Ten years ago, before the flood of current compact SUVs washed over the market, Toyota's RAV4 offered the Gen X and Gen Y folks an SUV that suited their supposedly active lifestyles.
Something that could handle foul-weather driving as well as a trip to the slopes or mountain bike trailhead. Something that had relatively small dimensions for an SUV, making it easy to park in the city. Something that had a frugal four-cylinder engine that promised 20-somethings 20-something miles to the gallon. Something journalists dubbed the "cute ute."
Well, this is America, the Land of Supersizing, so it was inevitable that the RAV4 would get bigger. And that's exactly what happened with the 2006 Toyota RAV4. Although this new RAV also debuts in Europe this year, they'll be getting the shorter-wheelbase version shown at the 2005 Frankfurt International Motor Show. The difference in length is most noticeable by looking at the rearmost side windows. North America gets a third-seat option, Europe does not.
Would this upsizing kill the lovable, agile demeanor of the RAV4? Or would it take Toyota's entry-level SUV to new heights? We couldn't wait to find out so we got hold of a preproduction unit, a V6 Limited that was loaded to the roof rack with options.
Grow up already At 181.1 inches in length, the 2006 RAV4 is over a foot longer (14.5 inches) than the outgoing model. It is also arguably more handsome than its forebear. The grille sports Toyota's signature trapezoidal shape, the oversized rub strip on the side is gone, and the greenhouse has a more elegant appearance with its reverse-canted D-pillar. Width is up 3.2 inches, adding to the more aggressive stance.
Compared to its chief competitors, the new RAV4 is about the same length as a Honda CR-V (181.3 inches), about 11 inches longer than the Hyundai Tucson and about 8 inches shorter than the midsize Chevrolet Equinox. A lower coefficient of drag (0.33 versus 0.35 previously) promises a quieter ride and better fuel-efficiency at higher cruising speeds.
Three trim levels will be available: base, Sport and Limited. Base versions are anything but strippers as the following features are all standard: air conditioning, cruise control, tire-pressure monitor, power windows, power locks, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD system with auxiliary input jack, 215/70/16 tires (V6 versions get 225/65/17s), a six-way (manual) driver seat and a split/reclining/sliding second-row seat.
Step up to the Sport and added to the mix are a sport-tuned suspension, alloy wheels wearing 235/55/18 performance tires, foglights, rear privacy glass, spare-tire cover, and color-keyed mirrors, door handles and fender flairs.
Limited models feature dual-zone climate controls, heated/power mirrors, a six-disc CD changer and steering wheel controls for the audio system, anti-theft system, chrome grille, color-keyed bumpers, door handles and rear spoiler, power driver seat, alloy wheels with 225/65/17 tires, rear cargo net and leather wrapping for the steering wheel and shift knob.
The Safety dance A comprehensive active safety package is standard on all RAV4s and as such, all the high-tech acronyms apply here. Antilock brakes, BrakeAssist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, traction control and Vehicle Stability Control provide peace of mind as well as the ability to save your butt while dealing with the daily risks of urban and suburban driving. Side-impact and side curtain airbags are optional.
Come on in and get comfortable Compared to the '05 RAV4, the '06's difference in interior space is immediately noticeable. Toyota claims a 21-percent roomier cabin, and that seems no exaggeration. With the wheelbase stretched 6.7 inches, space for second-row passengers is plentiful — at 38.3 inches, rear legroom is 2 inches greater than a Ford Escape's and an inch less than the Honda CR-V's. And that second-row seat slides fore and aft to cater to passenger and cargo needs — it's not an original idea (Chevy has it in the Malibu Maxx and Equinox) — but a great one nonetheless.
Along with the upsizing came the availability of upscale features. Our Limited even had a DVD entertainment system in addition to the leather seating and moonroof. A third seat is optional, and though our test RAV4 didn't have it, we tried it out while at a press event. It should be fine for the kiddies, but adults bigger than 5 feet tall are going to feel cramped back there.
Simulated brushed-metallic trim adorns the dash, console and door panels, furthering the uptown image, as do the Optitron gauges and illuminated cupholders up front.
