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null 1996 Toyota RAV4

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No one here has ever suggested that fun was invented by Toyota, but even so, the new RAV4 certainly lends a fresh dimension to the concept. More than that, it lends a new and more viable definition to an emerging class of vehicles--the mini sport-utility. The difference: the RAV4 is as versatile and almost as practical as its bigger contemporaries--Ford Explorer, Chevy Blazer, the Jeep Cherokees, regular and Grand, to name just a few. And its appeal isn't limited to the young and restless members of Generation X. We can imagine all sorts of people finding uses for a RAV4, from suburban errand-runners to commuters to small families headed out for a week in the woods. The historic problem with other entries at the small end of this spectrum--going back to the tiny Suzuki Samurai--is that they've tended to be cramped, a little stiff in the ride department and noisy. Okay, the RAV4 isn't exactly an Explorer when it comes to roominess, and it isn't exactly a Lexus when you start counting decibels. But in 4-door trim it's got enough room inside for four passengers (Toyota, of course, says five), there's a surprisingly big cargo well behind the rear seat and it's the only sport-utility in this size and price class to offer full-time all-wheel drive. True, you can get the extra traction of full-time all-wheel drive for a little less money--the subcompact Subaru Impreza, for example. But the little Subaru can't go where the RAV4 can go, and it isn't nearly as much fun. There's that word again. Fun. Even after extended seat-time in several locales, we're a little hard-pressed to quantify just why this little scooter is such a hoot to drive. Maybe it's because the interpretation varied from driver to driver. But regardless of personal reaction, we were unanimous on the fun-to-drive quotient, 2-door and 4-door alike. For our report, however, we settled on the more practical 4-door version.

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