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2008 Toyota RAV4 ReviewThe Good
A new, contemporary-looking exterior along with the option of more power under the hood has pushed the 2008 RAV4 to the front of the compact SUV pack, leading the way in fuel economy, comfort, interior room, and Toyota’s undisputed reliability.The Bad
With the cargo door remaining its perennial black mark, the 2008 RAV4 receives a lukewarm response to its third-row seating option and hearty criticism of the lack of power in the standard four cylinder that all go toward denting the image of the “bute-ute” to a “mute-ute.”
The CarGurus View
The all-grown-up RAV4 improves once again, with its choice of trims providing options that takes a decent machine and gives it pop and handling. Strides have been made in exterior and interior designs, safety for its occupants, and usability that make this year’s version a utilitarian dream and an economic touring vehicle.
At a Glance
Since its 2006 overhaul, one that added the option of a new 269-hp V6 engine and offered a Sport trim level to go with its Base and Limited editions, the 2008 arrives with some minor changes that make a major difference. Gone is Motor Week’s “cute-ute” tag for this family-friendly ride.
The latest RAV4 has a more rugged, sporty exterior that scores near top of its class and leaves its traditional rival Honda CR-V way, way behind. This coming-of-age frees the body of its dated cladding and unnecessary curves while permitting the subtlety of a delicate indent running along the bottom of its doors, softening the visual impression of bulk. The fenders are separate elements from the engine bay, a streamlining emphasized by a tight rectangular grille that seems to sit comfortably atop the wider bumper slits below. Headlights are compact and focused. Wheel arches blend smoothly into the fenders. Visually, a wide track gives the RAV4 a solid stance, helping resist rollovers in emergency maneuvers. The snapshot description of this third-generation RAV4 is what Kelley Blue Book calls Toyota’s “play-it-safe styling.”
All three trims of this compact crossover come available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a locking center differential. As with the 2006 design, the 2008 seats five, but an optional third-row bench, new to the 2008, increases seating capacity to seven. Most significantly, an engine immobilizer is now standard on the Limited grade and optional on other models. All in all the new 2008 RAV4 is a compact SUV with midsize capability that doesn’t compromise comfort for performance and performs to such high standards it's ranked second out of 27 by U.S. News and World Report for affordable compacts in its class.
Under the hood the RAV4's options are two-fold. The standard 2.4-liter, 16-valve DOHC four cylinder with Toyota’s VVT-I variable cam timing system produces 166 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque; it partners exclusively with a four-speed automatic transmission. As for fuel economy, the standard engine gets 19-21 mpg in the city and 25-27 on the highway.
The second engine option is a 3.5-liter V6 that generates 269 hp (more than a Porsche Boxster) at 6,200 rpm and produces 246 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. You could say the “cute-ute” is now a “brute-ute” with a V6 that uses a four-valve-per-cylinder design and Toyota’s Dual VVT-I that phases both intake and exhaust cams for optimum performance and economy. When it comes to fuel mileage, the V6 compromises little, posting 19/27 with front-wheel drive and 19/26 with four-wheel drive. RAV4s with V6 engines feature five-speed automatic transmissions.
Unleaded fuel is the juice of choice with a fuel tank that holds 15.9 gallons. Gas range for the standard engine reaches 381.6 miles. Both models come with either front-wheel drive or an on-road biased all-wheel-drive system. Towing capacity with the standard engine is 2,000 pounds, and with the V6 it's 3,500 pounds when properly equipped. Off the blocks the 2008 is no slouch, reaching 60 mph in 9.5 seconds - or 7.2 seconds with the V6. Depending on the engine, response to the gas pedal has been described as either prompt or borderline overwhelming. Hang on to the steering wheel, because when you floor the gas, the engine feels like it wants to pull the wheel from your hands. You'll get used to it, and the V6 sounds much better than the four - the six’s mechanical noise is more effectively masked, and its exhaust note is more soothingly tuned than the four's.
Ride & Handling
The 2008 RAV4’s handling is roundly praised. New Car Test Drive calls its marriage of feel and comfort "improved at every turn. It's bigger, faster, safer, smoother riding and better handling." The optional all-wheel-drive system uses electronic control to send power rearward when slippage in front is detected, and it offers a lock that fixes the front/rear torque split at 50/50. This last feature should score the RAV4 high marks with the four-wheeling crowd as well as some true capability in slush, snow, and mud. Its improved stability (from its wider track) and smoother ride (from its longer wheelbase) make it, once again, top of its class, thanks to an all-new suspension and stiffer chassis.
