Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.
Does anyone (besides Paul, of course) remember this car? I drove it for a week and barely remember it. Too bad there are so few around. My son turns 16 in 2022, and this would be a perfect first car.
The following review was written on July 18, 1999.
The four-door Toyota RAV4, and its Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester brethren, are probably the most sensible, practical and fun vehicles you can buy. They combine car-like ride and handling with a cool SUV look and the safety benefits of all-wheel drive while offering plenty of room and excellent gas mileage. In effect, they offer something for everyone. The two-door RAV, on the other hand, is what’s known as a “lifestyle” vehicle: it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but people like it and buy it anyway.
Not that it isn’t still one of the cutest mini-SUVs on the road. The problem lies in the missing 16 valuable inches of length compared to the four door, resulting in a vehicle nearly two-inches shorter than the Chevy Metro! While the Chevy Tracker/Suzuki Vitara and Kia Sportage are also ultra-short two-door convertible SUVs, they all offer a low-range setting and can be taken places off road where the RAV4 can’t go. Like the others, the “convertible” portion of the RAV is the rear roof only; the driver and front passenger get a large removable sunroof. To lower the top, you must first un-velcro and un-zip the plastic rear-side windows and rear window, then store them. It’s a hassle.
Acceleration with the optional four-speed automatic is sluggish, even in “performance” mode. On the bright side, the ride is far better than its truck-based competition, and the tall roof creates lots of headroom. As with any SUV, especially one this short, corners need to be taken slowly.
What this vehicle is best suited for, believe it or not, is urban commuting. Parallel parking is a dream, and the (near useless) rear seat, though not removable, folds up clam-like against the front seatbacks to increase the limited cargo room. Finally, the big 16-inch tires soak up potholes and the numerous irregularities of city streets.
But 20 large, with manual windows and door locks, is a lot to pay compared with what you get, and front-wheel drive models aren’t much cheaper. Believe me, for only $700 more, you’ll be much happier with the four door. Or you can get the “real thing” – the go-anywhere Jeep Wrangler.
For more information contact 1-800-GO-TOYOTA
Type: Two-door Sport-utility Vehicle
Engine: 127-horsepower, 2.0 liter inline-4
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 22 city/26 highway
Tested Price: $20,423
weebles wobble but they don’t fall down
I remember this car.
If you’re looking for something modern like this for your son, I’d recommend Ford Edge or Lincoln MKX with panoramic roof.
There is always the Wrangler too, but they are overpriced for what they are if you’re not using them for what they are designed for (Off-Roading).
I wouldn’t want a Wrangler to be my son’s first car. But if you’d consider the Rav convertible for your son, a modern Wrangler may actually be a slight improvement from a safety perspective.
Early 21st century options also include Isuzu Amigo and Suzuki Vitara. Just happened to stumble across a remarkably clean 1999 Amigo with just under 70K for $7,000.
Thanks James, but what appeals to me about this car as a first car for a teenager are the fact that it checks all the boxes:
Slow – CHECK
Reliable – CHECK
Available Manual Transmission – CHECK
Mechanically simple – CHECK
Good gas mileage – CHECK
AWD for driving back and forth to college in New England winters – CHECK
Small rear seat so friends would only want to be back there for a short time with few chances of getting into “trouble” in the back of vehicle – CHECK
The Edge and MKX are much bigger, faster, more complex and automatic only. The newer Wranglers are horribly overpriced and the older ones get horrible gas mileage. None of these vehicles rate very highly on the reliability scale, either.
A late model Impreza probably would fit the bill better than anything else on the market today, and are most likely much cheaper on the used car market than the “Impreza jacked up 3 inches” Crosstrek.
Yeah, The Impreza is all that is left on the US market that meets all of your requirements.
There was a Ford Ecosport variant called AWD 1.5 EcoBlue that was available with a manual transmission but Ford never brought it to America.
Also, I forgot to mention that there is a feature on I think most all Ford vehicles with Sync called MyKey that allows the owner of the vehicle to program the max speed.
I know I sound like a Ford shill but that is purely coincidental in this case.
Jeep Renegade Latitude – Turbo may impact the “mechanically simple” score though.
+1 on getting your new driver a stick. They learn car control and how to pay attention to what it’s doing; it’s hard to text and shift (so they are statistically safer for young drivers); their drunk friend can’t drive it.
Another reason to go for a Subie for a 16 yo is safety if he gets hit . One got rear ended by a box truck doing probably 30+ while waiting to enter my neighborhood. The back doors still worked. And I believe I learned here at CC that rescue crews are trained not to try to cut the b-pillar on Subies with the jaws of life as the reinforcement is too tough – just go for the roof.
To me these cars were always adorable. Love seeing one.
If you weren’t looking for off-road competency, and I suspect most folks who bought cute-utes weren’t, this was priced somewhat competitively with the competition.
Base MSRP, 2WD soft top:
Wrangler (4×4 only): 14,280
As if my fellow commenters don’t think I’m weird enough, I’d like one of these very much. If I recall, the mechanical bits were mostly Camry, so you get all the Toyota reliability, but you also get fun and whimsy.
To me this was the only RAV4 I do remember, every followup generation has just been a boring grey blur in traffic.
We just sold our 2-door Rav4 when a Nissan Pao decided to live with us. The Rav4 is nearly, almost as cute. I can’t recommend them highly enough as they’re endlessly flexible in interior accommodations, with all four seats folding flat for roadside supine naps and dual sunroofs for star watching.
I’d completely forgotten the first-gen RAV4 was available as a semi-droptop, so much that at first I thought the pic was of a Suzuki X-90 which preceded this cute-ute and had a similar size and shape (although a fixed top). I just learned the second-generation RAV4 also was made in a short two-door configuration; it wasn’t sold in the US though.
I don’t know whether we ever saw this body variation in Australia, it’s a new one on me – Don? Justy?
Well Pete, if it was a new one ON you, I reckon you’d recall it, even now.
Idiocies aside – or should that be “Asides aside”? – yes, we did get it, though I didn’t get it, and I didn’t get it either, if you see what I mean.
It’s too bad you don’t remember it much, but it’s likely one of the most ‘important’ cars that you tested, certainly so far. The 4 door would be more so, but this generation was still figuring that out. I remember one of the magazines ran a test of one vs a Wrangler, which makes as much sense as comparing it to a Miata. I still find this 2 door magnetically cute, it follows the “big puppy feet” stereotype of cuteness that the 4 door loses. Whatever Camry/Corolla is in there is hidden well.
I own a 1999 4-door RAV4 with 215,000 miles on it. Let me tell ya, it was my first car in 2014 with 125k, and I still love it to death. It’s my only car and daily driver and I find em to be dependable! Just packed my life in it in 2022 and drove 1400 miles across country…. she’s a soldier.