Review: 2012 Toyota RAV4 Base 4WD With The Touring Value Package

Earlier this week, I got an e-mail from a local Toyota dealer who has been reading not only my experiences with the Toyota Matrix that I own, but my reviews of other cars. Most notably the Ford Explorer that I test drove for a week a little while ago. He felt that I should give one of Toyota’s more popular models a try to see if I would change my mind about Toyota. So I ended up with a RAV4 for a day. Now the RAV4 is Toyota’s “cute ute” that appeals to people like me as it’s bigger than the Matrix that I have now, but not so big that it’s unwieldy in an urban environment. Not to mention that they tend to be friendly to your wallet when it comes to filling it up.

The model that I tested was the “Base 4WD” model with the “Touring Value Package.” This gave me a 4 cylinder engine with 2.5L of displacement. This put out 179 horsepower and 172 pound feet of torque. That’s in line in what you should expect to get in a 4 cylinder “cute ute” and this works quite well off the line and passing on the highway. I have no complaints here. The 4WD system is of the “slip and grip variety” and Toyota calls it Active Torque Control. Off the line it delivers power to all four wheels (which eliminates torque steer) and then switches to front wheel drive to save gas. If torque is needed at the rear wheels to help to keep you on the road, it will be shunted backwards as required. I have this system in my Matrix and it generally works quite well. The RAV4 adds the ability to lock the SUV in 4WD mode so that you can get yourself out of a slippery situation. That’s something that my Matrix doesn’t have and I can see how that would be useful.

From the safety standpoint, it comes with the Star Safety System which gives you stability control, traction control, electronic brake force distribution, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, and smart stop technology. The latter will over-ride the throttle and give the brakes priority if both the brake and throttle are pressed at the same time. Clearly it is a by product of Toyota’s nightmare with runaway acceleration. You can add active head restraints and 6 airbags. No issues here from what I can see.

One option that is unique in this vehicle is that if you opt for the V6 model, you can get a third row seat. As far as I know, this is one of the few vehicles (if not the only one) that has this feature. Speaking of seats, this model comes with heated seats. While I could care less, I know that my wife would give this feature two thumbs up. You also get 17″ alloy wheels with locks, power moonroof, and better quality cloth seats.

So, the big question is what did I think of it? It handles really well. It has a tight turning radius, body roll is decently controlled, and it soaks up the bumps of Toronto’s crappy roads really well. Interior space is nice. Four people can sit comfortably in this vehicle with lots of legroom. Five might fit if they’re all good friends. Storage in the back is great with the seats up. But one thing that I’ll point out is that the rear door is hinged on the right side. In my opinion, it should be hinged on the left or be a liftgate. That way you’re not having to potentially get close to traffic when you open the door. That’s just a minor quibble. I found it easy to get into a good driving position and the controls are logical and easy to reach. The stereo has and auxiliary input jack, USB, auto sound levelizer (so you don’t have to constantly adjust the volume), Bluetooth and 6 Speakers. The stereo sounds pretty good and is a bit better than the one that came with my Matrix. Everything seems to be well screwed together as I found no issues with the fit and finish. I can’t speak to fuel economy as I didn’t have to put any gas into it, but Consumer’s Reports says that it does well in this category.

Here’s what I didn’t like. There seemed to be noticeable road noise and engine noise was very evident. If I had to compare it to my Matrix, the road noise was about the same, but the engine noise was louder. It really needs some better sound insulation because in an age when car makers are trying to make their cars as quiet as possible, the RAV4 sticks out like a sore thumb in this department.

What’s the bottom line? Putting my feelings about Toyota aside, this is a competent SUV that is well executed for the most part. However, given that most of the competition have new or recently redone “cute utes” on the market (Such as the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V to name two that are new this year. Not to mention the Hyundai Tucson which is a recent redo), I’d say that it’s time for Toyota to redo the RAV4 given this generation has been around since 2006. I say that because of the amount of noise from the road and the engine. Other vehicles (and I’m thinking of the Tucson when I say this) are much better in this department. But that may just be me as noise/vibration/harshness is a bit of big deal for me. My advice would be to test drive it (and make sure you take it on the highway) and see if it bothers you.

So, did I change my mind when it comes to my feelings about Toyota? No. Not because this vehicle is bad. It’s because of many other reasons that I’ve documented previously. Those have to change before I give Toyota another shot. But if you put that aside, the Toyota RAV4 is a “cute ute” that is worth looking at if you’re in the market for one.

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