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Consumer Reports rates Toyota Rav4 tops amongst six sport-utility vehicles

Posted Saturday, June 24, 2006

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RAV4 outpoints the highly-rated Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester

Yonkers, NY — The newly-redesigned Toyota RAV4 emerged as Consumer Reports’ top-rated small sport-utility vehicle following tests of six SUVs for the July issue.

The latest generation RAV4 earned an “Excellent” overall rating in Consumer Reports’ testing, surpassing such highly-rated vehicles as the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. The Forester had been a CR Top Pick for Small Sport-Utility Vehicle in the Annual April Auto Issue.

“The redesigned RAV4 tops its class with either the standard four-cylinder engine or the optional V6 powerplant,” said David Champion, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut. “With the optional third-row seat and the V6 engine, the RAV4 is a good alternative to some more expensive midsized SUVs.”

The test group included a total of eight SUVs: four-cylinder and V6-powered versions of the RAV4, a Subaru Forester, a Suzuki Grand Vitara, V6 and V8-powered models of the Ford Explorer, a V8-powered Jeep Commander, and a V8-powered Chevrolet Tahoe.

Full tests and ratings of the SUVs appear in the July issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale June 6. The complete report is also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org .

The base-version of the RAV4 with a four-cylinder engine scored slightly lower than the V6-powered model, with a “Very Good” overall score. And, though still rated “Very Good” overall, the freshened Forester actually posted a slightly lower score than the previously-tested model. As a result, the Forester fell behind the CR-V in the ratings.

All five of the other vehicles in this test group, the Grand Vitara, both Explorers, the Commander, and the Tahoe posted lackluster “Good” overall scores.

Consumer Reports recommends three of the vehicles in this test group—the four- and six-cylinder versions of the RAV4, and the Forester. Consumer Reports only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey of its own subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test. The Grand Vitara, Commander, and Tahoe are new vehicles and so their reliability is unknown. Reliability for the Explorer has been subpar.

The new RAV4, which is wider and longer than the previous generation, now has a roomier rear seat and an optional third-row seat that can accommodate two adults in a pinch. It’s agile, rides comfortably, and it has a smooth drivetrain and a flexible interior. The top-rated RAV4 Limited ($30,328 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested) is powered by a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V6 mated to a five-speed automatic that is very quick, refined, and uses only slightly more fuel than the four-cylinder model, returning a respectable 22 mpg overall in CR’s tests. Braking is very good.

Despite being one of the oldest small SUVs, the Forester remains a solid choice in this segment. It rides very comfortably, handles responsively, and has decent fuel economy and adequate acceleration. The cargo area is square and useful, but the backseat leg room is tight. The Forester 2.5x ($23,163 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 173-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers adequate acceleration. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking performance is very good.

The redesigned Grand Vitara is a good value, with a roomy interior and a long list of standard equipment, including a V6 engine, side-curtain air bags, stability control, and automatic climate control. But a noisy engine, mediocre fuel economy, and a stiff ride hurt its overall Rating. The Grand Vitara Premium is equipped with a 185-hp, 2.7-liter V6 engine that is no quicker or quieter than some four-cylinder engines in this class and gets worse fuel economy. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly but is reluctant to downshift. Braking performance is very good.

The Explorer’s refinement and handling don’t match that of its newer car-based competitors. A mild freshening brought some improvements and also introduced some flaws—such as a confusing and ergonomically flawed door panel design with a door pull below the armrest. The higher-rated Explorer Eddie Bauer edition ($39,025 as tested) is powered by a 292-hp, 4.6-liter V8 that is more refined and responsive than the six-cylinder powerplant but gulps gas. The five-speed automatic transmission is very good. Braking is mediocre, with long stopping distances.

The 2007 redesign of the Tahoe brought improved fit and finish in the interior and better brake pedal feel, but it doesn’t set any new standards among large SUVs. Handling is cumbersome, stopping distances are long, and fuel economy, though improved, is poor. On the plus side, highway ride is comfortable. The Tahoe LT is powered by a 320-hp, 5.3-liter V8 that delivers ample power. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Though brake pedal feel is improved, stopping distances are still long.

Based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Commander has three rows of seats for up to seven passengers. But the back two rows are cramped, and the rear view is appalling with the third-row seats raised. Controls and fit and finish are better than in other Jeeps, and handling is secure. The Commander Limited ($42,325 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 330-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that provides powerful performance but delivers just 13 mpg overall. The five-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. Brakes perform reasonably well.

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Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe to Consumer Reports, call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org .

 
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Consumer Reports rates Toyota Rav4 tops amongst six sport-utility vehicles
The latest generation RAV4 earned an “Excellent” overall rating in Consumer Reports’ testing.
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