Weekend Athlete Takes Toyota RAV4 to Grand Haven Triathlon


This summer, I’ve mostly done new races I’ve never done before. It’s fitting, then, that I’d get a new car to drive to one, too. The race was a blast, but what about the RAV4?

Car: 2009 Toyota RAV4 base with all-wheel drive

Destination: Grand Haven (Mich.) Triathlon Distance: About 355 miles Fuel cost/average mpg: $33.95/24.4 mpg

The trip: I drove to Michigan on Saturday morning, taking a mix of toll roads and normal highways. My rented four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 kept up with traffic well and delivered good mileage. Once I got into town, I found the little SUV easy to see out of, easy to park and peppy enough for quick maneuvers.

One feature I really wish the RAV4 had: A swing-up hatch instead of a barn door in the rear. It’s always just a bit more difficult to load and unload with one of those things. If the person who parked behind me at the race had not been so considerate, it would have been a royal pain to load my stuff and go after the race.

Feature I found I didn’t need: The big, honking “Change Display” button on the steering wheel, which changes the readout of the trip computer. How often did I need that button? Once. How often did I see it? Every time I drove the car. It’s just such a prominent place to put a button that doesn’t do much.

A feature I found surprisingly useful: The seat folding was really quite good. There were handles on the seats, plus two more built into the cargo-area walls. Having the ability to flip and fold from two locations was great.

Drive report: I expected it to be good around town, but I was surprised by the RAV4’s strong highway performance. It was especially welcome coming home from the race, when I just wanted to be home as quickly and safely as possible. The ride was also smooth enough that even on the few roads that weren’t super-smooth, I was comfortable…

… well, except for the fact that I could get either my legs or my arms in the right position, but not both at the same time. At 6-foot-1, a telescoping steering wheel (one’s available on higher trim levels) would have been great.

And, finally, I’d like to take this time to thank the state of Michigan for its 70 mph speed limit on some highways. That really made the drive pleasant.

Athlete notes: One major flaw here: If you can’t keep your bike inside, you’ll probably find the roof rack to be the easiest way to carry a bike, because the RAV4’s spare tire sits on the outside of the car. If you’re short and the roof isn’t an option, I’m sure they make some kind of rack to work around that, but I don’t see it being the most elegant-looking setup.

For civilized people who keep their bike inside the car, there was a lot of room for my bike and bags. I traveled pretty light for this race, but I think it would have done OK even if I’d planned a camping trip as part of the adventure.

Comfort vs. convenience: Because I packed light, this was a wash. I had enough room for my stuff and I was comfortable. Maybe the next car I test should be something like a Subaru WRX hatchback?

Final thoughts: This was a good car for what I was doing. I’d tested the 2007 model and generally felt that it was good, not great. I still think that’s about where I’d rank the RAV4: very capable, but not the best. And I don’t think I could own one unless I got a telescoping steering wheel.

Still, if one were to show up in my driveway to take me to a race, at least I’d know I wouldn’t have to leave any stuff behind.



Fast Johnny

Nice review. I've been looking at the RAV4 for a while now deciding between it and the CR-V and this was helpful. Mainly interested in the drive as I have a Montague folding bike that will fit neatly in the trunk without the seats down (www.montagueco.com). Though I do find it awkward about the rack situation...I'm also 6'1" and now it looks like I have to get behind the wheel and see what fits...


Can't wait until you test the new equinox. I test drove one and loved it. Too bad the local dealerships can't keep the one or two they get it every week or so.


i thought the CR-V was more refined in the ride and quietness departments... and that the cargo area in the CR-V, being surprisingly tall/upright, allowed more flexibility. the 4-cyl RAV4 was too much like a Corolla, with slightly buzzy engine note and a transmission a little too committed to saving gas. btw i actually don't generally like Hondas.


24mpg from a small 4cylinder CUV? A minivan with a 180-220 hp V6 and a much larger interior could match that figure.Lets see 7 people fit nicely with room to spare in a RAV4.


We had a Rav4 (2006, 4-cylinder) until about 2 weeks ago. It was a great vehicle overall and I echo the surprisingly good highway manners. We drove it through rain, snow, backroads, gravel and perfect conditions and it was rock solid through everything. Our biggest complaint was with regard to interior noise. It looks fairly aerodynamic relative to a lot of vehicles, but the wind noise was significant at freeway and highway speeds. Road noise was also pretty intrusive.



1. Not everyone need room for 7. This is why I sold my Minivan

2. This RAV-4 is AWD. Is minivan you talking about also AWD?

3. 24mpg here is average mpg and NO minivan today can do such average. My minivan could do 24 mpg highway but as soon as you drive a little into town it would drop under 20mpg average. And if you drive around town, it is never more then 17mpg.

