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Car reviews - Toyota - RAV4 - V6 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Power, torque, refinement, transmission shift quality, towing capacity
Room for improvement
Stability control not switchable, handling doesn’t match engine performance

18 Dec 2007

THE V6 is a dying breed in the compact SUV market but if anything can infuse the segment with new life it will be the RAV4 V6.

The V6 has no sports car pretence, but it can provide a few surprises in the traffic light grand prix. If a light drizzle has coated the road, even the V8 crowd will have to think twice about taking the lead off the mark.

The RAV4 V6 is entering a shrinking market, down from 29 per cent of all compact SUVs sold in 2001 (no doubt helped by then just-arrived V6 Tribute/Escape pair) but it still accounts for around 1000 vehicle a month, and Toyota wants to grab around 20 per cent of that market with the RAV4 V6.

The V6 is certainly a niche model, on dollars alone. With prices starting at $39,990, despite having a slightly better spec than $9K-cheaper entry-level compacts, bargain hunters will look elsewhere.

Yet the RAV4 V6 is good value when looking across the broad sweep of cars that ‘cross-shoppers’ will consider when looking at the RAV4.

Toyota product planner Doug Soden says that the V6 buyer will be looking at all sorts of cars, from top-end utes to sports cars. Spending between $40,000-$50,000 for a high-performance car that looks like an ordinary RAV4 will be considered good value by those hungry for something different that also goes hard.

It could also be the very thing for silver nomads, with the 1900kg maximum towing capacity permitting a medium-to-large size 1500kg caravan to be towed behind.

The 2000kg tow-rated Kluger is already quite a responsive tow truck with this engine - so the lighter RAV4 V6 will be no slow coach with a caravan hooked up behind.

To look at the RAV4 V6, it’s hard to see its sporting appeal. It doesn’t look like the premium sports SUV of the range, with its chromed grille and darkened headlight surrounds and different wheels as the points of difference between it and the four-cylinder model. At least it also has a V6 badge on the grille, in case you missed the more subtle cues.

The cabin is the very familiar RAV4 set-up. While a seven-seater is offered in other markets, the RAV4 V6 is a five-seater only, like its four-cylinder siblings. The front seats are quite supportive and the rear seat allows fore-aft adjustment to give occupants ample legroom, and the V6 has adequate shoulder and headroom, too.

This is not a car that requires careful reading and memorising the instruction manual to get in and use. It is simple and functional. The driver has clear backlit instruments and easy-to-find controls with the exception of some items such as the exterior mirror power adjustment and instrument brightness control, both hidden on the right side dash behind the wheel.

The steering wheel-mounted cruise control is the familiar easy-to-use Toyota item. Nice touches include the push-button-opening upper glovebox and plenty of oddments storage space.

The load area has tie-down points and a massive covered storage bin (where the third row is stored when fitted for other markets) and while the side-swinging tailgate door feels light, it is never an ideal arrangement when trying to keep the door from swinging shut on its lightweight strut when parked at the kerb on heavily cambered streets.

The best bit about the new RAV4 is the V6 engine - even though you might nearly miss the fact. It does not launch off the line nearly as quickly as some of its lesser competitors but once it hits its stride it manages to gather forward momentum very quickly.

Part of the reason the V6 doesn’t feel all that quick comes down to the smooth transmission. It slurs through gearchanges and there are no telling power spikes in the rev range to make it feel as fast as it is. Neither does the way the engine sound give away any clues - it sounds like a common garden-variety V6.

The only seat-of-the-pants indication on our drive came with an 80km/h-110km/h overtaking manoeuvre, when the RAV4 V6 dispatched a dawdler and got back to the safe side of the road well before we had to worry about the end of the overtaking section nearing.

The RAV4 V6’s handling and ride compromise feels similar to the four-cylinder model it is happiest to push wide on tighter corners and its electric power steering lacks feel and seems to not have quite enough ability to self-centre as it could have.

Having said that, it is better than average for its SUV compact class. There are some compact SUVs with better dynamics such as the Mazda CX-7 and even Mitsubishi’s Outlander.

The V6 rides smoothly and absorbs the worst of bumps without compromising stability.

While the much-emaciated Kurnell sand dunes in southern Sydney are not the ideal sand-testing ground for the V6, it certainly gives an opportunity to get general impressions of its beach-hopping skills.

As the RAV4 V6’s stability control cannot be switched off, it can suffer from a lack of momentum when driving through sand that initiates a yawing movement (as sand often does). Keep it straight, however, and the 201kW engine does not have any problem keeping the RAV4 belting along, even though at 1655kg the V6 model is no sand-surfing lightweight.

The RAV4 V6 might be the answer to a question no-one asked and there are other SUV wagons in the price bracket that better blend handling and performance (such as the Mazda CX-7 or Subaru Forester XT).

But if your desire the ultimate SUV Q-ship for traffic-light launches or quick point-to-point touring - and don't mind the plain compact SUV wrapper - then the RAV4 V6 is just the thing.

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