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2006 Toyota RAV4

    It’s not often that you find Toyota playing catch-up with any car, much less in a category that it created just a few years before.
     But that’s exactly what happened with the RAV4, a vehicle that almost single-handedly created a new wave of small, car-based SUVs in the late 1990s that were easy to drive but looked and performed like their truck-based cousins.
     Before there was a Ford Escape or Honda CRV — and, indeed, before all today’s crossover vehicles started to gain in popularity — there was the innovative little RAV4 from Toyota. It shook up the auto industry by offering many of the advantages of an SUV, like a tough look, big cargo space and all-wheel drive, without any of the nasty drawbacks, like a bouncy ride and awful gas mileage.
     Fast forward to 2005, and the RAV4 was already starting to look like a has-been. An explosion in sales of small SUVs brought with it unprecedented competition for new buyers, and products from all over the world had improved to offer more space and power than the original RAV4 — including some with a third-row seat and big V6 engine.
     Well, Toyota decided to one-up the competitors in 2006 by creating an all-new RAV4, one that offers a lot more power, space and refinement than most other SUVs in its class.
     The first thing Toyota had to do was fix the RAV4’s growing reputation as a wimpy “cute ute” by finally making a V6 engine available.
     It’s not just any V6, either. It’s a whopper.
     While fuel conscious shoppers can still get a four-cylinder powerplant that makes 166 horsepower, the V6 offers a totally different driving experience with 269 horsepower from a 3.5-liter engine. It makes the RAV4 accelerate like a sports car, allows decent towing capacity and still gets up to 27 miles per gallon on the highway. That’s impressive any way you look at it.

     The other big change comes in the cabin, where dramatically increased space leaves enough room for an optional third-row seat. It’s not a very comfortable seat for adults — especially on long drives — but it’s plenty of space for squeezing a couple more kids on a trip to the soccer field.
     Interior refinement was always a strong point in the RAV4, and the new one continues this trend. It has a nice, comfortable, well-designed cabin that feels remarkably like an upscale sedan. Everything in it feels tightly secured, like it’s meant to last 100 years.
     Pricing is exactly what you’d expect from a quality SUV. It’s a little higher than some Korean and American competitors, but when you factor in a higher resale value and Toyota’s reputation for long-lasting cars it looks more like a bargain. The base model starts a little over $20,000, while the Sport is $21,775 and Limited is $22,445.
     In any case, it’s nice to see Toyota has returned the RAV4 exactly as we expect it — with the rest of the world trying to keep up.


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