Sport models have 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, fender flares, and foglamps. Four-cylinder-equipped base models have standard 16-inch wheels, while V6-powered base models and Limited versions get 17-inch wheels. The Standard edition tends to plow ahead in tight corners, as most front-wheel-drive vehicles do, however, in the Sport edition, the suspension is tuned toward handling over smoothness. Steering response is confident, although understeer (where the car wants to go straight while the driver wants it to turn) is the RAV4's dominant posture during aggressive turns. There's moderate body lean in corners, but dive during braking and squat when accelerating are well controlled. The brake pedal feels firm.
In general, the RAV4 is quieter inside than many small sport-utility vehicles, though perhaps not as quiet as the Honda CR-V. Some wind whistle crept into the RAV4's cabin around the side windows.
A quick peek inside reveals a familiar placement of gauges. The position and function of the controls populating the center stack is virtually the same as it has always been, which means very good. That also applies to the arrangement of the hand brake and the shift lever. Storage areas are plentiful. Beyond the glovebox, doors have fixed plastic map pockets, the backs of the front seatbacks wear net pouches, and a total of 10 cup/bottle holders are situated in the cabin. When the third-row seats aren't ordered, a deep cargo area awaits beneath a water-repellent, folding deck board.
Cabin & Comfort
To look inside the 2008 RAV4 is to experience a clean, functional interior with large, simple controls and lots of storage space. The cabin, according to is less plastic than past RAV4s, but it still feel less refined than the CR-V's, Rogue's, and Santa Fe's. Some disagree, finding the interior fine, though not luxurious, and fit and finish excellent.
All three trim levels share the same motif, with contrasting but complementary colors and brushed metallic trim elements around the stereo and climate controls, surrounding the shift gate, and swooping around the door handles. The standard side-curtain airbags still allow a passenger assist grip, which folds down from the headliner over each door. The front seats are supportive but not overly firm, with modest bolsters and decent thigh support. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and height-adjustable driver's seat enable almost any size driver to find a comfortable fit without the added complexity (and cost) of adjustable pedals. The relatively high seating position, low cowl, and sloping hood make for good visibility to the front. The second-row seats are less padded than the front seats, without bolsters. The optional third-row seats barely qualify as such, with flat bottoms and equally featureless backs and head restraints. To configure the RAV4 for cargo, all one has to do is flip a lever to instantly get a flat-load floor - no need to remove headrests or fold up seat cushions. With its flat-load floor, the RAV4 can hold a maximum of 73 cubic feet of cargo. The load floor is also quite low for this class, and minimizes the strain of loading a week's worth of groceries. The Toyota's side-hinged tailgate can be an inconvenience when you're parked on the street, though, as it opens away from the curb. 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. A JBL audio system with integrated Bluetooth capability is optional. Leather upholstery is optional on the RAV4 Limited. There is no navigation system or hands-free calling interface.
Designed with a family in mind, the 2008 RAV4 not only puts safety upfront, it’s on both sides, in the rear, and just about anywhere else you care to look. Standard safety equipment on the RAV4 is comprehensive. Antilock disc brakes at all four wheels, Toyota’s VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), traction control, front seat side airbags, and the ever-important full-length side curtain airbags are standard on every RAV4. Importantly, the side curtain airbags will deploy if the vehicle’s sensors detect an impending rollover, a great feature in any SUV where the center of gravity is naturally higher. Crucial to both tire wear and proper safety performance, tire pressure is monitored electronically in every RAV4.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as well as National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests gave this year’s model top marks. The NHTSA awarded the RAV4 five out of five stars for driver protection in frontal impacts, and for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. It earned four stars for front passenger protection in frontal impacts, as well as rollover resistance and rollover crash protection. The IIHS gave the RAV4 its top rating, “good,” for both frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing. RAV4s with a V6 and/or the optional third-row seat also come with hill-start assist and downhill assist control. These features probably won’t be used much by soccer moms in suburbia, but they certainly lend an air of greater control to drivers who venture onto snow and engage in light-duty off-roading.
What Owners Think
The feature at the top of everyone’s mind is fuel economy, and the 2008 Toyota RAV4 receives glowing reviews with both its four-cylinder and V6 engines. Big kudos go especially to the 3.5-liter for its power, handling, and acceleration. Interior comfort and space for both passengers and driver is another positive. The 2008 has hit the bull’s eye for its target audience of families with 2-plus kids, the suburban Mom, or weekend warriors gone wild. The optional third-row seat is touted more highly by users than professional reviewers, and overall, new interior features such as the extra glovebox and cupholders for almost all seats score high consumer marks. Owners give the RAV4's exterior streamlining a nod, as well as the choice of colors. In the minus column, the side-opening cargo door is a bust across the board, and Cargurus.com user reviews mention the four cylinder as having no umph. The over-arching feeling is that in its class, there’s competition, but not much. The 2008 is rated a full star ahead of its rivals.
by Michael Persson
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