The Toyota RAV4 is Toyota’s smallest in their line of SUVs. In its third generation, the RAV4 was one of the first small, car-based SUVs on the market. It’s been around since 1996 – a time when gasoline cost around $1.15/gallon and Americans were starting to fall in love with large, truck-based SUVs—my, how the times have changed. People got used to having gobs of room in your everyday driver but now cannot pay over $100 for a tank of gas. This is where the small SUV thrives, and the 2009 Toyota RAV4 has the upper hand.
New for 2009
The RAV4 has been around for 13 years, which has given Toyota plenty of time to tweak, tune, and refine the RAV4 into perfection and offer class-leading options and features that competitors don’t offer. The changes for the 2009 Toyota RAV4 include a larger, more powerful four-cylinder engine (see below,) a redesigned front grille and bumper, four new colors, and some new options (including a very cool back-up camera located in the rear-view mirror.)
Options and Trims
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 offers three trim levels – Base, Sport, and Limited. The base model comes well-equipped with Toyota’s Star Safety System, power accessories, cruise control, keyless entry, 16″ wheels, and a six-speaker audio system with an auxiliary jack. Stepping up into the Sport trim gets you 18″ wheels, fog lights, tinted rear glass, heated side mirrors, and a sport suspension which is too rough. The Limited model brings the wheel size back to 17″ (smoother ride), dual-zone climate, an in-dash 6-disc CD changer, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
If you opt for the AWD V6 Sport trim, you can also get the Appearance package which forgoes the RAV4 signature spare tire in the rear and gives you a new, smoother-looking rear hatch door. The spare tire isn’t relocated, however, as you now have run-flat tires and won’t need the spare.
Options, depending on trim level and region, include heated leather seats, sunroof, a cool backup camera mounted inside the rear-view mirror, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and an upgraded 9-speaker sound system with satellite radio and Bluetooth.
Engines and Drivetrain
After choosing the trim, you can opt for the new 179 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or the 269 hp, 3.5-liter V6. Both engines come with your choice of FWD or AWD layouts. Our review model had the V6, which we thought was a very good engine.
Our review model was equipped with the AWD V6 and averaged about 24 mpg with mixed driving.
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 wasn’t changed much from the 2008 model, which means it keeps its modern but conservative styling. The signature spare tire mounted to the rear door stays except in the Sport AWD V6 model, which gets run-flat tires instead. The front-end has changed a little bit, giving it a slightly more aggressive face.
I love the interior of the RAV4 – the stacked dash design gives a rugged and modern feel while logically separating the audio system and climate control. The sliding storage area above the glovebox gives some welcomed extra room for gadgets, and the large “triangle” door handles make you feel like you’re driving a more rugged SUV. The gauges are very nice – not your standard boring orange cluster.
Our review model was a 2009 RAV4 Sport AWD V6 with the Appearance Package. The 269 horsepower V6 is very capable and smooth. If you think you might need the extra power, go ahead and get the V6 – the fuel economy difference is minimal (see above,) but the power difference is huge.
Overall comfort in the RAV4 is good, with plenty of space for passengers. Tall drivers might be slightly uncomfortable, and the seating position for both driver and passenger is too high, even with the seat height adjustment available on the Premium package. The side-hinged rear door is nice, but I could see it becoming a nuisance in curb-side loading situations.
Our Sport-trimmed review model came with large 18″ wheels and a sport suspension which gave it a tight-handling but annoyingly bumpy ride. Make sure to go over a bumpy area in your test drive before you buy. That same tight handling gave the RAV4 a surprisingly sporty ability under tight turns and windy roads. It was…dare I say…fun.
Pricing and Warranty
Pricing this year hasn’t changed for the Base model but went up slightly from 2008 for both the Sport and Limited trims. Prices start at $21,500 for the Base FWD 4-cylinder and go up to $27,800 for the Limited V6 AWD, plus options and packages. You’ll pay $1,400 more to go from FWD to AWD on any trim, and upgrading packages (Base to Sport or Sport to Ltd) will cost anywhere from $1,300 to $1,700, depending on other choices.
A few things to keep in mind when on your test drive: Options add up quickly, so make sure there’s nothing on the car that you don’t need. Make sure the high seating position is OK with you, especially if you’re tall. Check the center console – it’s kind of small, so make sure you don’t need a bigger one (but remember the extra storage area above the glovebox.) Finally, if you opted for the Sport trim, make sure the rougher ride will be OK with you every day.
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 is an excellent choice for a small SUV, gives you plenty of choices to suit your lifestyle, and gets good fuel economy. However, there are some other players in the game you’ll still want to check out:
Nissan Rogue Hyundai Santa Fe