2009 Toyota Rav4 Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2011

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2009 Toyota Rav4 Buying Advice

Good news for the seven out of 10 Toyota RAV4 buyers who choose the four-cylinder engine rather than spend some $2,000 more for a V-6. The 2009 Toyota RAV4 gets a new four that’s more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the version in the 2008 RAV4. Even better news: Toyota has raised prices only fractionally – or not at all -- on the most-popular four-cylinder RAV4 models.

Toyota’s timing couldn’t be sweeter, though in the long run, the difference in fuel consumption between a four-cylinder RAV4 and a V-6 RAV4 isn’t likely to be dramatic. EPA mileage estimates aren’t significantly different, and the powerful V-6 won’t have to work as hard to move this compact SUV onto fast freeways or up long grades.

Still, at $22,245 to start, a four-cylinder 2009 Toyota RAV4 is a better value than ever. (Prices quoted here are manufacturer’s suggested retail and include Toyota’s mandatory $745 destination fee for light trucks.) And saving $1,300 or so by staying with a front-wheel-drive model instead of opting for an all-wheel-drive version makes some sense, too. Only three of 10 of RAV4 buyers feel they need an AWD model. They know this isn’t really an off-road sport-utility vehicle, and rare is the on-road situation that’ll tax the traction of its standard front-wheel drive.

Bottom line: don’t dismiss a V-6 2009 RAV4 out of hand, but take the four-cylinder for a serious test drive – and bring along two or three heavy friends to weigh it down – before deciding. As for base, Sport, or Limited trim levels: base is the most popular; Sport might ride too harshly for your sensitive bum; and the baby-Lexus Limited is nice, but at prices approaching $30,000, you might be better off with a midsize SUV, such as the redesigned 2009 Honda Pilot or a 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe.

So should you buy a 2009 RAV4 or wait for the 2010 RAV4? Go for the 2009. The styling and equipment tweaks given the 2009 RAV4 will sustain it to model-year 2012, when the RAV4 is slated to be fully redesigned and will add a gas-electric hybrid model. The 2010 and even 2011 RAV4s won’t look or behave much different than a 2009, but could cost more.

Stuffy old Toyota has created a hot-rod wagon disguised as a compact sport-utility vehicle. Choose a version with the 269-horsepower V-6 over one with the 179-horsepower four-cylinder, and a RAV4 will sprint form 0-60 mph in around 6.3 seconds. Some sports sedans are slower.

Better yet, the RAV4 sacrifices not an iota of functionality to the spirits of speed. Any version is roomy and solid, comfortable on road, and capable enough over backwoods trails. Prices are reasonable, and so is fuel economy.

For 2009, the Toyota RAV4 continues as a four-door wagon with a one-piece tailgate hinged to open from the right rather than swing up. RAV4 comes with seating for five and is among the few compact SUVs to offer an optional third-row seat, increasing capacity to seven.

Base, Sport, and top-line Limited models are available. Each offers a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD) and each is available with the four- or six-cylinder engine. The AWD system programmed to transfer power to the rear wheels if the front tires lose traction. The RAV4 isn’t intended for serious off-roading, so AWD models don’t have low-range gearing, but a dashboard button triggers a traction-enhancing 50-50 front-rear power split that stays engaged to 25 mph.

This RAV4 design generation was introduced for model-year 2006 to replace the 2001-2005 version, which was smaller and came only with a four-cylinder engine.

Incidentally, "RAV4" was coined by Toyota to stand for “Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-wheel drive.”

2009 Toyota Rav4 Changes back to top

A larger grille and bigger front bumper give the 2009 Toyota RAV4 a more-substantial-looking new nose. The tail lamps are also slightly more prominent. Base and Limited grades get new 17-inch alloy wheel designs, and the Limited adds color-keyed power heated turn signal side mirrors and a unique grille design with chrome accents. The Sport grade adds a unique redesigned rear spoiler.

Newly available on AWD V-6 Sport models is a Sport Appearance Package that eliminates RAV4’s external rear spare tire carrier. To accomplish the cleaner tail look, the package substitutes run-flat tires for the spare. Other external cues include color-keyed power heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, a stainless steel exhaust tip, unique badging, and the choice of an exclusive exterior color, “Elusive Blue Metallic”. Inside, the Sport Appearance Package adds a chrome accented shift knob with leather insert, chrome interior door handles, parking brake and vent trim, unique sport grade doorsills and available sport floor mats.

