1999 RAV4 New Car Test Drive
When it was introduced, industry analysts weren't sure how to categorize the Toyota RAV4. Though it wasn't the first one, the success of this mini sport-utility vehicle helped start a trend. Now established as a class, small SUVs are increasingly popular for their relatively low cost, fuel-efficiency, compact size, sporty image and, in some cases, four-wheel-drive systems.
The RAV4 is no longer new and there are few changes for 1999, but it's still a head-turner. Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability has enabled the RAV4 to continue to post strong sales despite new and upgraded entries in its class.
This year, Toyota added an optional leather interior to its RAV4L Special Edition package.
All two-door models now come with a soft top that debuted in mid-1998. The folding fabric top provides open-air motoring for back-seat passengers, while a solid sun roof opens above driver and front-seat passenger. The Soft Top model looks like an off-road toy, offers relatively little luggage space and the back seats are best suited for children. The fabric top is of high quality and Toyota has done a good job of minimizing noise levels. The two-door hardtop is no longer available.
The four-door RAV4 presents a more roadworthy stance. It offers some of the versatility of larger sport-utility vehicles, but with less room for people and parcels. The four-door model is 16 inches longer than the two-door and rides on a longer wheelbase. It offers seatbelt hardware for five people.
The Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, the new Suzuki Grand Vitara and the Subaru Forester compete with Toyota's RAV4. RAV4 offers the best fuel economy (22/26). It sits in the middle of this group of competitors in terms of size: five inches longer than Sportage, 14 inches shorter than CR-V, one inch shorter than Grand Vitara. RAV4 is near the top for cargo-carrying capacity; only CR-V offers more space. Forester provides the best driving dynamics, but lacks some of the off-road capability.
The RAV4 is based on the front-wheel-drive Toyota Camry sedan. Its unibody chassis gives it a comfortable car-like demeanor.
Two- and four-wheel-drive variations are available. The four-wheel-drive models feature a lockable center differential (on manual transmissions). Even though the RAV4 lacks a low-range set of gears, its ground clearance (7.5 inches for the four-door, 7.7 for the two-door) is sufficient to make light off-road driving feasible. The locking differential gives the RAV4 traction advantages over the all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. Although the RAV4 has been compared to the Jeep Wrangler, it cannot compete with the Wrangler's traction capabilities in really rough going.
There doesn't seem to be a consensus on the RAV4's looks, considered everything from cute to ugly duckling to extra-terrestrial.