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2011 Toyota RAV4

By Cars.com,

The 2011 Toyota RAV4 is like the old friend you haven't seen in a long time, and when you reconnect it's like you haven't missed a beat. Everything felt familiar and comfortable about the RAV4.

Driving to the airport in a blizzard, I was reminded of the RAV4's tenacity and fortitude despite its tinny-sounding doors and less-than-luxurious plastic-laden interior. Like the old friend who you can count on for anything, the RAV4 powered though the alternately slushy and snow-packed mess on the highway at a reasonable clip. The four-wheel drive and V-6 engine made that possible in this compact SUV. The RAV4 is also available with front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder engine.

With a 269-horsepower V-6, you can go almost anywhere your little heart desires. The engine did seem to buck when I put the pedal to the metal, which isn't unusual when a bigger engine is put in a smaller vehicle.

But, like the old friend who needs a little help updating her look, the 2011 RAV4 has essentially the same look as it did in 2006 when the model last saw a redesign.

It doesn't make us like our friend any less, but when we're talking about a car you might have in your driveway for a number of years, you may want something that looks a little more up-to-date. The RAV4 has a starting price of $22,025. My test car, a top-of-the-line 4x4 Limited with a V-6, cost $31,579. At that price, you want this vehicle to last a long time.

EXTERIOR

While the RAV4 does need an update, the 2011 is still rather good-looking. It only succumbs to "chick car" status because of its size, but its design seems gender-neutral. The rear spoiler adds some flair and keeps the rear end from looking too rounded.

The doors were easy for my school-age kids to use, though those with younger kids should be prepared to help them until they grow into the RAV4's door-handle and step-in heights. The doors' tininess actually serves parents well here, because the doors are lightweight and don't require a huge effort for the kids to close once they're inside the RAV4.

The RAV4's swing-gate confused me during my test drive. It swings open from the side, with the hinges on the passenger side. It's infuriating, and I'd not parallel park this puppy if I thought for a second I'd need to load anything into it. There's not a lot of wiggle room should someone to decide to park too close behind you. The RAV4 recently competed against eight other SUVs in Cars.com's $29,000 SUV Shootout, where it landed in last place in part because of its heavy swing-gate.

The RAV4 comes with a 179-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline-four-cylinder engine that's paired with a four-speed automatic transmission. There's also a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 with a five-speed automatic, which my test car had. The RAV4 is available in both front- and all-wheel drive. The four-cylinder RAV4 gets an EPA-estimated 22/28 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive and 19/27 with all-wheel drive. The V-6 engine gets 21/27 mpg with front-wheel drive and 19/26 mpg with all-wheel drive. Both engines use regular gas.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

The RAV4's interior is not unlike the rest of the vehicle: in need of an update. The two-tiered layout is still present in the dash, where the stereo controls are stacked above the climate controls, and there's a secondary storage unit stacked above the lower glove box. This system works and makes for lots of storage.

The climate and stereo controls are nicely labeled and easy to read. It's refreshing not to have too many buttons that make no sense. There are two cupholders in the front row and two more housed in the backseat's center armrest.

My test car had seating for five passengers, and legroom for my family of four was a non-issue. I was really impressed by how roomy the RAV4 felt, and what made it feel even roomier were the rear seats. They slide forward and back, depending on how much legroom or cargo room you need. The RAV4 has an available 50/50-split third row ($750), which increases the seating to seven.

With the two-row RAV4, the cargo area was roomy. As I mentioned I used the RAV4 for a trip to the airport. On the return trip, I had two carry-on-sized bags and a large suitcase in the cargo area; we could have put more luggage in there without a doubt.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair-Ample

SAFETY

While the RAV4's swing-gate bothered me, its second-row seat belts drove me crazy. They're a mess, especially if you want to carry three people in the backseat. Here's the deal: There are three sets of seat belts; the two outboard seat belts are fine if your child isn't in any child-safety seat, but if they're in a booster seat, beware.

The seat belt buckles are in recessed divots in the seat bench and then strapped down by leather straps. The passenger-side buckle came free from its housing as the strap stretched for me to release it. The other one would not budge, and I assume this is to keep it from getting in the way when the backseat is folded. It was impossible to move the booster to a position where my kids could use the buckle. I used three different booster seats in the RAV4 and none of them worked.

If you want to fit three people in the backseat minus the booster, you can just kiss comfort goodbye. The center seat's belt comes down from the ceiling and attaches to an anchor point right in the center of the outboard passenger's seat. Then it attaches to the buckle in the center of the center seat. So, the people in the driver-side outboard seat and center seat are always going to be sitting on a seat belt, an anchor or a buckle. Toyota needs to address this in its next redesign.

Infant-safety and convertible seats fit fine in the RAV4. The two sets of lower Latch anchors are easy to get to, as are the three tether anchors.

The 2011 RAV4 has undergone crash-testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests. It received the second-best score of Acceptable in the roof-strength crash test.

The RAV4 comes with the following standard safety features: four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system, traction control, active front head restraints, front-wheel drive and six airbags, including side curtains for the first and second rows.

Optional safety features include all-wheel drive and a backup camera ($475).

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