the cup holders. They are placed just below the CD player (that I never use, but I digress) and they are too small for your standard commuter coffee cup. They will hold a coffee cup from any take out place but they holder are very shallow. The cups wobble and may lead to a mocha spilling directly into the CD player (it wasn't pretty...I don't use the CD player anyway). I wedge my commuter cup in between the passenger seat and the e-brake if I need to set it down. I LOVE MY RAV4!
Life is a Cabernet!
L Special Edition 4dr SUV
Very reliable and holds to its value. A car you can own for a long time.
A winner as used 4x4 - safe, fun
5 Speed manual. Recommended - if you find a good one. In my top 30 list out of about 300 vehicles I've driven (owned over 100 of them). Getting 26 mpg highway (60-65 mph), after switching to Amsoil synthetics in engine, tranny, and rear end. Recommend this for long life as well. Very safe - handles well (2 door not so much), ride is surprisingly plush and comfy, great visibility, likes to rev, will run all day 75. My wife and daughter really like it. Mine has 130,000 miles on it now and i think it'll make 250,000 if looked after. Manual tranny is weak link - watch out for grinding gears and 5th slipping out. Expensive repairs unless you're real handy.
Great Compact SUV
I really enjoy driving my RAV4. I use it mostly for short trip driving in town, highway driving,and light off road driving. It handles great, and works well in all weather conditions. I use it for light off road driving, in pastures and meadows for hunting and fishing, and it performs fine. I have the front wheel drive model, and it still gets me around in the outdoors. The ECT Power button is pretty cool, faster acceleration for fun, and more power for towing light trailers, or making it up steeper hills. The reliability is great,and I like the way it looks. Acceleration in town is alright, on the highway it gets the job done, but it seems a little slow. All in all a great little SUV.

Features & Specs

21 city / 27 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
127 hp @ 5400 rpm
20 city / 24 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
127 hp @ 5400 rpm
21 city / 27 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
127 hp @ 5400 rpm
20 city / 24 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
127 hp @ 5400 rpm
See all Used 1998 Toyota RAV4 SUV features & specs


IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Not Tested
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 1998 Toyota RAV4
More About This Model

In a class where "cute" styling is even more important than true ruggedness, the RAV4 still looks the part of a modern, downsized SUV. The sculpted bodylines and exaggerated wheel flares create an attractive package that says, "My owner can scale rock faces and appreciate the outdoors without spending 50 grand on a sport-ute that gets 15 mpg." At half the price of Toyota's Land Cruiser, the RAV4 offers younger, less affluent buyers a chance to board the SUV trend, uh, I mean train, without sacrificing their entire college fund.

Way back in 1996, that was enough to keep RAV4s from gathering any dust on dealer lots. But circumstances in the automotive marketplace change faster than a presidential statement, and as we roll into 1999, the RAV4 is faced with powerful competition from the likes of Honda, Subaru and Suzuki. Although we tested a 1998 model, changes to the '99 RAV4 will amount to cosmetic upgrades and a full-size spare tire. In the face of Honda's more-powerful-for-'99 CR-V and Suzuki's all-new V6-powered Grand Vitara, the anemic and buzzy Toyota is beginning to show its age.

The 120-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline four found beneath our RAV4's hood is the weakest aspect of this mini-ute. It offers some initial pep when pulling away from stoplights, but any serious attempt at acceleration results in nothing more than noise and vibration. The engine gets particularly obnoxious above 4,500 rpm where underhood clatter is enough to stifle conversation between passengers. This would be more acceptable if accompanied by even a modest form of forward thrust. Unfortunately, it's not. For '99, all RAV4 models will get a slightly more powerful 127-horsepower 2.0-liter engine that makes 132 foot-pounds of torque as opposed to the '98 line up where only the two-door convertible model had this engine.

When we opened the hood to take a gander at the culprit behind our lackadaisical propulsion, we noticed that the oil dipstick handle is located about two centimeters from the heat shield covering the exhaust header. Now, in case you don't know, the term heat shield is a misnomer. It does reduce the amount of heat coming off the header and filling the underhood area, but the shield itself still gets VERY hot. In other words, either wait until the engine has been dormant for several hours before checking the oil level, or get one of your college buddies to do it for you (maybe bribe him with a beer or a poster of Jennifer Love Hewitt).

