2008 Toyota RAV4 Expert Review

You'll Like The 2008 Toyota RAV4 If...

If you want a small-to-midsize Japanese-built sport utility vehicle that combines car-like performance, ride, handling and fuel economy with available four-wheel drive and room for up to seven passengers, or five adults and a fair amount of cargo, the 2008 Toyota RAV4 is a good choice.

You May Not Like The 2008 Toyota RAV4 If...

If you prefer a domestic or European brand and/or your needs include heavy duty hauling or towing or serious off-road rambling, you may want to look elsewhere. There are many fine competitors in this class, including some that may offer a combination of attributes, price and value that are better suited to your tastes and needs.

What's New

The Limited trim receives a standard immobilizer feature, which is optional on the base and Sport.

Interior Features

The 2008 RAV4 offers nearly six inches more second-row legroom and an inch-and-a-half more head and shoulder room than the previous-generation models. The 60/40 reclining middle-row seats adjust fore and aft and fold flat with levers on their sides or (on two-row models) a one-touch lever in the cargo hold. The available third-row seat folds flat into the same space in the rear where standard RAV4s have hidden under-floor storage. Base RAV4s get durable fabric-covered seats, while higher-level cloth dresses Limited and Sport models, the latter in dark charcoal. The center cluster, door trim and steering wheel spokes are brushed metallic-look plastic. Lighted front cupholders, a console cell phone holder, an extra storage compartment above the glove box and a deep rear storage bin are notable features.

Exterior Features

The third-generation RAV4 is more substantial and less "cute" than the original, with contemporary but conventional good looks. Only the triangular rear C-pillar and vertically-wrapped taillamps are somewhat unusual, reminding us (in profile) of the very unconventional Nissan Murano. The trapezoidal grille opening, sitting atop an integrated body-color bumper with two large cooling slots, displays a hefty Toyota logo on twin horizontal bars. The spare tire, mounted to the right of center on the rear door -- which, unfortunately and inconveniently, swings open from the driver's side (curb side in Japan) -- has a color-keyed cover with a full hard shell on Limited models.

Driving Impressions

Toyota engineers have achieved their objective of car-like driving dynamics in a practical SUV package. High-strength steel increases the body's rigidity for improved ride, handling, steering and (if necessary) crash energy management, weighs less and reduces noise, vibration and harshness. Improved sealing and insulation keeps most engine noise out of the cabin, except for some (un-Toyota-like) engine harshness at wide-open throttle, even with the V6. Elimination of outer moldings around the windshield and door glass helps reduce aerodynamic drag and wind noise. While the 166-horsepower four-cylinder is more than adequate with light loads and at lower elevations, the 269-horsepower V6 offers acceleration, pulling and passing power at or near the top of this class and is recommended for heavier loads and higher altitudes.

Pricing Notes

The base RAV4's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts just under $22,000 for the front-drive model and right around $23,000 for the four-wheel-drive model. The four-wheel-drive version with the V6 engine lists for just over $25,000. The Sport trim starts over $23,000 and a fully loaded four-wheel-drive V6 Limited tops out around $36,000. That price range is within a few dollars of such rivals as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V and Suzuki XL7. Prices consumers are actually paying can differ substantially, so click on Fair Purchase Prices to compare. Given Toyota's strong reputation, resale value should be as good as or better than any competitor's.

Notable Equipment

All three trim levels have an automatic transmission, front side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, rear privacy glass, power mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, three 12-volt outlets, 10 cupholders, cruise control and AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio with MP3/WMA and a mini-plug jack. The Limited adds 17-inch tires on six-spoke alloy wheels (in place of the 16-inch steel wheels of the base model), fog lights, heated outside mirrors, six-disc CD changer, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel with audio controls, eight-way (plus lumbar) power driver's seat, cargo area net and tonneau cover, engine immobilizer system and a chrome grille. The Sport trim gets much of this plus 18-inch performance tires and wheels, sport suspension, blackout headlamp trim and fender flares.

Notable Options

Options for the base model include the six-disc CD changer, daytime running lights, black painted roof rails and cross bars, 17-inch wheels and tires, third-row seat, cargo area net and tonneau cover and (with the V6 only) a tow package that increases towing capacity to 3,500 pounds. Available options on the Sport include a power moonroof with sunshade and a JBL six-disc CD changer with nine speakers and steering wheel audio controls. The Limited offers optional leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with rear-seat audio.

Favorite Features

Star Safety System

This comprehensive system integrates five active electronic safety features -- enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), traction control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Brake Assist -- to help avoid accidents, and one passive safety feature (multi-stage front airbags) to cushion occupants should a crash occur. The VSC is assisted by "cooperative steering control" and, on four-wheel-drive models, "cooperative four-wheel-drive system control." Driver and front passenger side-impact airbags and front- and second-row roll-sensing side-curtain airbags are available as stand-alone options.

Hill Start and Downhill Assist Control

Toyota's second-generation Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) automatically prevents the vehicle from rolling backward for two to three seconds when starting from a stop on an uphill slope. Downhill Assist Control (DAC), when activated by the driver, keeps the vehicle's speed to a crawl on steep descents. Both are standard on all V6 models and four-cylinder RAV4s with the optional third-row seat.

Under the Hood

Toyota provides a choice of a 166-horsepower version of its 2.4-liter Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) four-cylinder engine, or a potent VVT-i V6. The former is one of the more powerful fours in this segment, while the latter, pumping out a claimed best-in-class 269 horsepower, is good for zero to 60 miles per hour bursts in slightly under seven seconds. The four-cylinder engine drives through a four-speed automatic transmission and the V6 is fitted with a five-speed automatic.

2.4-liter in-line 4

166 horsepower @ 6000 rpm

165 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/27 (2WD), 20/25 (4WD)

3.5-liter V6

269 horsepower @ 6200 rpm

246 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27 (2WD), 19/26 (4WD)

Editors' Notes

The 2008 Toyota RAV4 underwent a major evolution in 2006, growing in size and price. Toyota's smallest SUV left its long-time rival, the Honda CR-V, in the feature-content dust by offering seating for seven and an optional V6 engine. Moving upscale can have its drawbacks, however, and the current RAV4's conservative styling might be the most noticeable of those. Where the RAV4 was once aimed at young singles with active lifestyles, the new vehicle caters to young couples with active two-year olds. While there are better equipped and less expensive seven-passenger SUVs on the market (the Hyundai Santa Fe, for example), none have the RAV4's impeccable quality, reliability reputation or strong resale value.

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2008 Toyota RAV4 Owner Reviews

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Toyota Rav4 Sport unsurpassed reliability

2008 Toyota RAV4 Sport

I have owned my Toyota Rav4 sport for the past year. The only issue I have experienced thus far is a dead battery that is not attributed to the vehicle's reliability in the least bit. This model features heated seats which is a game changer during winter months, coupled with the 4WD it makes it an ideal choice for people living in areas experiencing cold and snowy conditions. My vehicle has the V6 engine which averages around 21 mpg with a combination of both city and highway driving. It is my daily driver and my workday commute is around 45 miles roundtrip making the fuel economy leaving more to be desired. This is combated by the increased power which allows for a smoother commute and ease for my weekend jaunts up to the mountains, previously owning a 4 cylinder that struggled on steep grades it is a relief to drive a car that tackles inclines with ease. There is plenty of room to haul multiple passengers comfortably or fold the seats down to transport larger cargo. The driver's seat could be more comfortable, extended periods of driving can leave you a little stiff. The headrest adjustment feature doesn't help matters, it adjusts up and down only while there is an awkward tilt that cradles your head forward. All in all, this car has some areas of opportunity in the comfort department but as far as reliability goes it is hard to beat. I bought this vehicle because I value the reliability above all, I love to explore and not being stranded with car issues is my main priority.

- Meredith H

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 will become your new best friend

2008 Toyota RAV4 Base

The 2008 Toyota RAV4 was my wisest vehicle purchase to date. With minimal care and only a few minor typical bumps along the way, my RAV4 has been my best buddy for over 10 years now. It's a smooth ride, but not too smooth as to make you car sick, it's a pretty quiet ride. I had to have the brakes done within the 1st two years of buying the RAV brand new, and this could be because of the salt air (I live by the beach), or it could be subpar craftsmanship, who knows-- this was the only thing I've had to do to keep the car running pristinely besides routine maintenance. It's spacious as heck, and the 3rd row seating is virtually non-existent so don't depend on that as a real seat (I don't know what they were thinking w this addition??). The upholstery is enduring of lots of coffee and snacks being spilled on it, wipes clean no problems. Accelerates as well as expected, gas is around 19-22 mpg depending on driving conditions. I highly recommend the 2008 Toyota RAV4.

- Sarah M

Others should know about my car’s performance and reliability.

2008 Toyota RAV4

My vehicle is very comfortable. It is spacious, lots of compartments and seats. It has one secured compartment in the front passenger seat and in between the driver’s and passenger seat. You can also put your things on the sides of each seats because it has a mini compartment. Another thing is, it can occupy seven passengers with convenience since it has a wide legroom. In addition to that, it has many drink compartments which are again convenient especially if you will eat inside the car. Furthermore, the back seat can be folded to store other stuff like groceries when needs. Lastly, the excess tire is located just a the back of the car which is very easy to get whenever it is needs.

- Maria R

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