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My Review

Back in November of 2000 I began searching for a new vehicle.  The lease on my '98 Nissan Altima was going to be up in February and I still didn't have any Idea what I wanted to replace it with.  I was leaning toward a sports car, but I kept being pushed away from that decision based on the impracticality.  I have a wife, a 6 year old daughter and a 100 pound Labrador Retriever who goes everywhere with us.  Getting a sports car (or even another sedan) would mean that my vehicle would be left in the garage on the weekend when I was out with the family.  Since I don't have a long commute it would mean that I wasn't spending much time in my nice new sports car.  I really hadn't thought much about getting an SUV before.  I didn't want a really big vehicle.  My wife has a Nissan Quest mini-van that is the ideal family utility vehicle and I certainly didn't want another mini-van.  One day at work I noticed a Suzuki Grand Vitara in the parking lot.  I really liked the way it looked - kind of like a reduced size version of a big muscular SUV.  This got me thinking about small SUVs for the first time.  Here was a vehicle that was as compact as the sedans I was used to driving but would allow me to load in the family as well.  At that point I started my quest for a small SUV.  I looked at all of the models on the market and quickly narrowed it down to a couple.  

I really liked the Suzuki Grand Vitara for it's looks, price and 6 cylinder engine.  The Honda CRV was in in the running because of Honda's reputation although I never really liked its looks much.  The Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute were also on my list but all these still seemed a bit big to me.  They are by no means full size SUVs, but they just didn't have the feel I was looking for (and were a bit more pricey as well).   I also considered the Hyundai Santa Fe, but a combination of the looks and fact that it was a brand new model from Hyundai made me shy away from it.  Hyundai's reputation for quality has improved significantly in the last few years, but I was still worried about the new model aspect.  Because I was so happy with the Nissans that I had owned over the past 6 years and the quality of service from my local Nissan dealer I felt that I had to at least consider the Xterra.  I quickly ruled this out based on size and other characteristics.  Finally came the RAV4.  I had never really liked the first generation RAV4 based on looks alone, although as I said I had never considered an SUV before.  I still hadn't seen one of the 2001 RAVs yet - just pictures.  I liked the new styling, the size was right and I liked the fact that it was a Toyota.  The specs sounded good and all of the reviews I had read were positive.  This was enough to put the RAV on the short list.  I had test driven the Suzuki and liked it enough to negotiate a price with the dealer.  I told him my decision was pending a test drive of the RAV4.  It took me two weeks to get to the Toyota dealer due to bad weather and other obstacles.  In the mean time my wife and I want to the Northeast Auto Show in January and I got my first up close look at the RAV.  It was even better than the pictures!  I liked everything about the styling, size, interior, etc.  My only reservation now was how it was going to perform with its 4 cylinder engine versus the Grand Vitara 6.  The next week I finally got to a Toyota dealer and took a test drive.  That was it - I was hooked!  Everything about the RAV was better than the Grand Vitara.  The ride, handling, styling, comfort, interior room and even the performance were far superior.   Four days later I was the owner of a new white loaded RAV4 L.  After two months of driving this vehicle I couldn't be happier.  It's lived up to all my expectations and then some.  For those who I haven't bored to death yet, the rest of my review follows.


What can you say about the styling of the '01 RAV4 other than it's gorgeous!  It has the best styling elements of the Lexus RX300 (its Toyota-made big brother), the BMW X5 and the Mercedes M-Class - three of the best looking SUVs on the road.  Particularly in the L Package trim (U.S. model) with the color matched door handles, painted trim, bumpers and fender flares, hard spare tire cover, spoiler, 16" alloy wheels and wide tires.  The fit and finish is typical Toyota - flawless.  Paint, trim, body panel fitment are all perfect and the doors close with the solid thunk that signals a well made vehicle.