All 2009 RAV4 models add standard front seat active headrests and an engine immobilizer. The Limited grade adds a new standard smart entry system that allows the driver to open the vehicle by simply carrying the key fob and grasping the door handle. The Sport and Limited grades now offer an available integrated backup camera linked to an electrochromic mirror.

Integrated XM satellite radio is a new feature for 2009, and the Sport and Limited grades are available with the RAV4’s first navigation system. All RAV4 models have new standard seat fabric, and the Sport grade exclusively offers a new, unique Charcoal leather option.

Four-cylinder RAV4 trade a 166-horsepower 2.4-liter engine for a new 179-horsepower 2.5-liter. Four-cylinder RAV4s continue with a four-speed automatic transmission, but Toyota says it’s more compact, lightweight and efficient than the previous four-speed transmission. V-6 RAV4s continue with a five-speed automatic transmission.

2009 Toyota Rav4 Test Drive back to top

Driving the 2009 Toyota RAV4
Nothing influences the RAV4 driving experience more than the choice of engine. Go with the four-cylinder and you get perfectly acceptable power around town and learn to plan ahead when you want to pass or merge on the highway, especially with a few passengers and their belongings aboard.

With the V-6, that hole in traffic is yours, that on-ramp a launching pad to the fast lane. V-6 RAV4s can feel too eager off the line, sometimes responding out of proportion to initial throttle application. In front-wheel-drive models, this can mean torque steer, an unpleasant effect in which the vehicle pulls to the side. A V-6 RAV4 is better-mannered if it has AWD, which apportions engine power to the rear wheels.

Unexpected quickness is also a condition of the RAV4’s steering, so initial turns of the wheel can result in slightly exaggerated changes of direction. Otherwise, this compact SUV is a solid citizen, tracking true and showing little undue body lean in fast cornering. Sport models have noticeably sharper moves than other RAV4s thanks to stiffer suspension tuning and wider tires.

Riding in the 2009 Toyota RAV4
No RAV4 will jar you over bumps, but base and Limited models share the softest suspension settings and are more comfortable for it. The Sport model can feel spiky on ruts and tar strips.

RAV4’s seats have notably dense padding, so they won’t sag as the years pass but won’t necessarily fit everyone’s definition of comfort, either. Dialing in the ideal driving position takes some trial and error, and tall people might want more front-seat travel.

Head room is generous for everyone, and the second-row seat slides fore and aft to provide lots of foot space. It also reclines, but neither its seatback nor its cushion is contoured to provide the best support on long trips. Leave the tiny third row to the youngsters you’ll occasionally haul from school or practice or lessons.

Sport models generate some tire roar, and the four-cylinder engine raises its voice during rapid acceleration, but RAV4 is otherwise nicely isolated from unpleasant sounds. The convenience advantage of a side-hinged load door is open to debate, but there’s no shortage of big-item carrying space. RAV4’s cargo area is tall and wide, its floor nice and flat. Don’t order third-row seats and use the under-floor well into which they fold for more storage room. The glovebox and center console are twin-compartment affairs, and front and rear door pockets hold drink bottles.

Dashboard and controls

RAV4’s dashboard places clear gauges and big, obvious controls in a wonderfully pleasing double-tiered setting that’s nothing short of modern industrial sculpture – the kind people like. Equal style is evident in the door panels.

Of note is the newly available navigation system. It’s available on Sport and Limited and its simplified list of features – no voice recognition, for example – is designed to keep the price at a reasonable $1,000 or so.

2009 Toyota Rav4 Prices back to top

Starting at $22,245 with the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, even the base RAV4 is comprehensively equipped with essential power, safety, and convenience features, plus details like automatic-off headlights, a digital-media jack, and an outside temperature gauge.

Sport models start at $23,945 and include heated mirrors, but most of their extra cost goes for their sport suspension and 18-inch tires on alloy wheels. Limited models are dressed out with a power driver’s seat, leather steering wheel with audio controls, and dual-zone automatic climate controls. They start at $25,235.

Add $1,400 to these base prices for all-wheel drive, and add $2,035 for the V-6 engine. The third-row seat costs $800-$950, depending on model. Leather upholstery is an exclusive option for Limited versions, at around $1,100, and a rear-seat DVD system is exclusive to Limited V-6 versions, at around $1,700.

