Toyota's RAV4 is stylish and useful, and comes with Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability. RAV4 handles well and feels stable out on the open road. It's comfortable for running around town, easy to park, and its low load floor makes it convenient for hauling stuff.
Toyota completely redesigned and re-engineered the RAV4 for model-year 2001, producing a more refined and better-looking vehicle than the previous-generation model.
For 2003, RAV4 adds an optional Sport Package with unique trim inside and out, plus popular comfort and convenience features such as air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, six-speaker stereo, and carpeted floor and cargo mats.
Toyota RAV4 is not the quickest vehicle on the planet, but its engine is a winner. Made of aluminum, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is modern and lightweight. It's powerful and efficient, delivering an EPA-estimated 25/31 mpg City/Highway.
RAV4 feels responsive and pleasant around town. The engine makes 148 horsepower and 142 foot-pounds of torque. It revs relatively high, but offers good torque at low rpm. Acceleration in the 4WD model with automatic transmission is lively and feels almost effortless, as if this 2976-pound vehicle were a featherweight. It could use more power at higher elevations, however, as we found while driving one near Yellowstone National Park.
The water-cooled, electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission fully complements the smoothness of the engine. Every shift felt seamless.
Around-town handling and parking lot maneuvering is wonderfully nimble. The RAV feels even lighter than its 2976 pounds. On the highway, the power rack-and-pinion steering is precise, with no dodginess. In gusty winds, however, the it wanders quite a bit.
The chassis and suspension take bumps with equanimity, and offer a ride as good or better than many larger SUVs. Maybe even more impressively, there's no detectable pitching or tipping, which is no mean feat for any SUV. There's little that's truck-like about the suspension. The independent front end uses MacPherson struts with L-shaped lower control arms, while the rear suspension is a double wishbone layout with coil springs and nitrogen-filled shock absorbers.
The brakes are plenty big enough for the RAV4's weight, with 10.7-inch front ventilated discs and 9.0-inch rear drums. With a vehicle this good, it would be a shame not to include the optional anti-lock brakes, a good value ($300), especially since the ABS comes with EBD. Electronic brake force distribution adjusts the braking force on the rear wheels according to how the vehicle is loaded, and also modulates the rear brakes as the vehicle's weight shifts forward while stopping. EBD can help reduce stopping distances and improve stability, while ABS helps the driver maintain control in an emergency stopping situation.
Toyota RAV4 looks aggressively cool. When popular options are added, it isn't the cheapest small utility. But it's a pleasant companion and comes with Toyota's legendary levels of quality, durability and reliability.