A tip of the hat, please, to the long-running Toyota RAV4, the car that really started the compact sport-utility craze back in 1996.
Alas, things havenít exactly been going the RAV4ís way of late. Back in í96, the little Toyota had the market to itself and sold faster than half-price tickets to a Taylor Swift concert.
These days, it has to bare-knuckle fight against the likes of Hondaís CR-V and Fordís new Escape, which dominate the sales charts.
But Toyota is fighting back with the introduction of its latest fourth-gen RAV. Frisky new styling, more practicality, an upgraded interior and a more simple lineup increase its already-strong appeal.
And itís still fine value with the nicely equipped base front-drive LE model stickering at $24,145 and the top-selling XLE kicking off at $25,135. Want the best? Then the leather-lined Limited at $27,855 has your name on it.
Toyota designers have done a nice job with the new look. I especially like the new swept-back grille, the tough-guy black plastic body cladding and the bold rear-end.
Thankfully, theyíve ditched the side-hinged tailgate in favor of a roof-hinged, high-lifting hatch, which is more practical.
Inside, the interior has had a complete makeover to give the cabin a fresher, more modern look. But interestingly, Toyota has sacrificed passenger leg room and second-row hip space to give a slightly bigger cargo area.
With the new RAV, Toyota wisely decided to ditch the thirsty V-6 and stick with just the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Itís a super little engine thatís eager to rev and make use of every one of its 176 horses.
And on the highway youíll average a creditable 29 mpg, with 22 attainable in city driving.
While itís not the standard-setter it once was ó Iíll always love the big-windowed, low-waistline original from í96 ó but itís still a must-drive when shopping for a compact sport-ute.