2011 Toyota RAV4 Limited Review

Rear 3/4 view of black Toyota RAV4 driving

Longtime TireKicker readers know our struggles with the Toyota RAV4. On the one hand, it's a wonderful machine, one that has evolved and been refined well beyond its cute-ute roots and that, on extended exposure reveals itself to be a very nearly perfect small SUV.

On the other, the price tag, especially at the higher trim levels and with unbridled enthusiasm for options, can get a little steep. The RAV4 was the first small SUV we tested to break the $30,000 as-tested barrier.

But now, we have a new component to figure into all this: Gas prices. If we are, as they tell us, headed for $4.50 a gallon as the new normal, then there's going to be a market for premium vehicles with premium amenities that just happen to be smaller than we're used to, with the payoff being improved fuel economy.

And put in that context, the value argument for a loaded RAV4 Limited gets considerably stronger.

Front 3/4 view of black 2011 Toyota RAV4 parked on a hill

Our tester this time around was the two wheel drive version, with a base price of $26,835. Not at all unreasonable for what you get: A 269 horsepower V6, 5-speed automatic transmission,  17 inch alloy wheels, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. Plus halogen headlamps, fog lamps, privacy glass, a roof rack, dual zone climate control, a 6-speaker AM/FM/6-disc CD changer, XM satellite radio, power windows and door locks, cruise control, Optitron gauges and more.

Stopping there, it's actually a bargain. And, thanks to an extra value package discount, there's even a case to be made for loading it up with options. A rear back-up camera is always a good idea. The RAV4 pairs it with an auto-dimming mirror for $475. Ours had Blizzard Pearl paint, a $220 option. The tow prep package (upgraded radiator, fan coupling and alternator) was $160. No, I wouldn't advocate towing anything with a RAV4, but those are worthwhile upgrades...especially for hot summertime trips. Floor and cargo mats are $199.

Interior shot of 2011 Toyota RAV4
The big ticket item was the Premium Plus Value Package. It upgrades the audio system to a JBL unit with nine speakers, adds hands-free Bluetooth capability, daytime running lights, a moonroof, leather-trimmed heated seats, a power driver's seat and a 120 volt power outlet. The tab for that? $3,480...but Toyota instantly discounts that $2,000...so the net cost is $1,480, which would be about right for the audio upgrade and moonroof alone.  The discount took a bottom line of $32,179 down to $30,179.

Yep, we're still talking about the smallest SUV Toyota makes, and a 2-wheel drive version at that, with a price tag over $30,000. But we're also talking about a well-built machine with significant amenities that gets an EPA estimated 19 city/ 27 highway miles per gallon.

If gas were cheap, that'd be one thing. But this is probably the new default SUV for most people. And if you're going small, you may as well be comfortable. As much as we try to pick apart the value equation every time we get a loaded RAV4, we end up enjoying the time we spend with it and hating to hand it back at the end of a week.

So our bottom line: Despite the psychological twitch that kicks in when we see the as-tested price crack 30 large, the RAV4 is worth it. And if you can't quite go there, a lower trim level and a modicum of restraint with the option boxes can get you in one closer to 25 than to 30.