I think you wrong on this one.


Tony -
just because its AWD doesnt mean the RAV4 uses AWD all the time, most if not all small 4 cylinder SUVs use FWD then when sleppage is detected they AWD adds a helping hand but it never stays on for a good amount of time to effect MPG so this is basically a FWD model unless he did offroading

I own an 09 Forester and i know it has AWD but i think its FWD untill i hit some ice and im averaging 27 combined 32 highway and 22.8 city i think that could be better personally but it also matters on how he was driving.


slippage* the AWD*



you are right about the RAV-4 -- it is a 4-wheel drive (4WD), which traditionally is used to distinguish its part-time characteristic (this one disengages above 25 mph) from other, full-time AWD setups.

However, all Subaru's have been full-time AWD for some years now; your '09 Forester is no exception. I am surprised at your great mileage; our '04 Forester XS gets only 27 mpg cruising between 65 and 70 mph.


in addition to what Tony said about your comment, something else about it does not make sense. The RAV4's 179 horsepower is only 1 hp less powerful than a 180-hp 6-cylinder engine, so a vehicle fitting the lower end of your example would not necessarily be expected to use up more fuel. the number of cylinders is only one of many factors that determine power output and fuel consumption.

don't get me wrong, i am a big fan of minivans and i don't care for SUVs/crossovers or whatever people want to call those things these days. our 4-cylinder minivan from '96 that seats 7 got similar mileage as my '04 Mazda6; it was great.


A few months ago I bought a used 07 RAV4 6-cyl and totally love it. Had looked at the CR-V but the front headrests leaned way too far forward, making feel like I was kissing the steering wheel. The noise level inside the RAV-4 is super quiet, and road noise is almost non-existent. As for the incredible fast 6-cylinder.....well it makes me smile everytime I give it some gas.


thank you for the info on the RAV4 4WD system, also thanks for the full time AWD on my subaru, i know im suprised aswell i dont always trust the avg. meter so i calculate it myself and if it says 33.3 (goes by threes) i could be 33.1 or .2 but overall i really dont get below 20 unless i drive around in DC



No matter what system (AWD, FWD/part time) - you have extra parts. Extra weight, and extra friction make it less efficient and when it is engaged, it is even less efficient.
So what counts is the mpg in the end of the day.


I see but the RAV4 has that system where its part time so im just saying that seems low because my forester has full time AWD and im getting much much better MPG i understand what your saying im just say i think that seems pretty low considering both my forester and the RAV4 are similar in size have the same HP ratings and that uses FWD before 4WD i think it should just be more efficient, at the same time however i do 5 over the speedlimit and tend to accelerate with traffic but im not going to jolt out ahead of everybody, probably why i get better figures


the gas mileage is f**ing ridiculous. a 4 cykinder, small SUV, with mostly highway mileage, and you get 24? Forget it. Equinox is rated at 29 or so, which is what I would want for a 4 cylinder in this class. We'll see if it delivers. Do you drive funny or something, becuase that 24 sounds really low....


Once upon a time, a small Toyota used to be a benchmark for gas mileage... not any more.

Toyota is the new GM...

Dave Wuss

Last year I had a V6 RAV4 for a week long rental. I can see why Ward's has the engine on their 10 best list. It had great pulling power, was super smooth, and delivered very good gas mileage. It turned the RAV4 I drove into a little rocket.



I don't know, which Forester you drive. I looked at base Forester vs base RAV4 4WD.
RAV4 is bigger, heavier, 21/27mpg vs Forester's 20/26.
There are the factors of what gas you use, and how you drive, as you said.
But really, the RAV4 4WD had the best mpg in the small SUV test about a year ago.


The Equinox is rated at 21/30. Don't expect 29 average. It will be more like 24 even if rated 25. You can have 17 gears moving you on highway but when you off of it, you only use 1,2 and 3. This is why many new cars have great HWY mpg but suck in the city and have low average.


The new equinox 4cyl is rated at 22/32 so it should easily average more than 24...I know some like to bash gm and say they do not reach the EPA estimates, but my 07 Aura (20/30) and it averages 24.5 with almost 50/50 driving. The equinox is at the top of our small suv list.

Alan Weyant

I recently purchased a 2009 RAV-4 V-6 sport model. It only has about 3500 miles on it, and with a lot of slow, steep gravel road driving mixed with high speed (70+) driving, it's showing about 22 combined MPG. I suspect that the mileage will improve as the vehicle is broken in a bit more. The V-6 engine really turns the RAV into a real stealth missile on the highway. According to my dealer, the V-6 RAV is currently the fastest vehicle from 0-60 that Toyota makes! Not bad for a little crossover sport ute!
Of course there will always be Toyota fans, and there will be GM fans, and Ford fans. Buy what makes you happy.

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