By Scott Corlett
The RAV4 is all grown up. In 1996, the folks at Toyota broke new ground when they introduced the original RAV4—the first, small, car-based, cute-ute. Other manufacturers soon caught the c-ute bug, and the RAV4 couldn’t keep up with the roomier Honda CR-V or the V-6-powered domestics. A decade on, the designers at Toyota have upped the ante with the launch of the all-new RAV4, which is available with a V-6 for the first time and is fourteen inches longer and 400 pounds heavier than its previous iteration.
Recently, we spent a week with the 2006 Toyota RAV4 in San Francisco. During winter, we like to drive north, over the Golden Gate Bridge, to Point Reyes and watch big Alaskan rollers break onto battered, cold sand. But before leaving civilization behind, we like to be fully stocked with provisions. We gave silent thanks as we slid the RAV’s 181 inches into a parking space right in front of Tartine, the best French bakery west of the Seine. Laden with lattes and finely crusted confections whose carbohydrate content would have Dr. Atkins spinning in his grave, we cranked the MP3-ready, six-speaker stereo, shifted the four-speed automatic (the V-6 gets five gears) into big D, and pulled out into traffic en route to pickup a load less-sweet, but no-less-loved.
The guys jumped in the RAV4, and between the new generation’s increased legroom (41.8 inches front/38.3 rear—more, mind you, than the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee) and the saliva-inducing smell of freshly baked pain-au-chocolat, there was nary a complaint from the crew of three, hiking-boot-clad six-footers on the way north. As we followed Tippi Hedren’s route from The Birds, the switchbacks of coastal Highway 1 proved no problem for the RAV’s communicative steering or its car-like, four-wheel, independent suspension.
Maybe it was our load of big boys and pastries, but as the RAV climbed the seaside hills, we yearned for the 269 horsepower of the optional, class-leading, 3.5-liter V-6. The standard 2.4-liter 166-horsepower four-cylinder will keep you moving down the freeway; for upgrade driving or fast-off-the-line acceleration, the V-6 is worth the extra $2000 (the base price of the four-cylinder is a modest $21,000). The guys in back guzzled their coffee drinks faster than the RAV did its fuel; for SUVs, both engines are sippers—with, according to Toyota’s engineers, combined fuel-economies in the mid-20s.
We arrived at the shore and without worry pulled onto the wet sand that lined the road—the RAV’s on-demand four-wheel-drive system stood ready to pull us out of any slippery situations. As we looked out at the huddled gulls, and enormous, gray and white waves, we decided against a walk on the beach. We watched the surf as we chowed on still-warm, chocolaty treats and listened to tunes. Once the brown paper sack, which smelled so sweetly of its former sugary contents that you wanted to eat it, was empty, we turned the RAV around and headed back the City. It was Saturday and we needed to work off those carbs before we took the RAV4 out for a night on the town.
Toyota is a gay-friendly company.
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