Most staffers found the seats supportive and comfortable over long drives, although our tallest staffer (at 6-foot-4), Richard Homan, just didn't fit no matter how much he fiddled with the eight-way power seat. The telescopic feature on the steering wheel was appreciated and rare in this class. The quietude of the cabin impressed everyone, as did the ease with which the second row folded (just flip a lever on the seat side and the seatback flops down, without requiring removal of the headrest in most cases).
Not just bigger, but faster, too For the first time, a V6 engine is available in the RAV4. And this ain't no puny 2.5- to 3.0-liter V6. Borrowing a page from the Saturn Vue playbook, Toyota stuffed a burly 3.5-liter V6 (shared with the company's flagship sedan, the Avalon) into the RAV's engine bay.
With a forceful 269 horsepower (at 6,200 rpm) and 246 pound-feet of torque (at 4,700 rpm) on tap, this engine gives the RAV4 a decidedly aggressive personality. Coupled to a five-speed automatic and running through an electronic, "on-demand" four-wheel-drive system, our RAV4 scurried to 60 in just 7.1 seconds and was still going strong as it flashed through the quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds at 91.2 mph. This means it will lay waste to your snobbish friend's X3 3.0 by about a second in each category.
On the street, the RAV4 just moves out quickly whenever you toe into the throttle. The automatic tranny is never caught sleeping — no need to slam your foot to the carpet to coax a downshift. Gear changes are swift and smooth and our average gas mileage, at 19.3 mpg, is commendable given our leadfoot tendencies. Those with more self control should get closer to Toyota's estimates of 20 city and 27 highway. Two-wheel-drive V6 RAVs are rated 1 mpg higher on the highway.
The base RAV4 powertrain consists of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 166 hp (up 5 over last year) and 165 lb-ft of torque running through a four-speed automatic gearbox. As with the V6, no manual transmission is available. Mileage estimates are 24/31 (2WD) and 23/29 (4WD).
Disc brakes are standard all around, and aided by the best technology available to provide swift and short stopping distances. We scored a best of 120 feet from 60 mph, a performance just 2 feet shy of the highly regarded BMW X3's. Solid and progressive, the pedal feel provided confidence in all driving scenarios.
The available four-wheel-drive system operates in front-drive mode for optimum fuel-efficiency until a situation (such as quick acceleration from a stop or while driving on slippery roads) demands four-wheel drive, at which point up to 45 percent of the torque is transferred to the rear wheels. A "4WD Lock" switch allows one to manually select that maximum torque output to the rear wheels.
The V6 models come standard with Hill-start Assist Control (which prevents rolling back when on a hill) and Downhill Assist Control (which automatically keeps speed down without the driver having to brake while moving down a steep hill).
For those who tow and want to know, the four-banger can pull up to 1,500 pounds while a V6 model can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
No longer tiny, but still a dancer With independent suspension at all four corners, the RAV4 incorporates McPherson struts up front along with a double-wishbone setup out back. With tuning set nicely between plush and firm, our Limited delivered a comfy ride over broken-up pavement while remaining responsive and secure on winding two-lanes. Surprisingly, the electric power steering feels well weighted and natural (take note, GM) with no slack at all on-center.
With a performance of 61.3 mph through our slalom course, the RAV4 felt confident and well planted. Toyota's overenthusiastic Vehicle Stability Control slapped our wrists and intervened while we were still playing with the RAV's good clean handling fun — we have a recent history of taking issue with Toyota/Lexus traction and stability systems. Overall, we're happy to say that the RAV4 retains its sporty dynamic even though it's grown considerably larger this year, a helluva feat for the chassis engineers.
This is how we do it Not only has the 2006 RAV4 moved up in terms of size, it's also managed to broaden its appeal without losing any of its previous spunky and affable personality. Once again, Toyota has shown the automotive world how to build on a model's strengths while still making improvements where needed.
