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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.
The 2006 RAV4 Sport's optional JBL six-disc CD changer supports MP3 and WMA audio files.
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.
With an auxiliary input jack in the center console and a portable MP3 player-size slot in front, the RAV4's cabin is iPod-friendly.
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.
With the same 2.4-liter engine as that found in the Toyota Camry, the RAV4 is sluggish off the line but posts the best fuel economy figures in its class.
For a 4x4, the 2006 RAV4 Sport is admirably efficient--the EPA rates its miles per gallon at 23 city/ 28 highway, which is a lot better than that of many cars, let alone SUVs. Some of the credit for this impressive gas mileage must go to Toyota's VVT-i, which adapts valve timing to minimize emissions.
The 2006 RAV4 Sport deserves further engine-tech kudos for its on-demand four-wheel-drive system, featuring an electronically controlled coupling that distributes torque between the front and rear wheels. This enables the car to switch between two- and four-wheel drive according to road conditions, thereby increasing fuel efficiency. For those times when you take the RAV4 off-road, a dash-mounted Lock button will ensure that you stay in four-wheel-drive mode permanently.
Adding to the RAV4's fuel economy is its on-demand four-wheel-drive system that allows the car to shift between two- and four-wheel drive.
While we didn't get to test the RAV4 Sport on a dirt trail, we did put it through its paces on a series of challenging mountain roads. We found that its relatively low center of gravity helped to give the handling a solid feel, although some under-steering dampened our enthusiasm for pushing it too hard into the bends on the way back down the cliff-top roads. Most of the standard safety features on the 2006 RAV4 Sport come as part of Toyota's Star safety system. They include traction control, variable stability control (VSC), ABS with brake-assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, and a direct tire-pressure monitoring system.
Traction control, VSC, and ABS come as standard as part of Toyota's Star safety system.
The driver and front passenger get standard front airbags on the 2006 RAV4, although front passenger side airbags and front- and second-row roll-sensing curtain airbags, are available as a $650 option.
Also optioned up on our tester is was Toyota's Vehicle Intrusion Protection (VIP) RS3200 Plus security system, incorporating features such as remote door lock/relock, interior light activation, panic mode, and a glass-breakage sensor, which sounds the alarm at the first sign of forced entry.
The 2006 RAV4 Sport comes with Toyota's 36 months/36,000 basic warranty, which covers all components other than normal wear and maintenance items. A 60 month/60,000 miles powertrain warranty, which includes seatbelts and airbags, is also standard, as is 60 months/unlimited mile rust-through coverage.