2012 Toyota RAV4 Driving Impressions

The Toyota RAV4 delivers a smooth, stable ride. In the Sport variant, the suspension is tuned for firmness over cushiness. Steering response is confident, although we noticed moderate body lean in corners. RAV4's available four-wheel-drive system works very well in wintry conditions as well as on rain-soaked roads. The four-cylinder version is of course more efficient than the V6, but we found it wimpy.

Depending on the engine, response to the gas pedal is either prompt or underwhelming. We prefer the optional V6, with its 269 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque, along with its 5-speed automatic transmission. With its more powerful acceleration comes torque steer, though, particularly on front-wheel drive models. This means that when you floor the gas pedal hard, you can feel the steering pulling one way or the other.

The standard four-cylinder engine produces 179 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 172 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. While it's fine for putting around town, it feels underpowered for hauling cargo or handling hilly terrain. It's paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission, which is obsolete. The EPA estimates for the four-cylinder RAV4 are a mediocre 22/28 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, 21/27 mpg with 4WD.

RAV4's on-demand four-wheel-drive system uses an electronically controlled center coupling to distribute torque between the front and rear wheels, depending on road conditions and driver input. The system can continuously and seamlessly switch from front-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive mode, maximizing fuel efficiency. In Auto mode, torque distribution to the rear wheels is decreased during low-speed cornering for better maneuverability.

A 4WD manual locking switch will disengage the Auto mode, maximizing torque to the rear wheels. When vehicle speed reaches 25 mph, Lock mode will disengage, reverting back to Auto mode. Lock mode also disengages when the brakes are applied, optimizing operation of the ABS and electronic stability control (VSC) system. FWD models come equipped with an automatic limited slip differential.

Hill-start Assist Control provides additional control for on-road and off-road driving by helping to keep the vehicle stationary while starting on a steep incline or slippery surface. Downhill Assist Control is designed to enhance low-speed descending ability by helping to hold the vehicle to a target speed with minimal intervention from the driver.

The RAV4 EV, like any electric vehicle, is exceptionally quiet and smooth. We found the brakes to be grabby, especially at lower speeds, typical in vehicles with regenerative braking. The adjustable climate control system with its three modes is helpful in staying comfortable while still preserving range. On a warm day in Southern California, we were perfectly fine using the most efficient Eco Hi mode. With the exception of the quietness and the high-tech instrument cluster and touchscreen interface, we didn't feel that driving the electric RAV4 was drastically different from driving any gas-powered vehicle, which is a good thing.

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