System Score: 7.0
Components: Our RAV 4 came equipped with an optional stereo. The upgraded system is a JBL premium sound system with a total of eight speakers plus a subwoofer. Our test car was a Limited and with or without the JBL stereo it includes an in-dash six-disc CD changer, MP3 and WMA capability, mini-jack input for portable music players like an iPod and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
Performance: It's hard to tell the standard Toyota stereo from the upgraded version just by looking at the head unit. The only visual cue your passengers will get that you opted for a nice sound system is the JBL logo on the speakers.
The display and controls are all Toyota, which is to say they are practical and functional. The head unit is mounted high and the buttons are large and easy to use with just a glance. Even so, the steering wheel-mounted controls are the likely route for most drivers. Those buttons are simple and straightforward and clustered together on the left side of the wheel. Like the rest of the car's controls, the audio controls are very intuitive to use.
The sound quality of this optional system is clearly better than the stock system but overall it is only a little above average. Even with the optional system's subwoofer, the bass is just OK. It's prominent enough but lacks true kick and can tend to be muddy when the volume is turned up. We found the best sounding profile was to have the bass and treble boosted almost all the way up with the mids at about +1. But hey, that means this stereo has a midrange adjustment and we like that.
The highs are never overwhelming but even with the treble bumped up to +3 or so, much of what we listened to lacked detail. The system overall sounds very good but there is a softness to the sound that can take away from some harder-edged music. Stereos like Pioneer from the Scion line and Nissan's newest Rockford Fosgate offer a more aggressive sound when you want it.
Best Feature: Intuitive head unit and controls.
Worst Feature: Lack of bass punch.
Conclusion: Like the RAV4 itself, the optional JBL stereo is a step up but ultimately lacks a "wow" factor. While the sound quality lacks edge, the system overall is easy to use and seamlessly blends itself into the driving experience. — Brian Moody
Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says: I was never a fan of the previous RAV4s. Between their bizarre styling and too-small-to-be-truly-utilitarian dimensions they always struck me as "cute utes" that were neither cute nor utilitarian. The last generation did handle quite well, and it possessed typical Toyota quality in design and execution, so for someone who needed an economy sedan — but wanted to be seen driving a "lifestyle" vehicle — I guess it worked.
The new model has addressed both of my previous issues. It looks cool, both inside and out (think BMW X3), and its larger size means it has real utility potential (though the third-row option is more symbolic than authentic...). But where this car really shines is under the hood. Toyota's new 3.5-liter V6 is a sweetheart of an engine, with exceptional horsepower and torque. The first time I punched the throttle I found myself shouting expletives — in a good way. Is there such a thing as too much horsepower? Of course not! But the fact that question crossed my mind while driving the RAV4 is a good indication that Toyota has transformed its smallest SUV into a serious player.
Executive Editor Richard Homan says: Toyota has come a long, long way with the RAV4 since its original iteration two generations and 10 years ago. The original version was gag-a-maggot ugly to my Gen-XY (male) eyes, especially in its two-door form. It drove OK, but no better. Toyota found its footing with the second-generation RAV4, giving it almost mini-BMW X5 lines and respectable road manners.
Now the 2006 RAV4 comes along and the news is almost all good. The shape has a legitimate cool-factor to it, especially in the Metallic Red that our test RAV wore — Frank Lloyd Wright would have been proud. And the 269-hp V6 deserves a standing ovation all its own. That much horsepower in this class of ute is a godsend for righteous passing maneuvers.
Did that man say "almost" all good news? Yeah, he did. At 6-foot-4, this editor doesn't fit in the RAV4 so good. The torso is no problem — headroom abounds — it's the legs that have no place to go. If you're not a genetic freak (or "normal" as I like to think of myself), you may still feel like you're propped-up on, rather than sitting in, the driver seat, and you may get that low-steering-wheel bus-driver feeling. But at least you'll fit. Also, the spare-tire carrier blocks the view out the rear window pretty effectively.
But if you fit the new RAV4 and the price fits you, it's an easy decision to make.
2006 Toyota RAV4 Overview Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2006 Toyota RAV4 and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2006 RAV4 featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
Our Review Process This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.
Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2006 Toyota RAV4 and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2006 RAV4 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2006 RAV4.
Review My wife has had this car since we met. It's her daily driver, as well as our trip vehicle. Overall, it handles very well. The engine is powerful, much more so than my 2003 Nissan Altima (with the same size V6). It handles confidently, and the brakes are string. The few times we've used 4wd in the snow and offorad trails, it worked well. The interior quality is okay, with a few minor issues. The powertrain reliability, however, simply hasn't been there. Since I've been around the car, it rattles loudly on startup. The 4x4 lights randomly light up, indicating a problem, but non found. Recently, the VVT module exploded, causing extensive engine damage. Caveat emptor.
Edmunds Value Edmunds has deep data on over 6 million new, used, and certified pre-owned vehicles, including rich, trim-level features and specs information like: MSRP, average price paid, warranty information (basic, drivetrain, and maintenance), features (upholstery, bluetooth, navigation, heated seating, cooled seating, cruise control, parking assistance, keyless ignition, satellite radio, folding rears seats ,run flat tires, wheel type, tire size, wheel tire, sunroof, etc.), vehicle specifications (engine cylinder count, drivetrain, engine power, engine torque, engine displacement, transmission), fuel economy (city, highway, combined, fuel capacity, range), vehicle dimensions (length, width, seating capacity, cargo space), car safety, true cost to own. Edmunds also provides tools to allow shopper to compare vehicles to similar models of their choosing by warranty, interior features, exterior features, specifications, fuel economy, vehicle dimensions, consumer rating, edmunds rating, and color
Available Toyota RAV4 2006 Submodel Types: SUV
Available Trims: XLE, LE, Limited, Base, Sport, Platinum, SE, Adventure
Exterior Colors: Magnetic Gray Metallic, Black, Super White, Barcelona Red Metallic, Classic Silver Metallic, Silver Sky Metallic, Pyrite Mica, Galactic Aqua Mica, Blizzard Pearl, Shoreline Blue Pearl, Pacific Blue Metallic, Electric Storm Blue, Ruby Flare Pearl, Blue Crush Metallic, Black Currant Metallic, Black Forest Pearl, Hot Lava, Sandy Beach Metallic, Titanium Metallic, Flint Mica, Savannah Metallic, Nautical Blue Metallic, Everglade Metallic, Titanium, Natural White, Spectra Blue Mica, Spruce Mica, Beige Metallic, Blizzard White Pearl, Deep Jewel Green Pearl, Dark Green Metallic, Frosted White Pearl, Graphite Gray Pearl, Rainforest Mica, Rainforest Pearl, Salsa Red Pearl, Vintage Gold
Interior Colors: Black cloth, Ash cloth, Black leatherette, Ash leatherette, Ash premium cloth, Sand Beige premium cloth, Latte cloth, Latte leatherette, Sand Beige cloth, Gray cloth, Ash leather, Dark Charcoal cloth, Nutmeg cloth, Cinnamon leatherette, Gray, Dark Charcoal leather, Sand Beige leather, Nutmeg leatherette, Taupe cloth, Gray leatherette, Dark Charcoal premium cloth, Terra Cotta leatherette, Beige cloth, Beige leatherette, Dark Charcoal, Taupe
Popular Features: Fold Flat Rear Seats, Rear Bench Seats, Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel, Stability Control, Tire Pressure Warning, Aux Audio Inputs, AWD/4WD, Bluetooth, Trip Computer, USB Inputs, Back-up camera, Auto Climate Control, Multi-Zone Climate Control, Sunroof/Moonroof, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-collision safety system, Power Driver Seat, Keyless Entry/Start, Heated seats, Power Liftgate/Trunk, Blind Spot Monitoring, Navigation, Upgraded Headlights, Upgraded Stereo, Parking sensors, 3500lb Towing Capacity, 360-degree camera, Leather Seats, Remote Start
Engine/Mechanics: 4, 6 cylinders
Transmission: AUTOMATIC, MANUAL
Fuel Types: regular unleaded
Drivetrains: all wheel drive, four wheel drive, front wheel drive