Review 2009 Toyota RAV4 4X4 Sport: This one is just right!

Do you recall the classic kids tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

You know when Goldilocks is in the bear chairs and proclaims, "This one is too big, and this one is too small, and of course, this one is just right!"

The current generation of Toyota's RAV4 is like that: just right.

The last generation of the car was just too small, and I'm betting my hot porridge that the next generation RAV4 will be just too big, but the current model—ah yes—that's a car that perfectly fits Goldi, Mama Bear, Papa, bear and even Baby bear should he have a bear driver's permit.

The RAV4 has managed to define "that perfect small SUV size" because it:

– Seats 4 comfortably and even 5 in a pinch (If not equipped with the third row seating).

– Has plenty of room behind the second row for all the stuff that you'd ever want to carry/haul/move without the help of professional moving company.

– It has that perfect crowded mall parking space size dimensions that makes getting in and out of tight and busy parking spaces as pleasant as a warm summer breeze.

– It also has that "just sit and drive" seating height which allows you to effortlessly slide your butt behind the wheel without ever thinking "exactly why did I purchased a car designed for Chinese contortionist?"

– A "perky" or perhaps "feisty" driving position makes all of those sedan types seem height challenged, but not so much so that you tower over them and breed contempt like you will in a Hummer or many other hairy chested SUVs.

Here's a interesting fact that might surprise you: My tester came with Toyota's 3.5L 269-horsepower V-6 engine mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission that makes it the most powerful small SUV on the market.

I got a real world (and at altitude) 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds.

That will not only easily shame the Japaneses competition such as the CR-V by leaving it firmly in the dust, but it will also have the new Volkswagen Tiguan bringing up rear on your next ski weekend. 

Let me put the RAV4's 269 HP into perhaps more stark contract. This week I'm currently testing the 2010 Mercedes Benz E350 Coupe which stickers for just a tad over 30K more than the Toyota.

My Merc tester has a 268-horsepower V-6 engine and a very German and very complicated seven gear transmission, yet I would seriously advice any new and/or potential 2010 E-class owner to never-ever-ever even consider a straight line drag race against that cute girl in the V-6 RAV4 Sport next to you.

She'll easily clean your clock and do so while texting her friends about some strange and now distant guy in a Mercedes who maybe "wanted to race me but I'm not sure cause he's way back there now."

By now you probably know that the current RAV4 comes in many different configurations. You know, 5 or 7 seats, V-4 or V-6, Base, Sport, or Limited model.  However my tester (being in the local press fleet) came loaded with all of the newest goodies including navigation, power drivers seat with power lumber adjust, XM radio, towing pkg, leather, heated seats, blah blah blah.

The grand total came to a not unsubstantial $31,738.00 USD which is bumping up against some pretty premium European competition like the previously mentioned Volkswagen Tiguan.

The problem with the RAV4 is that it was really designed to be more entry level than premium pimped out ride.

In other words, all that "premium" stuff that you get for your 31K large all sort of feels just stuck on after the fact. You know like they didn't really expect to sell a lot of RAV4s with leather and navigation so they added it, but at the after market level instead of being baked into the DNA of the vehicle.

But that's really my only complaint.

The handling of the current model is competent and best described as car-like. This is possible due to the scant 7.5  inches of ground clearance. But the RAV4 has never been about boulder bashing up the double track in the Colorado mountains.

This is one SUV much more at home of the highway or perhaps the dirt or grass parking lot of the nearby ski area, local farmers market, or state camping ground.

But perhaps just like Goldi the RAV4 is never pretentious. It seems to fit your lifestyle "just right." There is an honesty about that car that does not like decoration or complexity.

If you are in the market for a small SUV, you'd be hard pressed to find a better "just right" 4X4 to carry you, your friends and family, your stuff and perhaps even a few chairs, beds and bowel of porridge.

2009 Toyota RAV4 4X4 Sport

Price as Tested: $31,738.00

Engine, Transmission: 3.5L 6cyl DOHC with 5 Speed ECT Auto Transmission

Horsepower: 236

G-Tac Test as tested Data at 5420 feet above sea level

1/4 Mile: 14.92 second at 100 mph

0-60 mph: 6.6 sec

60-0 stopping: 140 feet

Max Acceleration: 0.64 g's

EPA Fuel Economy Estimates

City: 19 mpg

Highway: 26 mpg

Combined: 21 mpg

As tested: 21.1 mpg

CO2 per year: 11,179 lbs

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Roman Roman Mica is a columnist, journalist, and author, who spent his early
years driving fast on the German autobahn. When he's not reviewing cars
for the active set, you can find him training for triathlons and
writing about endurance sports for,