2006 RAV4 New Car Test Drive
No longer a cute ute, neither is the new RAV4 anywhere near a brute ute. Still, the overall design is more serious, more substantive than the '06, with fewer curves and less cladding, presenting a more finished look.
The all-new 2006 RAV4's front end contains all the same elements as the '05, but more tautly composed. The rectangular grille is rounder, the slits below more symmetrical. Headlights are more compact, fog lamps smaller and more focused. The wider track (the distance between the tires side to side), by more than two inches front and rear, gives the '06 RAV4 a more solid stance, which is good news for resisting rollover in emergency maneuvers.
A boxier shape defines the side view, the better to accommodate that third-row seat; from the front quarter oblique, the fatter, more upright C-pillar and taillight housing remind us of the Subaru Tribeca, a larger seven-passenger, Japanese-brand import, priced a notch or two above the RAV4. The seven additional inches of wheelbase (measured between the front and rear wheels) and almost 14 inches of added overall length stretch the cabin and give the windshield a sleeker rake. An understated indent runs along the bottom of the doors, softening the visual impression of bulk. Wheel well arches blend smoothly into the fenders.
The back end shows more revision than either the side or front of the '06 RAV4. A single-piece rear bumper cradles the swing-gate, which, sadly, still opens from the left side, so you have to walk around it when unloading curbside here in America. Taillights are slightly smaller and positioned higher on the rear fenders. The spare tire bolts into a recess offset to the right in the swing-gate, but it's a less-aggressive recess and contained fully in the swing-gate. Thus, no longer does the bumper house the bottom third of the tire. The rear license plate preserves the asymmetrical look by bolting into the lower left of the swing-gate, beneath a Toyota logo and RAV4 badge.
Inside the 2006 RAV4, what change there is has been effected mostly for the sake of change. Ergonomically, there's little to distinguish the new from the old. Most noteworthy are some, shall we say, interesting styling cues.
The front seats are supportive but not overly firm, with modest bolsters and decent thigh support. The tilt-and-telescope steering wheel combined with the multi-plane adjustable driver's seat enables almost any percentile driver to find a comfortable fit, and without the added complexity (and cost) of adjustable pedals. The relatively high seating position, low cowl and sloping hood make for good visibility to the front. The lengthy side windows ease lane checking. Fully retracting head restraints in the second row and optional third row of seats deliver the full backlight to the inside rearview mirror.
The second-row seats are less padded than the front seats, sans bolsters, but no surprise, really, seeing as how the seat has to fit three people in a pinch.
The optional third row seats barely qualify as such, with flat bottoms and equally featureless backs and head restraints that do, however, and to their credit, compel proper height adjustments to spare occupants' upper backs. Access to that back row, by folding and tilting forward the outboard second row units, while not especially easy, isn't as much a strain or as awkward as in some larger, full-bodied sport utilities.
The new RAV4's longer wheelbase delivered more than space for a third row of seats. It also allowed almost six inches to be added to second-row legroom over the '05. Headroom in the second row also grew by more than an inch, although front-row occupants lost half an inch. Its major competitor, the 2006 Honda CR-V, betters the RAV4 in second-row headroom and hiproom, by about a half-inch and an inch, respectively, and in front row hiproom by a pinch more than one inch; elsewhere, differences are less than a half-inch. The 2006 Suzuki XL-7 provides the sole seven-passenger competitor in the class and betters the RAV4 in third-row headroom and legroom by about an inch and a half; it trails in every other measure by an inch or two. Same for cargo space, where the Toyota beats the Honda by a cubic foot but comes in almost two cubic feet behind the Suzuki.
Most everything in the instrument cluster and on the dash of the new RAV4 is where it was in the 2005 models. The speedometer is now centered in the cluster, swapping places with the tachometer, which is now off to the left, and the fuel and coolant gauges are conjoined on the right, instead of splitting their own circle. But the placement, and most important, the usability of the controls populating the center stack is virtually the same as the '05, which means very good, and the arrangement of the hand brake and the shift lever is unaltered. It's all styled differently, however. The dash is sharply split by a horizontal gash running the width of the car. About the only plus we divined in this garish feature is a bi-level glove box, with an upper bin covered by a retracting lid and a lower bin fitted with a traditional, bottom-hinged cover.
Materials are quality, if not Lexus level. Fit and finish is Toyota grade, which means excellent. All three models share motif, with contrasting, but complementary colors and brushed metallic trim elements along each side of the stereo and climate control panels and the shift gate and swooping around the door handles. A passenger assist grip folds down from the headliner over each door, even when the side-curtain airbags are ordered.
Storage areas are plentiful. Beyond the glove box, doors have fixed plastic map pockets, the backs of the front seatbacks wear net pouches, a total of 10 cup/bottle holders are situated about the cabin and when the third-row seats aren't ordered, a deep cargo area awaits beneath a water-repellant, foldable deck board.