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1998 Toyota RAV4 REVIEW logo 4/6/2017

Con: Looks like a jellybean. Doen't offer the ultility or value of the Honda CR-V.

Pro: Cute styling and Toyota reliability.

What’s New: Toyota's mini SUV enters its third year of production with minor changes to the grille, headlights, taillamps and interior. Four-door RAV4s get new seat fabric. A late-year introduction of the new RAV4 convertible makes this sport-ute more appealing for those who live in the sunbelt.

Review: The mini-SUV business is booming. Introductions of fresh models by Honda, Kia and Subaru indicate that there continues to be a large market for those who want the security of an AWD truck without the punishing ride and gas mileage that goes with it. Largely comprised of car-based AWD vehicles, this new market will gain even more entrants over the next few years as Land Rover, BMW and Mercedes introduce small trucklets to the US. One of the early players in the game was Toyota, which recognized this potential boom early on and jumped into the fray with the RAV4 in 1996.

A 2.0-liter, 120-horsepower engine hooked to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission powers the front or all wheels of the different RAV4 models. This makes the RAV4 the first sport utility available with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models use powertrain components from the now-defunct Celica All-Trac. Four-wheel antilock brakes are optional on all RAV4s. Minimum ground clearance is 7.5 inches on the four-door model; two-door RAV4s get .2 additional inches of clearance.

The RAV4 is a pretty decent around town driver, handling more like the car from which its platform is derived than a traditional SUV. Power is on the low side, however; the 120-horsepower engine works hard to drag this mini-ute up even small hills. The interior is not a bad place to spend time, offering fairly comfortable seating for four adults in the four-door models. The cargo area of the four-door is larger than one would expect, too, offering more room behind the rear seat than a Ford Crown Victoria. Two-door models are fine for singles or couples without children. The rear seat is tiny, and less than 10 cubic feet of cargo volume is available with the back seat up.

The Toyota RAV4 is a convincing package. Its eye-grabbing looks appeal to those who are young or just young at heart. Around college campuses the RAV4 litters the streets in front of Greek Row more than smashed bottles of Boone's Farm. Surprisingly, however, we have also seen the RAV4 towed behind a large number of motor homes that swoop into Arizona, Texas, and California every winter, leading us to believe that they are a hit with the more mature crowd, too.

We are fond of the RAV4, but there are a number of choices in this growing segment and we can't help but think that the more refined and powerful Honda CR-V might offer shoppers more of what they are looking for in a small truck: power, utility and value.


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