2001-2005 Toyota RAV4 expert review

Overall rating:4.5 Star Rating: Recommended
Updated: September 28, 2013
2004 Toyota RAV4
2001 - 2005 Toyota RAV4, (Photo: Toyota Canada)

The 2001-2005 Toyota RAV4 is one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market after hybrids. With its sleek, sporty styling and great fuel economy, the RAV4 is a good choice if you need a small practical SUV.
Available as two- or four-wheel drive, the RAV4 has a car-based unibody construction with a 4-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The 2001, 2002 and 2003 RAV4 came with the 148-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder DOHC engine with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i). Starting from the 2004, the RAV4 received the 161-hp 2.4-liter engine. Both engines use a maintenance-free timing chain; there is no timing belt to replace. Both engines are reliable if maintained properly.

Toyota RAV4 interior
2005 Toyota RAV4 interior. (Photo: Toyota Canada)
Toyota RAV4 cargo area
2005 Toyota RAV4. (Photo: Toyota Canada)
Toyota RAV4 2.4L engine
2005 Toyota RAV4 2.4L VVT-i engine. Photo: Toyota Canada
Toyota RAV4 EPA Fuel Economy: MPG
L/100 km
2001-2003 2WD manual 22/28 10.7/8.4
2004-2005 2WD manual 21/27 11.2/8.7
2001-2003 2WD auto 21/26 11.2/9.0
2001-2003 4WD auto, manual 20/25 11.8/9.4
2004-2005 4WD auto 20/24 11.8/9.8
2004-2005 4WD manual 19/25 12.4/9.4

AWD system: The RAV4's full-time 4WD system uses a viscous coupling center differential to distribute power to the front and rear wheels. When front wheels start slipping, more power is transferred to rear wheels and visa versa. Although this four-wheel drive system is not designed for real off-roading, it will offer you some advantage on slippery roads.

Inside: The RAV4's interior is simple and comfortable. High driving position offers very good all-around visibility. Controls are conveniently located and easy to use. Fit and finish is good. The rear swing door glass does not open separately as in the Honda CR-V, but the low cargo floor makes loading easier. On the downside, the rear seat space is fairly limited and the driver's seat feels a bit small.

Handling: Toyota RAV4 is agile and fun to drive. It handles like a car and has a fairly smooth ride. Tight turning circle makes it feel very maneuverable around town. The engine is a bit noisy and lacks highway passing power, but is very fuel-efficient.

Pros: Sleek styling, versatility, fuel economy, car-like handling, fun to drive, reliability

Cons: Front seats are not very comfortable, limited space, rear door glass doesn't open separately, lack of highway passing power, road noise, engine noise, rattles

Fuel Economy: The RAV4 is one of the class leaders in terms of fuel economy. With mostly highway driving, the 2005 FWD RAV4 with a manual transmission gets up to 346 miles (557 km) on a 14.8-gallon (56 L) tank.

Overall: If you want an inexpensive used 4WD vehicle that is good on gas, there aren't that many options. The RAV4 is reliable, easy to maintain and widely available on the used car market. Thanks to Toyota reputation for reliability, the RAV4 holds value well and you won't have troubles selling it. Maintenance costs are pretty low compared to other SUVs.
The 2001-2005 RAV4 didn't have too many problems, but there were some complaints about the automatic transmission shifting problems caused by a faulty ECM (engine computer) in the 2001-2003 models; read more on the next page. Still the overall reliability is above average. Among competitors, consider Subaru Forester or Honda CR-V; both are pretty good choices. Read about Toyota RAV4 common problems on the next page.

Similar cars: