RAV4 '2000

The second-generation five-door SUV RAV4 is half a size larger than the first-generation model.

The basic styling theme of the new RAV4 is from Toyota's California Studio.

The RAV4 features versatile accommodations, with a 50/50-split rear seat.

The RAV4's youth-oriented "sports" instrument cluster with staggered meters.

All-wheel models for Japan are powered by the D4 direct-injection-gasoline engine.

The base engine for the front-wheel-drive RAV4 is the 1ZZ-FE 1.8-L four cylinder, shared with the Corolla range.

Toyota exhibited two small concept vehicles called "RAV-FOUR" in the commercial vehicle section of the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show. Chief Engineer Masakatsu Nonaka of Vehicle Center 3 (truck center in a plainer language, which Toyota may not prefer) was encouraged by an enthusiastic reception given to the bug-eyed RAV-FOUR. It may be of interest to note that Nonaka was given the charge of both Toyota's smallest SUV and its biggest off-road vehicle, a high-mobility military vehicle developed for Japan's Defense Agency and its civilian version, the Megacruiser. Chief Engineer Hiromi Ikehata, who led the development of the second-generation RAV4 and is also in charge of the Megacruiser, carries on the biggest and smallest SUV assignment tradition.

The first-generation RAV4, in three-door guise, was launched in Japan in May 1994 and became an overnight success. The RAV4 was a marked departure from the hitherto standard shrunken 4x4 formula that had produced such niche vehicles as Suzuki's Samurai and Daihatsu's Rocky. The small Toyota had a unique platform with a steel unibody shell, all-independent suspension with big wheels, a larger-than-normal displacement engine — a dual-overhead-camshaft (DOHC), 16-valve, 2.0-L inline four-cylinder unit—placed transversely with the transmission and single-ratio transfer, and all-wheel-drive system.

Toyota's ambitious marketing people took the vehicle to North America. Chief Engineer Ikehata was then Vice President of Toyota Technical Center (TTC) in Ann Arbor, MI, whose functions included the evaluation of Toyota vehicles that were to be introduced in North America. He recalled his initial impressions that it was a nicely executed package, but for Americans, it might be a bit on the smallish side.

"A horse out of a gourd pot" is a popular Japanese saying meaning that unexpected fortune sometimes occurs, sort of an Aladdin's lamp. For a few years, Toyota enjoyed the pioneer's monopolistic fortune in the small SUV segment, selling as many as 10,000 units a month in America alone. The vehicle was also received well in Europe, particularly in the three-door guise. Then Honda launched the larger and more car-like CR-V, which promptly climbed up to the top of the small SUV hill, toppling the RAV4. Actually, Honda could have been there sooner had its prototype SUV—an Acura Vigor five-cylinder front end grafted onto a Civic Shuttle (tall wagon) body and fitted with a sophisticated all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that was a forerunner of the new Acura MDX's—made it to production. Honda's planners had a foreboding that the vehicle would not be up to the rigors to which SUV owners would subject their vehicles in America's wilderness. Little did they realize 90% of SUVs would stay on road, and the project was aborted. Honda had to wait for the Civic-platform-based CR-V.

In Europe, Britain's Land Rover produced the Freelander, a small SUV on the same formula as the RAV4 and CR-V, with a unibody, transverse powertrain, all-independent suspension, and AWD. It promptly became the brand's best-selling model. Ford and Mazda have jointly developed the Escape/Tribute for the U.S. and Japan, Renault has launched an AWD version of the Megane Scenic, and more are likely to follow. Toyota is now launching the second-generation RAV4 to regain top sales positions in three key markets: Japan, the U.S., and Europe.

Each of the second-generation RAV4 body types has grown half a size larger on a longer wheelbase, with increased dimensions dedicated to passenger accommodation, the source of customer dissatisfaction in the first-generation models. There are two body types as before, three- and five-door models with conventional doors and side-hinged tailgate. The spare tire is mounted on the tailgate as with its predecessor; however, it is now concealed in a plastic cover. The three-door model sits on a 2280-mm (90-in) wheelbase, and the five-door on a 2490-mm (98-in) wheelbase, both gaining 80 mm (3.1 in). Overall lengths are 3750 mm (148 in) for the three-door and 4145 mm (163 in) for the five-door, gaining 45 mm (1.8 in) and 30 mm (1.2 in), respectively. The driver and front passenger are not as closely coupled, the seats gaining 40 mm (1.6 in) in separation and now measuring 1735 mm (68 in) in overall width. Each occupant's head is now 190 mm (3.9 in) away from the windowpane, again gaining 40 mm (1.6 in) more space over the predecessor. There is also a "Wide Sport" version, whose width is increased to 1785 mm (70 in) with fender flares, on wider 1525-mm (60-in) and 1520-mm (59-in) tracks.

As before, the RAV4 destined for the U.S. market will be the long-wheelbase five-door type, while Europe will have both three- and five-doors. The second-generation RAV4 still has a dedicated platform, a rare possession in this age of platform sharing—maybe the last luxury concession at Toyota, according to Ikejata. The same goes with the independent rear suspension, which is by short and long transverse links and trailing arm. The front suspension uses MacPherson struts. It has power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and it employs a front ventilated disc and rear drum brake combination with ABS and brake-assist.

Two engine choices and two drive configurations are offered in the Japanese range. The base front-wheel-drive series is powered by the DOHC, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder 1ZZ-FE engine, displacing 1794 cm3 and producing 92 kW (123 hp) at 6000 rpm and 161 N•m (119 lb•ft) at 4200 rpm. This is Toyota's mainstream small car engine, shared by the Corolla series, MR-Spyder sports car, and more models. The AWD series is powered by the new 1AZ-FSE D4, direct-injection gasoline, inline four-cylinder 2.0-L engine. As its designation indicates, it is a smaller version of the 2AZ 2.4-L unit that was first introduced in the Japanese Estima minivan. It employs a DOHC and four valves per cylinder with a VVT-i continuously variable intake valve timing system. Toyota calls the 1AZ-FSE "the second-generation D4," whose combustion chamber shape, intake ports, and fuel-injector type have been extensively modified for more power and improved fuel economy. The 1AZ-FSE produces 112 kW (150 kW) at 6000 rpm and 200 N•m (148 lb•ft) torque at 4000 rpm. The new D4 operates on a moderate compression ratio of 9.8:1, vs. the conventional 1ZZ-FE's 10.0:1, and is content with regular-grade, unleaded gasoline.

For the U.S. and Europe, the 1AZ 2.0-L engine will likely carry the "FE" suffix, minus the "S," indicating a multi-port fuel-injected variant. For the U.S., the RAV4 will have both front- and all-wheel-drive models powered by the same engine, and Europe will have the 1ZZ-FE 1.8-L option.

The Japanese front-wheel-drive 1.8-L range is equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission only, while the 2.0-L AWD series has two choices: a manual five-speed gearbox and an electronically controlled four-speed automatic. The AWD system adopts a bevel-gear type center differential and a viscous-coupling type differential limiter for both manual and automatic transmissions. Large wheels/tires have always been popular items with RAV4 buyers, and the new series is fitted with standard 215/70R16 size and the Wide Sport is shod with 235/60R16.

The interior has been upgraded in material and finish. A novel triple-dial instrument cluster features a sporty central tachometer. Split rear seats in both three- and five-door models slide, fold forward, and may be individually removed.

Jack Yamaguchi

AEI August 2000

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