Nuts & Bolts

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Downside: Those optional third-row seats -- ditch them. If you really need seven or more seats, consider buying a bigger SUV, a minivan . . . or a bus.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Remarkably improved ride and handling, mostly thanks to the 2006 RAV4's more rigid body construction and larger dimensions (wheelbase 101 inches, three inches longer; overall body length 173 inches, 6.4 inches longer; body width 71.5 inches, 3.2 inches wider). Also, give credit to improved suspension work. Four-cylinder acceleration is highway competent. If you want more oomph, get the V-6.

Head-turning quotient: The kid next door has grown up. It's no longer cute. It now has the appeal of a young, body-conscious adult.

Body style/layout: The 2006 RAV4 is a front-engine, compact SUV with four side doors and a rear swing-gate. It's built on a car-based platform -- light, but tight unitized body construction. There are three trim levels -- Base, Sport and the tested upscale Limited. All are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

Engines/transmission : There are two engines -- the standard 2.4-liter, inline four-cylinder model that develops 166 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 165 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm, and the optional 3.5-liter V-6 that develops 269 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 246 foot-pounds of torque at 4,700 rpm. The four-cylinder engine gets a four-speed automatic. The V-6 gets an automatic five-speed gearbox.

Capacities: The RAV4 is designed to seat five people comfortably. Maximum cargo capacity in the tested four-wheel-drive, four-cylinder RAV4 Limited (with second- and third-row seats down) was 73 cubic feet. Maximum payload is 1,023 pounds. Maximum towing weight is 1,500 pounds. Fuel capacity is 15.9 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 21 miles per gallon, mostly in city driving.

Safety: Side and head air bags are optional along with hill-ascent and descent electronic controls. All of those items are recommended here.

Price: Base price of the 2006 RAV4 Limited four-cylinder four-wheel-drive is $23,955. Dealer's invoice price on base model is $21,798. Price as tested is $27,499, including $2,939 in options. Dealer's price as tested is $26,643. Prices sourced from Toyota and .

Purse-strings note: It's a buy. Carefully select options. Compare with 2006 Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sorento, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester and Suzuki XL-7.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company