Toyota has finally improved the RAV4

Once in a while, a new version of a vehicle I’ve tested before surprises me. Sometimes, it’s not a pleasant surprise, but other times, the changes are for the better.

I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of the Toyota RAV4. Earlier versions of this small SUV have left me very unimpressed. Granted, I’m a big guy, and a lot of what I haven’t liked about older models has been that they feel too small. I’ve always thought they seemed like they were built on about three-quarter scale.

They also seemed too dainty for any serious off-highway use. The full-time four-wheel-drive just didn’t have the oomph to get you out of the sort of springtime mud you’re likely to encounter on forest roads or two-tracks. I’ve always felt you need true four-wheel-drive to really be secure when you leave the pavement.

But then the vehicle fairies dropped off a 2015 RAV4 at my office. The first thing I noticed was that they’ve changed the look, if only slightly. It’s still not my favorite vehicle cosmetically, and the changes are subtle, but they make a difference. The RAV4’s makeover has made it a much more attractive ride than it was in its earlier, awkward years.

Then I drove that thing. Right off, I noticed it feels more responsive, has more power, and handles better than any of the models I’ve tested in the past.

But the most amazing difference was the room inside. I don’t believe Toyota has actually made the RAV4 any bigger than the earlier models, but it feels bigger. I don’t know if it’s a matter of how they placed the components, or if they used thinner materials to build the interior, but there just seems to be more room inside than there used to be.

And that full-time four-wheel-drive isn’t your grandma’s full-time four-wheel-drive. It actually has some grit. It made it up and down my driveway for a week in April, and that’s saying a lot.

I still prefer a truck, but the RAV4 ain’t bad, if you’re looking for a small SUV.