2012 Toyota RAV4 nails family convenience

2012 Toyota RAV4 2012 Toyota RAV4 Photo Credit: Handout

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It's not often that convenience and practicality can evoke tremendous emotion, but by the end of my weeklong test drive, I fell hard for the 2012 Toyota RAV4.

Sure, the RAV4 is nothing new; this current generation has been out since 2006. A redesigned RAV4 will debut later this summer for the 2013 model year, but this current compact crossover worked so well for my family that I can't help gushing about it.

More convenient than I'd ever imagined, the 2012 Toyota RAV4's spacious cabin, open visibility and easy maneuverability made it an absolute pleasure to drive.

I certainly wasn't turning heads in the RAV4 and I wasn't expecting to become so fond of it, but the more time I spent in the car, the more I began to find how easy everything became when driving it. While it may not be a thriller on the street, it's a manageable size, it's quiet and it's got enough gusto with its four-cylinder engine to get you from Point A to Point B. The overall driving experience isn't exactly noteworthy, but the RAV4 has the potential to be a trusty, reliable companion for a busy family.

The RAV4 seats five, but an optional third row increases seating capacity to seven. It's also available with a V-6 engine.

The 2012 RAV4 has a starting price of $23,460 (including an $810 destination charge). My test car, a top-of-the-line Limited trim, had front-wheel drive, a four-cylinder engine, five seats and options like leather seats, moonroof, navigation and Toyota's Entune multimedia system. It cost $29,090.

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Exterior

The RAV4 may not be the most exciting to look at when compared to the chic, modern compact crossovers in the market today, but its exterior has some redeeming qualities. Because it has a boxier shape than most of its competitors, there is more room inside it and better visibility all around. I didn't notice a single blind spot in the RAV4; that's a real advantage over other crossovers with sleeker profiles. I was also quick to judge the ugly spare tire mounted on the RAV's swing gate, but that was before I realized that storing the tire on the outside makes for a much larger cargo area.

The RAV4's size really hits that sweet spot for entries and exits, as well. Whereas some SUVs and crossovers can be cumbersome for younger and older passengers to pile in to, the compact RAV4's height is convenient enough to eliminate bending and crouching but not so tall that getting in and out is strained.

As a mom on the shorter side, I have a new appreciation for the way the cargo door swings open, rather than lifting upward. It was nice to just open the door instead of lifting it, especially with a baby on my hip. My only small gripe is Toyota didn't switch the swing gate's orientation to better suit its American market; when parked on the street, the door opens toward the curb. I wished it was the other way around so that I'd have the swing gate as a barrier to the cars driving alongside me as I load and unload the cargo area.

The cargo area is huge. The cargo floor sits low since it's not concealing a spare tire below it, so there's additional vertical space. The RAV4 can really pack it in, and what busy family wouldn't appreciate that?

The Toyota RAV4 has two engine choices: a 179-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that's paired to a four-speed automatic transmission or a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 with a five-speed automatic. Both engines use regular unleaded gas. The four-cylinder RAV4 with front-wheel drive gets an EPA-estimated 22/28 mpg city/highway and 21/27 mpg with all-wheel drive. With the V-6, a front-wheel-drive RAV4 gets 19/27 mpg and 19/26 mpg for all-wheel drive.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

Interior

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The RAV4's interior couldn't be more perfect for families. It's spacious, open and -- uh, utilitarian. This has its pros and cons; the finishes aren't so nice that you have to worry about the wear and tear the kiddos cause, but it may come off as a little stripped down to some.

Toyota's optional Entune multimedia system helped add a little excitement to the interior, as did the moonroof, but the real show stoppers were the RAV4's legroom and massive backseat.

My husband and I marveled at the front passenger's legroom, even with a rear-facing child-safety seat behind it. The RAV4 may be a compact crossover, but there's nothing compact about all the space. There's also added roominess due to its high ceiling.

My five-seat RAV4 could fit three passengers comfortably in the backseat, but it could only hold two child-safety seats, which isn't unusual.

As if there isn't enough space to keep things in the cargo area, there's ample room for overflow items with lots of storage space in the cabin, too. There's even space beneath the cargo area floor to store the tonneau cover if it's not in use! That's what I call organization. There's a dual glove box in front, a bin under the front seat armrest, cutouts in the doors, netted pockets on the driver and front passenger's seatbacks and the swing gate, and six cupholders (the two extra cupholders in the cargo area would come in handy if the car is equipped with the optional third row).

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IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

Safety

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 received an overall rating of four stars of five from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It earned four stars of five in frontal and rollover crash tests and five stars in side-impact crash tests. In crash-testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2012 RAV4 received the top score of Good in front and side crash tests and the second-highest score of Acceptable in roof-strength crash tests.

The RAV4 has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats. They're somewhat buried between the seat cushions, but it wasn't too difficult to install my daughter's rear-facing convertible seat.

The 2012 RAV4 has standard front-wheel drive, antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for the first and second row. The optional third row doesn't have side curtains. All-wheel drive, a backup camera and daytime running lamps are optional.
 

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