The 2006 RAV4 is aimed at those wanting a competitively priced, economical, lite SUV. With a snappy new exterior and more cargo space than previous RAV4 iterations, the 2006 Sport model succeeds in fulfilling its brief. While the entry-level 2.4-liter Sport offers neither luxury nor any remarkable level of performance, optional upgrades (to the Limited model and the V-6 Sport, respectively) mean that there is some flexibility in the model range. Standard interior tech features are scarce, although some advanced engine and performance systems--including on-demand four-wheel drive--deserve recognition. Our tester came with an upgraded 440-watt 9-speaker JBL audio system ($590), driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, front- and second-row roll-sensing side-curtain airbags ($650), a power moonroof with a sunshade ($900), an upgraded security system ($359), and a few other minor optional interior accessories. Added to the base price of $23,275 and including the delivery fee, our Barcelona-red loaner tipped the scales at $26,753. The completely redesigned 2006 Toyota RAV4 manages to continue the Recreational All-wheel-drive Vehicle's (RAV's) mission of combining SUV-like cargo room and handling with sedanlike fuel economy. A commanding driving position and good all-round visibility make the 2006 RAV4 a user-friendly ride, with interior fixtures in the Sport in keeping with the model's baseline price range and utility-over-luxury persona.
For the 2006 model year, Toyota has increased the RAV4's interior space by more than 20 percent compared with the outgoing second-generation model's, which allows the option of a third row of (child) seating. Without the third row, there is plenty of room for five with luggage.
On the cabin-tech front, the RAV4 is equipped with good audio lineup: our car came with an optional 440-watt JBL stereo with a six-disc (MP3- and WMA-friendly) changer. The upgraded system comprises nine speakers, including a subwoofer in the rear cargo door, which together make for an immersive audio experience. ID3-tag information is displayed on the head unit, but due to limited letter fields, only the first 12 characters of a track, artist, or folder name can be displayed at any one time.
On the subject of MP3s, the RAV4 Sport also comes with an auxiliary input jack in the central storage console for hooking up iPods and other portable devices. We liked the slot directly in front of the storage area, which appeared to be tailor-made for our Creative Zen Micro Photo when we had it plugged in. On a negative note, however, we did notice considerable distortion when playing audio files via the aux-in jack, with the stereo speaker-output intermittently fading and returning.
Other than the stereo, there was little to play with in terms of onboard electronics; our Sport came with every available factory option, and there was no navigation system or hands-free calling interface in sight. Those wanting fancier in-car tech can splash out on the RAV4 Limited, which offers a rear-seat DVD entertainment system as an available add-on. Navigation is not offered on any 2006 RAV4 model. Riding a new platform for its 2006 model year, the new RAV4 looks sportier than its predecessors; its wider stance is noticeable both in the exterior styling and improved handling when thrown into corners. With the Sport package, the RAV4 comes with standard 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, tuned suspension, flared fenders, and that most indispensable of sports feature: color-keyed door handles.
Our RAV4 Sport tester came with the baseline 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with Toyota's VVT-i variable valve timing system. An upgraded 3.5-liter 269-horsepower V-6 is available for the Sport and is probably worth an additional couple of grand to those looking to match the Sport's performance to its exterior styling. The standard engine is not bad, however. Thanks to the RAV4's relatively lightweight unitized frame, the 166-horsepower plant still displays decent pickup and acceleration in the midrange, although throttle response from standing is a little sluggish. The standard automatic engine has only four gears, which further limits responsiveness around town, especially when a quick downshift is needed for passing or clearing an amber-lit intersection.