2000 Toyota RAV4
2000 Toyota RAV4 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A cute, practical and durable pacesetter.
Toyota's RAV4 wasn't the first mini sport-utility vehicle, but its success helped start a trend. When it was launched in the U.S. in 1996, industry analysts weren't sure how to categorize this quirky cross between a truck and a compact. But as more customers became aware of the RAV4's relatively low cost, fuel-efficiency, manageable size and sporty image, other manufacturers were quick to follow suit.
New and upgraded competitors in the small SUV class include the Honda CR-V, the Kia Sportage, the new Suzuki Grand Vitara and the Subaru Forester. In the same price range but considerably larger and more rugged is the Nissan Xterra.
The RAV4 is no longer new and there are few changes for 2000, but it's still a head-turner. Toyota's reputation for quality and reliability has continued to make the RAV4 popular despite the increased competition in the segment it helped create.
For 2000, the two-door version has been dropped. All RAV4s come as four-door hard tops. Two- and four-wheel-drive variations are available. The 2WD model retails for $16,668, while the 4WD model starts at $18,078. The four-wheel-drive models feature a lockable center differential (on manual transmissions).
Powered by a 127-horsepower, 2.0-liter, twin-cam four-cylinder engine, the RAV4 comes with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic; the automatic adds $1,050.
The base price is a bit deceptive because air conditioning is not standard. To get it, you need to order one of three Extra Value packages. Extra Value Package #1 ($1,547) adds air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette, cruise control, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cloth head rests. That brings the base price for a real-world 2WD model with 5-speed manual to $18,215 -- or $19,625 for a 4WD 5-speed model.
To add some sportiness to the looks of your RAV4, you'll need the $2,399 RAV4L Special Edition (Extra Value Package #2), which adds color-keyed door handles, mirrors, bumpers and body cladding, cruise control, alloy wheels and privacy glass to the above. Package #3 ($3,029) includes the above plus leather seating surfaces. Anti-lock brakes, which allows the driver to maintain steering control of the vehicle during panic stops cost extra.
Our 4WD RAV4 came with the automatic transmission ($1050); Special Edition Value Package #2 ($2,399); ABS ($630); limited-slip differential ($390). With the destination charge ($480), the price as tested came to $23,027.
The RAV4 remains a visual departure from a crowded highway of look-alike SUVs. The sheetmetal forming its wide body dips downward at the side windows, giving it a muscular, ready-for-action look that is strengthened by an aggressively styled grille and front fascia, a sloping hood with large air intakes, and kicked-up rear quarter panels sculpted around big 16-inch tires on boldly style wheels. A side-opening door dominates the rear; we would prefer if it would swing open away from the curb instead of toward it for easier curbside loading and unloading at the grocery store and airport.
Owners who use their RAV4 for camping or other outdoor duty will appreciate features such as an auxiliary power outlet in the rear cargo area for battery-powered coolers and other gear, as well as four built-in tow hooks. Less hip but equally appreciated features are the full carpeting, dual outside mirrors, intermittent front and rear wipers and a rear window defogger. Front door pockets provide storage, while dual cupholders are integrated into the lower instrument panel. All major passive safety bases are covered with dual airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners and force-limiters, and side-impact door beams.
The cockpit is traditional Toyota, with comfortably contoured cloth seats, well-located controls and gauges, and a sporty three-spoke steering wheel. The instrument cluster incorporates a digital odometer, dual trip meter, and upgraded radio features. All-around visibility is excellent, thanks to the sloping hood, tall driving position, and generously sized windows. Our only complaint is the tailgate-mounted spare and tall rear door, which combine to block rear vision slightly. Visibility out the front is excellent.
A low step-in height makes it easy to get in and out. Rear seat leg space isn't that bad given the vehicle's overall small size, but we did find it cramped getting to those rear seats through the small secondary doors. With the split-folding rear seat folded flush, the RAV4 can handle 57.9 cubic feet of goods, less than of some of its competitors. In all, the RAV4 offers some of the versatility of larger sport-utility vehicles, but with less room for people and parcels.
The RAV4 has been compared to the Jeep Wrangler, but it cannot compete with the Wrangler's capability in rough terrain. RAV4 is based on the front-wheel-drive Toyota Camry sedan, and its unitbody chassis gives it comfortable, car-like handling, unlike the truck-based sport-utilities with their heavier and less-rigid body-on-frame construction. This emphasis on highway manners reflects the way most people use this type of vehicle.
Still, the RAV4 is not simply a sport-utility wannabe. For one thing, it carries a higher ride height (7.5 inches) than a sedan, making light off-road driving feasible. We were impressed with the all-wheel-drive traction, finding it useful in snow and slush. Even though the RAV4 lacks a low-range set of gears, the locking differential gives the RAV4 a traction advantage over the all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester.
On automatic transmission models, the center differential automatically locks up when excessive slip is sensed between the front and rear axles. On manual transmission models, the driver uses a switch to manually lock or unlock the center differential. The optional limited-slip rear differential is recommended for improved traction off-road because it distributes power to whichever rear wheel offers the best grip. This reduces wheelspin off road, but it also improves driver control on wet roads.
The RAV4 is nimble and fun to drive, thanks to a well-designed independent suspension and power rack-and-pinion steering. The engine feels peppy and can cruise at 80. The RAV4 accelerates to highway speeds with reasonable enthusiasm, but it runs out of power in the higher rpm range. For this reason, we prefer the standard 5-speed manual transmission. The automatic transmission lacks response and flexibility; getting through the mountains is a struggle and it has a tough time accomplishing this when in cruise control mode. Brakes are discs on the front and drums in back; ABS is available as a $590 option, which is money well spent. At 22/26 miles per gallon, the RAV4 offers better fuel economy than many of its competitors.
Toyota's RAV4 is tougher than a car, softer than a truck and as big as a small wagon. It offers some of that rugged image that's so popular today in a smaller package, while delivering a measure of spunk and fun with unique styling.
The RAV4 is comfortable for car-pooling, commuting and collecting groceries, but it's also ideal for light off-road action on the beach or in the backcountry. Given Toyota's reputation for quality, we'd expect it to offer good resale value as well.
At first glance, the $16,668 base price looks low, but air conditioning and other 21st century necessities quickly drive that price over $18,500 with destination charges. At $22,520 for our test model, the RAV4 is no bargain. Nevertheless, sales figures show it's a package that buyers like, and it has proven itself to be a standard-bearer for this new breed of mini-SUVs.
2WD ($16,668); 4WD ($18,078).
Toyota City, Japan.
Options As Tested
Special Edition Value Package #2 ($2,399) includes air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, cruise control, power windows/door locks/mirrors, aluminum alloy wheels, color-keyed body cladding and bumpers; ABS ($630); limited-slip differential ($390).
4WD Automatic ($19,128).
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