When Toyota introduced the RAV4 in 1996, it was the first small sport-ute built on a car-like unitized frame, and thus a pioneer in what is sometimes referred to as the “cute-ute” class. But pioneers earned that title by staying ahead of the crowd. And, for Toyota, that meant a complete re-design for the second generation RAV4. But is it enough of a change to maintain the RAV4’s pioneer status in a field full of claim jumpers? The folks at Toyota think so, because they’ve made the all-new 2001 RAV4 bigger, stronger, and more stylish. Now measuring 165.1-inches long, and riding on a stretched-out 98-inch wheelbase, the latest RAV4 is both longer and wider than its predecessor. And a lot more muscular-looking as well. The first generation RAV’s plain-Jane mini-ute lines have been replaced by carefully sculpted yet brawny good looks that would be at home on a much larger machine. To go with those tougher looks, Toyota has given the RAV4 more power. This new all- aluminum 2.0-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve engine with variable valve timing makes over 16% more horsepower for a total of 148, and 142 pound-feet of torque. Both our RAV4’s 5-speed manual and the optional 4-speed automatic include transmission coolers. RAV4s with full-time four-wheel drive use a center viscous coupling to split torque 50/50 front and rear until slip sends more to the axle with more grip. A limited slip rear differential is optional, but a healthy 7.5-inches of ground clearance, and surprising off-road abilities, are standard. With 5-speed in hand, we sprinted to 60 in 8.6 seconds, a full second quicker than the 2000 RAV4. And through the 1/4 mile in 16.4 seconds at 84 miles-per-hour. It’s a lot stronger off the line than before, but like many 4-bangers it really comes to life above 4,000 rpm. The clutch engages in a smooth, progressive manner. While the shifter offers long, but very positive throws. But with most competitors now offering both 4-and-6-cylinder engines, Toyota had better start thinking about adding a V6 option. But they can leave the suspension alone, because this is the best handling mini-sport-ute that we’ve ever driven! The front strut and rear double wishbone suspension, stiff unitized chassis, and 16-inch rims, all combine for sharp, nimble response. There’s little body roll, and only a touch of understeer. Nice! As for the disc/drum brakes, stops from 60 averaged 120 straight, stable feet, thanks to the optional ABS. The RAV4 adds to this excellent track performance with a firm but comfortable ride and the solid feel of a big sport-ute. All new really means all new! As a look inside proves. The latest RAV4 boasts a larger interior that’s as stylish as the exterior. The new dash features a modern, industrial look, with metallic-finish trim panels and revised gauges with a performance oriented, center-mounted tach. Our L-grade test machine’s standard CD stereo is mounted up high where we like it, and features large, straightforward controls, while directly below are simple rotary dials for heat and ventilation. And kudos to Toyota, for designing an adjustable cup holder that really works! In the roomier second row are 50/50 split folding seats that slide and recline. They’re also easily removed, to provide a maximum of 68.3 cubic-feet of cargo room. With seats upright, cargo space is still a healthy 29.2 cubic feet. But this right-side opening tailgate is not as convenient as a hatch. But that’s about all we can find to complain about in this much improved mini sport-ute. Our friends at AMI Auto World Weekly are of a similar mind, calling the RAV4: “..an affordable, well-thought-out, excellently engineered, fun-to-drive little truck.” If this makes you want to own one, be prepared to pay at least $16,695 for a front-drive version. Our 4-wheel-drive model starts at $18,155, and in well-optioned L-grade trim leaves the dealer’s lot for $22,595. While you can buy a V-6 competitor for the same price, the 2001 Toyota RAV4 one ups them in trendy styling, car-like performance, and versatile rear seat and cargo area, and insures that this cute-ute pioneer will still be able to hold its own against all small SUV come-latelys.
Engine: 2.0-Liter Twin-cam 16-valve 4-Cylinder
Torque: 142 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.4 Seconds @ 84 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet
EPA Mileage: 23 MPG City 27 MPG Highway