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2006 Toyota RAV4

by Martha Hindes

Toyota RAV4
Lincoln Zephyr Interior

Call it RAV4 on steroids. Obviously the kicky little sport utility has done some bulking up with its 2006 redesign on an all-new platform, adding an optional third row seat, some 14-plus inches in overall length and, for the first time, a 269-horsepower V-6 engine that Toyota calls most powerful in the compact segment. Those aren't lightweight credentials, but they certainly attest to the position the Japanese auto maker sees as the best place for this SUV to fit: Sports-minded singles who need room for their gear; some families with young children; independents who want contemporary flair.

Flexibility is becoming a hallmark of almost every vehicle on the road, and the ability to carry more people and cargo is one of them. So is power. Despite the upward creep, or gallop, in gasoline prices, those who need the extra gusto with a low emissions 3.5-liter six can have it now. For more budget minded, RAV4 still comes with a more fuel efficient, earth-friendly 2.4-liter four, boosted to deliver five HP more at 166. A four-wheel independent suspension was used for sportier handling and a smoother ride.

RAV4 retains its front-drive origins, with on-demand four-wheel-drive. The vehicle avoids blatant ruggedness for the passenger pampering driving comforts of home. In a sleekly redesigned exterior, with bolder, sweeping high window line ("beltline" in the industry), it gains a visual sophistication that mutes some of that gosh darn cuteness of the previous two generations. New four-bulb headlamps create what Toyota calls an "aggressive stare." The rear-mounted spare gets a partial hard cover.

RAV4 models, which Toyota differentiates as "grades," come in Base, a new Sport version that highlights performance, and top-line Limited with available leather, heated seats, rear seat DVD and Blizzard White Pearl exterior. All come in two- or four-wheel drive. The new Sport model features a sport suspension, fog lights, 18-inch wheels, roof rails and fender flares. All come with enhanced safety features as standard, that interface with electronic powered steering assist.

RAV4s got a later model year start than some competitors, not on sale until January. But it isn't racing to catch up with cut-rate bargains. Expect MSRPs in the low to mid 20s.