The RAV4 interior lives up to the expectations set outside.  The controls are well laid out in typical Toyota fashion with everything in easy reach.  The stereo is placed above the heater/vent controls which allows the driver to better keep his eyes on the road while adjusting the stereo controls.  While on the subject, the stereo performs pretty well - see the details on the Stereo Page on this site.  The cabin is very quiet at highway speeds.  There is virtually no road noise or wind noise at 75-80 MPH.  The ride and handling are also very comfortable at that speed.  There is of course the infamous dash rattle that seems to plague most RAVs, however Toyota has A TSB to fix this and some other less common rattles.  See The Rattle! for more info.  Some owners have also reported wind noise and rattles from the roof, but this is usually due to the roof rack bars either being installed backwards or not being tightened securely.  

There are many storage compartments including console, all four doors, under dash, etc.  There is a combination garage door opener and sunglasses holder above the rear view mirror (holds one or the other).  Pictures of this option can be found Here.  There are multiple power outlets including the cigarette lighter in the dash, another in the console and one in the rear cargo area. Another appreciated option is the heated rearview mirrors (included with the L package) which are activated with the rear defogger.  No review would be complete without mentioning cup holders and ones in the RAV are really cool.  The front pair are adjustable to securely hold anything from a small coffee cup to a Big Gulp.  The rear ones are in a closed compartment in the back of the console that folds down to reveal two rear cup holders.

The seats are comfortable and supportive.  Although there are no power seat options the drivers seat has a manual seat height adjustment.  The fabric is both attractive and sturdy.  It doesn't look cheap like the fabric in many SUVs.  There is plenty of leg room both in front and back and headroom is sufficient for pretty much any size driver or passenger.  The rear seats are one of the RAVs best features.  They begin as a 50/50 split folding configuration with seatbacks able to nearly fully recline as well.  The seat backs can be folded forward flat on the seat bottom (not flat with the cargo surface).  For a bit more room the entire seat can be slid forward.  For more room yet the whole seat can be tumbled against that back of the front seat.  Finally the entire seat can be removed. With both seats removed the cargo space is 68 cubic feet!  This is more than some full size SUVs.  Note that the seats are very light weight and easy to remove.

Ride and Handling

The overall construction of the RAV is very solid and the overall ride and handling are excellent.  The suspension is tuned to behave like a sports sedan and may be a bit harsh if you are looking for a cushy ride.  It makes driving the RAV a whole lot more fun however.  One note here - Toyota ships vehicles from the factory with the tire pressure at 50+ PSI and some dealers have neglected to reset this to the recommended 29-32 PSI before delivery.

Steering is precise and overall road feel is excellent.  The RAV doesn't feel at all top heavy and can be driven rather aggressively without feeling out of control.  There has been a lot of recent concern about SUV rollovers, and while the NHTSA rollover ratings for the RAV4 aren't out yet they are expected to be good.  It's also worth noting that the RAV got a 4 star NHTSA crash safety rating.

The RAV can be had in both 2WD and full time 4WD versions.  I opted for the 4WD and am very happy that I did.  The system is in four wheel drive mode at all times with a 50/50 split of power to front and rear wheels.  This configuration allows driving on dry pavement in 4WD and not having to worry about when to shift into 4WD when things get slippery like shift on the fly systems do.  While it has the disadvantage of not having a low range 4WD setting this is really only necessary for serious off-roading.  For driving in rain, snow, dirt roads or on the beach the RAVs system works great.  I've always hated New England winters for having to drive in the snow.  With the RAV it actually becomes fun!  As far as the RAVs off road ability, there are some photos posted on the eGroups NewRAV4 forum that seem to indicate the RAV has pretty good potential here! Not that you will need to join the forum to view the pictures - but it's worth being a member anyway.

In my opinion Toyota did make a couple of mistakes here.  First, very few RAVs are being equipped with anti-lock brakes (and they obviously can't be added after the fact).  They aren't included in any package and I didn't see a single RAV with ABS on the sticker during my search.  ABS should be included in the L package as a standard feature and should be included on a much higher percentage of RAVs in general to at least give the buyer a choice.  It's a similar situation with the limited slip differential (LSD) option.  LSD is a very useful option for AWD vehicles and although Toyota does offer it they aren't providing it on many vehicles. 