2009 Toyota Rav4 Fuel Economy back to top

Though it’s among the largest compact SUVs, the RAV4 is also among the lightest.That translates to relatively good fuel economy and reveals a case in which the understressed V-6 versions and their efficient five-speed automatic transmission won’t be much thirstier than the harder-working four-cylinder models and their four-speed automatic.

The four-cylinder 2009 RAV4 is rated at 22 mpg city/28 highway for front-wheel-drive models and 21 city/27 highway for AWD models (The previous four-cylinder was rated 21/27 with front-wheel drive and 20/25 with AWD.)

V-6 2009 RAV4 models are rated at 19/27 with front-wheel drive, 19/26 with AWD. Both engines use regular-grade fuel.

2009 Toyota Rav4 Safety and Reliability back to top

Front side airbags are standard, as are head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover the first two seating rows and deploy in a side impact or if sensors detect a rollover is imminent.

Applause to Toyota for including in the base price of every RAV4 an arsenal of active safety features: traction control to combat tire slip in takeoffs, sensors that apply maximum braking power in emergency stops, and antiskid control that automatically works individual brakes to keep the vehicle on course in fast turns. V-6 versions also have a system designed to improve control in very steep ascents and descents.

In government testing that calculates possible injuries in a frontal collision, RAV4 earns the highest ratings -- five stars on a five-star scale -- for driver protection and four stars for passenger protection. RAV4 rates the maximum five stars for protection of front and rear occupants in a side collision. A leading cause of fatalities in SUV crashes is a vehicle rollover, and RAV4 earns four start out of five in the government’s measurement of rollover resistance.

Toyota as a brand rates above average to excellent in most measurements of quality and dependability tracked by J.D. Power and Associates, the leader in consumer-satisfaction surveys.

RAV4 owners surveyed gave this SUV highest marks for the quality of its mechanical features and accessories, and for the design of the interior. They were less pleased with its overall comfort, styling, and the design of the controls.

RAV4 could use a more-upscale headliner material, but in general the grade of the cabin materials is entirely appropriate to this SUV’s price range, and the solidity of its body would suit a more expensive vehicle.

2009 Toyota Rav4 Release Date back to top

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 release date is September 2008.

2009 Toyota Rav4 Competition back to top

The Toyota RAV4 is among America’s best-selling compact SUVs, and for its competitive set we’ll choose two other top-sellers – the 2009 Honda CR-V and 2009 Ford Escape – and suggest a wild card that’s a class up in size, but not in price: the Hyunda Santa Fe.

All three of these SUVs use car-like construction in which body and frame are integrated as a unit. This is opposed to a truck-style build in which the body is bolted to a separate frame. Car-like “unibody” construction isn’t best for heavy-duty towing, but it does save weight, which benefits fuel economy, acceleration, and handling. SUVs that blend these elements of car and truck design are called “crossovers” and they are the fastest-growing SUV segment.

The Honda CR-V is America’s most-popular compact SUV and RAV4’s closest match for all-around appeal. Limited to a four-cylinder engine, it can feel underpowered when fully laden, and it seats five not seven. But it’s arguably slightly more refined and marginally better-handling than the RAV4. Base price range is about $21,000-$28,800. The CR-V was last redesigned for model-year 2007. It’s slated to gain a diesel-engine option for 2010, but won’t change significantly until model-year 2012 or so.

The Ford Escape got updated styling for 2008, but is essentially the same vehicle introduced for 2001. Cramped and crude compared to the RAV4 and CR-V, Escape shows its age but is the only member of this gang to offer a hybrid model in addition to conventional four- and six-cylinder versions. Base prices start around $18,700, top out around $27,000. Don’t expect big changes until model-year 2012 or so.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is larger and heavier than the RAV4, CR-V, and Escape, and that pays off in a more-substantial feel on the road, a quieter cabin, and more stretch-out room in the first- and second-row seats. (An available kid-sized third-row seat increases capacity to seven.) The downside of the larger size is higher fuel consumption, with most Santa Fe versions rated around 17/23 mpg. Prices start around $22,000 and climb to over $30,000, but most Santa Fe buyers choose the midline SE version, which starts around $25,000. Santa Fe will be redesigned for the 2011 model year, when it will add a four-cylinder engine; all current versions use a V-6.

2009 Toyota Rav4 Next Steps