The 2.0-liter can be mated to either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. We drove a five-speed and were impressed by its refined and confident feel. Aggressive shifting was easy and allowed us to keep the engine in its sweet zone, almost making up for the RAV's lack of power ... almost. If every aspect of the RAV4 was as well-executed as the tranny, Toyota would still be at the head of this class.

While the transmission couldn't make the RAV4 any faster, its low gearing made our brief off-road excursion an enjoyable one. The all-wheel-drive system, formerly used on Toyota's Celica All-Trac, provided the necessary grip for climbing steep embankments and was augmented by the optional limited-slip differential. Ground clearance proved adequate, with only one minor scrape occurring between undercarriage and trail ledge (shhh, don't tell Toyota).

Another unexpected delight we discovered while slicing through L.A. traffic is how well-behaved this "cute-ute" is during cornering maneuvers. Like most SUVs, it's got an initial lean that can be somewhat disconcerting. But the "suspension give" only allows minimal tilt before tightening up, making the RAV4 a capable performer on twisty roads. It manages this without an excessively harsh ride, by SUV standards. Twenty-somethings with lots of adventure, but not a lot of cash (the RAV4's target audience), probably won't even notice the freeway-expansion-joint bounce.

It's at those freeway speeds where the RAV felt most out of place (and power). Besides the groaning engine's lack of passing ability, the overall body structure feels less solid than Honda's CR-V. Rattles and squeaks were non-existent (either that or drowned out by engine noise) and door "thunk" was better than expected. Still, if you're expecting Camry-like refinement, the RAV4 will not deliver. High-speed buzziness was further hindered by an out-of-balance, or bent, wheel (I believe the front driver's side). Correcting this certainly would have curtailed freeway vibrations, but not eliminated them.

Highway reverberations aside, the RAV4's interior is not a bad place to hang out. The front and rear seats recline to offer a wider range of comfort for adults of varying size. Even with the rear seat up, cargo space is a healthy 26.8 cubic feet. Fold down the second seat and that number jumps to 57.9 "moving-into-my-first-dorm-room" cubic feet. Gauges are easy to read with an interesting checkerboard background that maintains the RAV4's stylish feel even when seated behind the steering wheel. Less than impressive interior materials and a single, non-adjustable cupholder were two problems with our '98 that have been corrected on '99 RAV4s. However, a center console/armrest is still nowhere to be found.

We have to give Toyota props for being the first to enter this market with an all-new design back in 1996. The concept of creating mini-utes based on car platforms has proven successful and, just like with the full-sized SUV models, every automaker on the planet is scrambling to introduce its own trucklet and grab a piece of this ever-expanding pie.

While the RAV4 was never a hot rod, its lack of power was forgivable in a world of Sidekicks and used Amigos. But with Honda bumping the CR-V to 145 horsepower and Suzuki offering a V6 Grand Vitara, the RAV4 is rapidly becoming an "also ran" in this burgeoning market. Throw in competitors from Mazda and Ford (both of which are on their way) and Toyota could find themselves in a rare position for this company: at the bottom of the heap.

With no substantial performance upgrade in the works for '99, Toyota fans will have to wait another year for the RAV4 to get the power boost it needs. We still think the mini-ute has plenty to offer in the way of styling, handling, cargo capacity and off-road ability. It's also got an impressive list of options with which buyers can create anything from a low-cost utility vehicle to a high-end, leather-lined people mover. Additionally, thrill seekers can opt for the two-door, soft-top variant, which offers something the CR-V can't: open-air cruising.

Until we get some side-by-side seat time in the new entrants from Honda and Suzuki, we'll reserve final judgment on the RAV4. But, at the very least, Toyota no longer has the luxury of being the only game in town. As this market gets increasingly crowded, the RAV4, in current form, will become less impressive.

Used 1998 Toyota RAV4 SUV Overview

The Used 1998 Toyota RAV4 SUV is offered in the following styles: 2dr SUV, 2dr SUV AWD w/Soft Top, L Special Edition 4dr SUV, 2dr SUV AWD, 2dr SUV w/Soft Top, 4dr SUV AWD, and 4dr SUV.

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Should I lease or buy a 1998 Toyota RAV4?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

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