WITH A 3.5 litre V6 and proportions that dwarf those of the first-generation model, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 SX6 is a compact SUV in name only.
For buyers that don’t need a seven-seat option, it’s a good alternative to the even bigger Kluger and it boasts a generous cabin that’s ideally suited to transporting young families.
However, at a price point that’s well above that of the 2WD Klugers, the RAV4 SX6 is an expensive machine.
2010 Toyota RAV4 SX6
Although the V6 engine has been available in the RAV4 range since late 2007, the entire model line-up was updated in October 2008 with a new visual package and upgraded safety equipment.
Front and rear bumpers, headlight and tail-light clusters and the front grille were refreshed in the model update, and new alloy wheel designs were introduced.
Stability control, traction control, hill start assist and anti-whiplash headrests were made standard across the range. A driver’s knee airbag was made standard on all models except for the entry-level RAV4 CV, where it is available as an option.
What's the appeal?
Interior space, high build-quality, a reputation for reliability and a strong 201kW V6 engine are all key aspects of the RAV4 SX6’s appeal.
The SX6’s AWD system and tall ground-clearance gives it the ability to traverse rougher ground, and also provides safety benefits in wet weather or on slippery surfaces, such as snow.
What features does it have?
The sound system is a six-speaker AM/FM tuner with integrated 6-disc CD stacker. A 3.5mm auxillary input and USB jack allow external music players to be plugged into the car stereo too.
Bluetooth phone integration is standard, although receiving and ending calls requires the driver to reach over to press a button on the stereo fascia
An integrated touchscreen sat-nav is only available on the range-topping RAV4 ZR6.
What's under the bonnet?
In the RAV4, it produces 201kW at 6200rpm and 333Nm of torque at 4700rpm – some of the highest figures in the compact SUV class. It certainly gives the RAV4 an on-paper advantage against its rivals, but, as we found out, it’s actually somewhat of a handicap. We’ll discuss that shortly.
Unlike lesser RAV4 variants that use the 2.4 litre inline four, the SX6 is only available with a five-speed automatic transmission.
An all-wheel-drive system is standard on V6 models, but under normal conditions only sends power to the front wheels. Under hard acceleration or when the system detects front wheel slip, drive is directed to the rear wheels to improve traction.
The driver can also lock the AWD system to a 50-50 front/rear torque split by pressing a button on the dashboard, however the system reverts to a front-wheel bias once the car is driven over 40km/h.
How does it drive?
A peak power figure of 201kW sure looks great on a spec sheet, but it’s almost too much for the RAV4.
Acceleration is always strong and you could never accuse the SX6 of being slow. But unfortunately, its 201kW and 333Nm expose some dynmanic shortcomings.
On the plus side, the SX6’s ample reserves of power mean a full load of passengers and cargo doesn’t impact on performance to any great degree, and overtaking at highway speeds can be done swiftly and safely.
Gearshifts are smooth and the gearbox makes the best use of the SX6’s torque output, preferring to keep engine speed low during regular driving. When more speed is called for it kicks down a ratio or two willingly, and aside from the absence of a tiptronic function the gearbox is without fault.
The steering, being an electrically (rather than hydraulically) assisted system, lacks feedback, and fast steering inputs can have the assistance motor struggling to keep up.
On the road, the suspension is compliant and smooth, and is neither too floaty nor too hard. As with any compact SUV, there’s plenty of body roll around a corner, but for the most part the RAV4 has a pleasing ride.
It’s just as smooth on gravel, and, as we found, the stability control program will step in to curb potentially dangerous slides.
What did our passengers think?
The RAV4 is aimed squarely at younger, inner-suburban couples and families, and its interior design reflects this.
Although the cabin feels a fair bit narrower than competitors like the Subaru Forester, the front seats are still roomy and accommodating – even for larger folk.
The centre seat is pretty lumpy though, and is best suited to skinny adults or children.
A seven-seat option exists in foreign markets, but Australians only have the five-seater.
ISOFIX child restraint anchorages are fitted to the outboard rear seats, while standard anchorages are provided on the other side of the seatback.
Interior Quality and Feel?
Build quality is excellent, with most cabin fittings feeling solid and sturdy. There was nary a squeak from the interior plastics during our testing, although driving on gravel did reveal a fair bit of cabin boom (a side effect of the RAV4’s large wagon body).