The overall performance of the RAV is very good.  The combination of the new 148hp VVT-i engine in a 2900 lb vehicle provides reasonable acceleration under most conditions.  With automatic and 4-wheel drive the performance suffers a bit.  When the engine is cold (first 1-2 miles in cold weather)  it tends to be a bit sluggish.  If you need to get on highway right after leaving home (as I do) merging into traffic can be a bit challenging.  Once the engine is warm the sluggishness mostly disappears.  Low speed acceleration is good and highway speed acceleration is acceptable.  What I have found improves highway passing performance is to use the OD switch to shift out of overdrive before hitting the gas to pass.  This causes the transmission to shift more quickly than by just jumping on the gas and improves passing time quite a bit.  The "OD off" trick also works well at lower speed to give a kick without flooring the gas pedal and can also be used to provide engine braking when slowing from highway speed.    So far there are not many aftermarket performance options for the 2001 RAV.  See the Performance page for more details.  What would make the RAV nearly perfect is having the Camry V6 as an option.  Maybe by the time I'm ready for my next RAV...

Miscellaneous Options

There are mixed reviews on the RAV4 options.  The two available packages (Quick Order and L Package) are both rather expensive for what you get.  Regardless of cost, I opted for the L Package and have no regrets.  The improved exterior appearance and convenience options were worth the cost to me.  I also got a moonroof functions very well, but I was surprised to find out that it's plastic and not glass.  It will be interesting to see how it holds up over time since the manual warns about being careful when cleaning so as not to scratch it.  The rear spoiler is a separate option that requires the L Package (seems like it should be included) but again I think it's worth it.  It adds to the appearance of the vehicle and serves to keep dirt off the rear window.

Surprisingly, neither keyless entry or a security system is included in any option package.  They also don't seem to be included on many vehicles by the factory based on what I saw on dealers lots during my search.  My RAV4 L was pretty well loaded including moonroof, wheel locks, spoiler, roof rack, etc. but didn't have either keyless entry or security system.  I think this may be a blessing in disguise since you can add an aftermarket alarm system including keyless entry for much less than the factory option cost and get better features in the bargain.  See the  Alarms page for more details.

The roof rack is an option that seems to be included on most RAVs (again based on my search) which is a good thing since Toyota is not yet offering this as a later option.  One down side to the rack is that it is rated at only 75 pounds (which is just about enough for my two light weight kayaks).  See the Roof Rack page for more details.


I just can't find enough good things to say about this vehicle.  It's fun to drive, looks great and provides excellent utility.  I've had a number of vehicles that I really liked in the past, but none quite as much as this.  So much in fact that it has inspired this web site.  To anyone debating buying a RAV4 and having any doubts all I can say is - BUY IT, YOU WON'T REGRET IT!

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Magazine Reviews

Excerpts from magazine and other reviews that aren't on the web...

Bushdriver Magazine - April 2001

In this month's edition of the Australian "Bushdriver" Magazine, Toyota's RAV4 Cruiser (5-door) took out the "Small Wagon of the Year 2000" Award. The summary is as follows:

"RAV4's victory over rivals CR-V and Forester in Bushdriver's last issue, handed it the crown in the small all-wheel drive wagon segment this year and qualified it for a shoot out with the bigger guns. Although, that attempt was denied by its bigger stable mate (Toyota's 100 Series GXL Turbo Diesel), RAV4 impressed all judges with its fine handling and spirited performance.

The panel also agreed that the modern stylish cult machine was impossible to top in the enjoyment stakes. RAV's bigger and more roomier dimensions, improved NVH level and sorted out front end suspension geometry has made it a far better proposition than the original model. It scored well in a number of categories, including styling, interior design, engine performance and ride and handling.

Obviously, not in the same class as the others (ie the big 4WD's), RAV4 Cruiser showed a much broader all terrain capability than expected and not only distinguished itself well during the shoot out, but topped the softer all-wheel drive segment to justifiably earn the award.

'A fun car with limited off road ability, but I'd take it on most forest trails and beaches' said George White.
'Sporty and great fun to drive - a good thing' said Fred Black."