2009 Toyota RAV4 Limited 4-cyl 4×4 review: Oh no you don’t

2009 Toyota RAV4 Limited

2009 Toyota RAV4 Limited

“Oh, I have to have a V-6,” she said.

No you don’t. Your husband’s experience with four-cylinder compact SUVs don’t apply to the 2009 Toyota RAV4. True, a V-6 is available but unless you want lower gas mileage and really need the extra oomph, we recommend at least a test drive of the 2009 2.5-liter RAV4.

We’re surprised at that, actually, because we usually find ourselves succumbing to the siren of more power. And if we wanted to tow, say, a personal watercraft or a trailer with a couple of ATVs, we’d go for the extra grunt of the V-6. On the other hand…

2009 Toyota RAV4 Limited interior

The top-of-the-line 2009 Toyota RAV4 Limited is outfitted well inside. (Click to enlarge).

The Barcelona Red 2009 Toyota RAV4 we tested was the top-of-the-line Limited model with four-wheel drive and just about all the bells and whistles, but instead of the 3.5-liter V-6 our tester had the standard equipment 2.5-liter inline four.

The 2.5-liter is a new engine, replacing last year’s 2.4-liter. More than just bit more displacement, the two-five is a new low-friction design applying a number of mechanical drag-reducing details, most notably an offset crankshaft, roller rockers for the valvetrain, a three-stage variable oil pump, reduced-tension piston rings and auxiliary belt drive. In all, less drag, and less drag means more efficiency.

The new engine also has variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts (the 2.4 had variable intake only) and an “Acoustic Control Induction System” that changes the length of the intake tract in two stages. Together they help boost torque across a wider engine speed range.

Combustion is improved by new tumble control valves for better cold engine combustion, warming the catalytic converters more quickly. Along with new “12-hole high-atomizing long-nozzle fuel injectors” they improve fuel economy and reduce emissions by reducing the amount of fuel clinging to the walls of the intake ports.

2009 Toyota RAV4 four-cylinder engine

The 2009 Toyota RAV4 four-cylinder engine is adequate for most uses. (Click to enlarge).

As a result, the new engine not only has a cleaner exhaust but also gives output a  significant bump, taking horsepower from 166 hp to 179 hp and torque from 165 lb-ft to 172 lb-ft.

The new engine is partnered with a new transmission, oddly just a four-speed in an era of increasingly multiple ratio transmissions. However, the new transmission has uphill/downhill shift control to reduce “hunting” between third and fourth gears during uphill driving. Braking when going downhill triggers a downshift to increase engine braking for better vehicle control and reduced brake wear and brake fade. Torque converter lock-up is more precisely controlled to improve fuel economy which is also aided by the use of lower-viscosity transmission fluid for—again—reduced drag.

The net result is and EPA mileage rating of 22 city/28 highway with front-wheel drive or 21/27 city/highway for the 4 x 4 models. Over 162 miles of mixed driving we averaged 20.5 mpg although the trip computer said our average fuel economy of 23.2 mpg with the 4 x 4 model. Note to self: Don’t rely on trip computers. They don’t measure fuel use directly but infer from airflow.

Share this article

John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.