It also has enough roll control to minimize unwanted side-to-side body motions and the uncomfortable head pitch that accompanies them. This sure-footed poise combines ably with an accurate steering mechanism to give the driver real confidence in the vehicle’s handling. With a skidpad number of 0.78 g (up from 0.72 g in the last one we tested), the RAV4L feels and communicates like a sporty vehicle should, even one with a tall driving position and four-wheel drive.
With a completely transparent four-wheel-drive mechanism, the RAV4 is set to tackle adverse weather and gravel-road adventures of the kind most SUV owners will never attempt. But its lack of a low range denies it the opportunity to do serious trail busting; not that shoppers with that inclination would look twice at a diminutive, unit-bodied “sport-cute” vehicle like the RAV4 anyway. Not even when you tell them that both manual and automatic models feature transmission coolers.
However, given its obvious mission, the RAV4 does boast some utility. There’s a reasonable 29-cubic-foot luggage space behind the rear seats for shopping safaris and baggage, and those seats feature split-folding backrests, as well as a fold-and-tumble action that extends the luggage compartment even farther. Want to haul furniture? The rear seats can also be removed very easily (by pulling a lever that unlocks their front “feet”), providing 68 cubic feet of room back there. Okay, the floor’s not completely flat, but you get the picture.
Storage space isn’t restricted to the rear end, either. There are dual cup holders front and rear, pockets in all four doors, storage compartments on both sides of the cargo area, a net pocket on the cargo door, and a couple of small stash compartments in the center console.
The level of refinement in this new RAV4 is impressive. Too bad the equipment level is not, having to shell out $1500 more for the expensive L model to get what are mostly standard features — with the possible exceptions of a CD player and fog lamps — on almost every other vehicle on the planet. But good value — not to mention the potentially good gas mileage and Low Emission Vehicle performance — should be enough to convince some to abandon that plan to get into one of the mobile condos at the full-size end of the SUV spectrum. But if it isn’t, consider this. We can’t think of an SUV that’s more fun to drive. What else can we say?