- Superb power and fuel economy from optional V6
- Huge cargo space with flat load floor
- Roomy second-row seating
- Balanced ride and handling
- Solid build quality
- Strong crash test scores
- Interior has a budget feel
- Side-hinged rear gate impedes curbside loading
- Driver seat a tight fit for taller drivers
Toyota kick-started today's wildly popular small crossover segment 14 years ago with its RAV4, which introduced the novel idea of a car-based SUV. That original diminutive RAV4 has changed a lot since its introduction, though. Today's RAV4 offers a commodious interior with room for up to seven people, luxury features like leather upholstery and a navigation system, and an available V6 engine that cranks out more than twice the horsepower of the original RAV4's engine, yet gets similar fuel economy. While it has many competitors, the 2010 Toyota RAV4 should be among those on your must-drive list.
After a more powerful four-cylinder engine was introduced last year along with some minor styling changes, the RAV4 heads into 2010 virtually unaltered. That's certainly OK, because it remains a veritable Swiss army knife of user-friendly transportation. The controls are simple and well-placed. The engines are powerful and economical. Storage spaces are abundant, and with all the rear seats folded, it can swallow more cargo than official midsize models like the Ford Edge. Passenger space is also excellent, with an optional third-row seat capable of accommodating a pair of kids.
Competition in the compact/midsize crossover category is tougher than ever, but the RAV4 remains one of the most appealing entries. We'd recommend opting for the V6 model if you can swing it, though, as its robust 265 horsepower achieves basically the same fuel economy as the four-cylinder model. This engine alone has helped the latest RAV win multiple comparison tests.
However, there are other options to consider. The new Chevy Equinox has a more upscale look and feel than the rather utilitarian RAV, while the Honda CR-V is also a bit nicer inside and more responsive to drive. The Subaru Forester is also worth a look for those who'd like some turbocharged punch. Still, the 2010 Toyota RAV4 exceeds in areas the others do not, and if you're searching for versatile, easy-to-use transport, it'll make an excellent choice.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2010
The Toyota RAV4 gains minor interior trim changes for 2010.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2010 Toyota RAV4 is a midsize crossover SUV. There are three trim levels available: base, Sport and Limited. Each one is available with front- or all-wheel drive and a choice of either a four-cylinder or V6 engine.
The base RAV4 comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, a limited-slip differential (front-drive models), air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, keyless entry, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver seat height adjustment and a six-speaker stereo with CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The base V6 4WD adds 17-inch alloy wheels, though they are optional on other base models.
The RAV4 Sport comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, color-keyed bumpers and sportier suspension tuning. The Sport Appearance package available on all four-cylinder and V6 4WD Sport models includes a spare tire-less rear door, run-flat tires, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated sideview mirrors and chrome exterior details.
The RAV4 Limited switches to the regular suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels, and adds automatic headlights (optional on Sport), the heated mirrors, a hard shell spare tire cover, roof rails, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control and an upgraded stereo with a six-CD changer and satellite radio (optional on base and Sport models).
All V6 models add hill-start assist and downhill assist control, which are also standard on the four-cylinder with the optional third-row seat.
Most of the RAV4's options are grouped into packages, but their content and availability differs by region. A third-row seat is optional on all models, as is a back-up camera. Options available on the Sport and Limited include a sunroof, a touchscreen navigation system and a premium nine-speaker JBL stereo with Bluetooth. The Premium package available on the Sport and Limited (but not with the third-row seat) adds leather upholstery and an eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar support. The latter item can be added separately on the Limited. V6-powered models can be equipped with a tow package.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The RAV4's interior boasts a clean design with large, simple controls and lots of storage space. The cabin isn't as filled with plastic as previous-generation RAV4 cabins were, but it still has a budget feel compared to some competitors like the Chevy Equinox and Honda CR-V. Nevertheless, the Toyota is a model of practicality. The rear seats recline and can slide fore and aft to optimize passenger space or cargo capacity. Normal seating capacity is five, while the optional third-row seat bumps it to seven. Though this seat is meant only for children, it is at least reasonably sturdy and spacious.
To configure the RAV4 for cargo, all you need to do is flip a lever. There is no need to remove headrests or fold up seat cushions to get a flat load floor that can hold a maximum of 73 cubic feet of cargo. This is bigger than several other midsize SUVs. The load floor is also quite low for this class, which minimizes the strain of loading a week's worth of groceries. However, the Toyota's side-hinged tailgate can be an inconvenience when you're parked on the street, as it opens toward the curb.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, whiplash-reducing front headrests, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on every 2010 Toyota RAV4. Vehicles equipped with the V6 and/or the optional third-row seats also come with hill-start assist and downhill assist control.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the RAV4 earned a perfect five stars for driver protection in frontal impacts and four stars for front passenger protection. It earned five stars for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. The RAV4 also performed well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, earning the top rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. It achieved the second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2010 Toyota RAV4 comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that delivers 179 hp and 172 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard. Fuel economy with front-wheel drive is 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined, and 21/27/24 with 4WD.
Optional on all trim levels and coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 269 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. In performance testing, the RAV4 V6 4WD delivered a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds. The V6 achieves an impressive 19/27/22 for front-wheel drive and only 1 mpg fewer on the highway with 4WD.
All RAV4s can be equipped with either front-wheel or four-wheel drive. In 4WD models, power is sent to the front wheels until slippage is detected, at which point power is also sent to the rear wheels. A true 4WD lock feature fixes the front/rear power split at 50/50, which is useful for driving in snow and for light off-roading. With the optional tow package, the RAV4 V6 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Although relatively capable off the beaten path, the 2010 Toyota RAV4 is meant for -- and succeeds at -- a life on pavement. Its taut suspension and precise electric steering make daily errands a pleasant, although not particularly interesting, experience. The RAV4 is not as responsive to inputs as the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-7, but in trade, the Toyota offers a smooth ride that's forgiving enough for commuters who drive on crumbling expressways. Road noise can be an issue at times, but wind noise is well controlled.
If we were to buy a RAV4, it would have to come with the optional V6, which generates nearly 100 hp more than most segment four-cylinders yet matches their fuel economy. The RAV's four-cylinder version is a reasonable choice for most buyers, though, as it provides adequate power for day-to-day driving.
Spacious, comfortable and easy to drive, the 2010 Toyota RAV4 is a top pick for a small-to-midsize crossover SUV, especially if you want a V6 or a usable kid-size third-row seat.