Join Date: Mar 2001
Long-term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport (CanadianDriver.com)
Long-term Test Drive: 2007 Toyota RAV4 V6 Sport (CanadianDriver.com)
If you've been following our long-term SUV test thus far, you'll know that the Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4 and Suzuki XL7 we're comparing are similar in price - MSRPs range from a low of $34,295 for the Hyundai to $37,995 for the Suzuki - and all get their motivation from V6 engines hooked up to five-speed automatic transmissions.
But for all of their similarities, it's become clear to us over the past couple of months that these three vehicles are all very different beasts. The XL7 looks like a Japanese vehicle but drives very much like the home-grown Chevrolet Equinox it's based on. The Hyundai Santa Fe is the cushy cruiser here, with a comfy ride and well-appointed interior and styling that belies its lowest as-tested price in this group.
As mentioned, Toyota's entry here is a RAV4 V6 Sport. A little history: this is the third generation of RAV4 and the largest, thanks to a revolutionary 2006 redesign that turned this once very compact trucklet into something much closer in size to its Highlander mid-size cousin.
While previous RAV4s were powered exclusively by four-cylinder engines, the third-gen redesign brought with it a V6 option that stuffed the 3.5-litre engine from the latest Camry under the hood. In the RAV4, it makes 269 horsepower - by far the highest power output in this trio - and gives our tester the go-potential to back up the Sport badge that graces the front doors. That the RAV4 feels like the most powerful truck here has to do with the engine's actual power output, of course, but also with the electronic throttle's tuning. Tip-in is very abrupt, so it can be tough to move away smoothly, whereas the Santa Fe's throttle, for example, has a much lazier tip-in, so it might be better suited to drivers who prefer a more relaxed feel.
Also fitting the Sport moniker is our tester's ride. The Toyota's suspension is quite firm - more so than a Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Spec.B I drove in December - and makes the RAV4 feel like, well, the sportiest of our three SUVs. Only cornering at stupid speeds elicits serious body roll and handling is very nimble for such a tall vehicle. No doubt the RAV4's curb weight plays a part here: at 1,668 kg, the Toyota is the lightest of these three trucks. The RAV4 is a touch smaller than the Santa Fe in most dimensions, but the overall feel is one of a significantly smaller vehicle. Comparatively, the Santa Fe drives more like the XL-7.
Perhaps the RAV4's main downfall in this group is that it's also lightest on content. With an as-tested price of $34,750, our tester is almost $500 pricier than the Santa Fe, but it lacked leather upholstery, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, automatic climate control and heated front seats, all of which the Suzuki and Hyundai had. I think the secondary audio controls were what I missed the most, though (the RAV4 Limited and Limited V6 models get a different steering wheel with audio controls). The RAV4 V6 Sport starts at $33,590; ours was fitted with the "B" option package, which is fancy talk for power sunroof, in this case. The Sport model also gets 18-inch wheels in place of the 17-inchers on other models in the range.
The Toyota does have a few nifty features the other two trucks here don't offer. One is a windshield wiper de-icer - a set of heating elements in the base of the windshield that keeps snow and ice from building up around the wipers. The Toyota is the only one here with a second-row seat that slides for and aft, though all three have adjustable second-row seatbacks. The RAV4 also had Toyota's Downhill Assist Control which, when the transmission is in reverse or the lowest forward gear range, kept the car moving at a constant speed on downgrades. Nifty, but largely pointless for what most people use these vehicles for, I think.
Inside, the RAV4 has the most adventurously styled interior of our three trucks. We'll leave it to you to decide which is your favourite, but personally, I like the Hyundai's interior look the best. Ergonomically, though, the Toyota's dash arranges just about everything you'll need to use regularly where it falls easily to hand. The exception is the location of the power mirror controls, which are on the centre console, behind the shifter.