The seat-folding mechanisms moved smoothly, the doors closed with a solid thunk and there were no unseemly gaps in the (overwhelmingly dark, but high-quality) cabin plastics.
The cloth upholstery appears durable, but the soft vinyl cover on the centre console lid felt cheap.
With the rear seats up, there’s 540 litres of space in the RAV4’s boot. Beneath the false floor are a couple of reasonably deep compartments, which offer an extra 90 litres of cargo room.
Pulling a convenient boot-mounted handle folds the 60/40 split rear seats flush with the boot floor, creating a flat space that can accommodate anything from bikes, camping gear, hardware supplies or a bedroom’s-worth of flat-pack furniture.
A hanging cargo net can hold shopping bags or other small items off the boot floor.
Elsewhere in the cabin, there’s even more storage room. The front and rear door pockets have integrated bottle holders, there’s a nifty storage shelf above the glovebox, the centre console bin is deep and there’s a small nook for wallets, phones and iPods at the base of the centre stack.
There are four cupholders in total, but annoyingly the front ones have a limp-wristed grip on most cups, cans and bottles while the rear ones don’t grip what’s placed in them at all.
How safe is it?
Stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist are all standard features of the RAV4 range, with front and side airbags for the front occupants and full-length curtain airbags standard on the SX6.
Under ANCAP’s crash testing programme, the 2.4 litre RAV4 CV achieved a four-star rating, however V6-equipped models have yet to be tested.
Fuel Consumption and Green Rating
Toyota lists average fuel consumption for the RAV4 SX6 as being 10.5 litres per 100km. Our testing returned an average figure of 11.53 l/100km over an even mix of highway and urban driving.
The big V6 is the culprit, although drivers who can resist the temptation to lean on the accelerator may get better fuel economy.
Carbon dioxide emissions are listed as being 246 g/km, and the Federal Government’s Green Vehicle Guide rates the RAV4 V6’s environmental performance 3.5 stars out of a possible 5.
How does it compare?
The Compact SUV segment is perhaps one of the most crowded, and there’s no shortage of competition for the RAV4.
The RAV4 SX6 is the third most expensive out of all of them (the CX-7 and CR-V retail for less than $1000 more), but it has the most power and the most spacious interior.
Its cabin fittings are nicer than the Forester, X-Trail, Grand Vitara and Captiva, but it can’t match the Tiguan or CX-7 for interior refinement.
The Kluger uses the same engine and same gearbox as the RAV4, but has a higher tow rating (2000kg versus 1900kg) and more commodious boot. The Kluger also has a seven-seat option, with adds $2500 to the cost of the base KX-R 2WD – still $1000 short of the RAV4 SX6’s asking price.
The RAV4 is a better performer thanks to its lower kerb weight and smaller proportions, but buyers could easily find a lot of reasons for choosing the cheaper and bigger Kluger instead.
Is it expensive to maintain?
Buyers of a new RAV4 SX6 are covered by the Toyota Service Advantage program, which caps the maximum cost of each scheduled logbook service at $170. Toyota Service advantage lasts for up to three years (or 60,000km, whichever occurs first), and each service occurs at 10,000km intervals.
Toyota offers a three year/100,000km vehicle warranty, with a three year paint warranty and five year anti-corrosion warranty.
Liquid Bronze, Silver Pearl, Ebony (black), Wildfire (burgundy), Envy (green), Blue Storm, Graphite (grey), Sandstone (tan) and pearlescent Crystal Pearl are offered for the RAV4 SX6
The RAV4 SX6 retails for $44,990, plus on-road costs. All colours bar Ebony incur an extra cost.
In a nutshell, the RAV4 SX6 is just a bit too big for its own good. The engine is perfect for towing heavy loads but its output is arguably wasted on urban commuting.
Fuel consumption suffers as a result, and the ongoing cost of topping up its tank only adds to the pain of the SX6’s high retail price.
If you must have the V6, the Kluger KX-R 2WD offers more metal for your money, as well as a decent seven-seat option. If the RAV4’s compact packaging is more to your liking, save a few dollars and opt for the 2.4 litre four-cylinder models instead.