Interior space is great, with lots of headroom front and rear. Legroom in the rear seat is quite good too; better than in the XL-7, which positions the second-row seats further forward to free up some space for its standard third row seat. The Toyota (and the Santa Fe) is available with third rows of chairs, but I prefer the huge underfloor storage compartment that five-seat versions get - I managed to fit a week's worth of groceries in it.
With the rear seats in place, the cargo hold is generous; fold the rears down (the bottom cushions drop down and inch or two as you fold the seatback down to create an almost flat load floor) and there's heaps of room.
I fit two Christmas trees (not the kind that come in boxes, either) in the back, one of which was about six feet tall. The rear seatback release handles at the rear of the cargo hold are a nice touch. I wasn't a fan of the retractable cargo cover, which was finicky and spent most of its time in the underfloor compartment. It was joined there by a cargo net - which slots into notches above the rear wheel wells - that mostly got in my way.
Small item storage is good too: up front, there's a well-concealed (so much so that I didn't notice it until I'd been driving the car for about a week) stash space beneath the heater controls; a coin box to the left of the steering wheel; another little cubby sits just behind the ill-placed mirror switches; there's the requisite centre console bin and there's a two-level glove box that's very handy.
The RAV4 earned first-place honours in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's 2006 TestFest voting in the SUV under $35,000 category, which isn't surprising. Personally, the Santa Fe was my favourite in that group of nine vehicles; it and this Toyota are the segment front-runners in my mind. Keep watching this space for an upcoming review of our long-term Santa Fe.
Second Opinion: Paul Williams
The exterior design of the new look, bigger-and-better Toyota RAV4 is modern and attractive, but in comparison with the Hyundai Santa Fe and Suzuki XL7, the RAV4 Sport interior comes off as rather dull. True, you can get RAV4s with a fancier interior (RAV4 Limited), but given that the emphasis on the Sport model is performance rather than luxury, I think it should be, well, sportier.
Personally, I don't mind blue-collar cloth seats, especially in the winter when cold leather seating surfaces can be somewhat surprising at first contact (although I'd at least like them heated at this price-point). But really, I'd like to see a genuine sport seat, sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel (with remote controls), and a touch of real performance flair from the interior design.
In short, the RAV4 Sport needs a proper ambiance for its occupants. Contributing to the bargain interior look are the grey panels, and window and door lock buttons that aren't illuminated. I'm not saying you need leather seating surfaces, but maybe that ballistic nylon-type fabric, with side bolsters and snug adjustability - something like that.
What you do get in the RAV4 Sport is a VERY willing V6 engine, handsome 18-inch alloy rims, and some desirable exterior enhancements (fender flares, sport badges, black headlight surrounds). It's a nimble, tossable vehicle that always feels stable, and is very practical, but as I say, the inside needs some attention to match its "Sport" designation.
Second Opinion: Grant Yoxon
Those of you who, like I, think of a Sport Utility Vehicle as a contradiction in terms, will be surprised by the 2007 RAV4 Sport. It is light, nimble and incredibly quick. It may well be the perfect compromise for those who prefer more sporting transportation but find their life circumstances dictate a vehicle that puts more emphasis on the second word in the acronym SUV.
But for people who place a higher priority on Utility than Sport, the RAV4's 269 horsepower V6 may be just too much engine for a vehicle as small as this. Torque steer can also be a bit of a problem. And there is a price to pay for having the quickest SUV on the block - compared to the Hyundai Santa Fe and Suzuki XL7 the RAV4 V6 Sport is seriously under-equipped with no more luxury features than found in a base RAV4.
On the practical side, the dual glove compartments, standard cargo net, under floor storage box, and rear seats that flip forward with a lever placed inside the rear cargo door are notable. But unlike the rear hatch style doors on the XL7 and Santa Fe, the RAV4's cargo door opens to the side and still has that spare tire attached to the rear.
Another oddity is the RAV4's standard downhill descent control, a feature that will modulate the engine speed and apply the brakes to permit a careful descent of a steep rough slope. Considering that the RAV4 is more at home on urban streets than in the bush, I'm not sure who, if anyone, would ever use this feature.