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Roseville, Calif. – America loves the compact sport utility vehicle. These smaller SUVs offer a lot of versatility, have an appealing design, and are also somewhat sporty.

One of the leaders of the pack for years has been the Toyota RAV4, which was introduced in Japan and Europe in 1994 and a year later hit the American market. Tagged as the first crossover SUV, the RAV4 was almost instantly embraced by America car buyers and that trend remains two decades later.

Although there was no competitor when the RAV4 debuted, there are tons of rivals these days. In fact, its chief rival – the Honda CRV – may now be the frontrunner in a large group of compact SUVs that includes the Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5. Women seem especially attracted to the compact SUV, which is deemed both cute and sporty.

There’s nothing notably new with the 2015 RAV4, which has three models: LE, XLE and Limited. Its calling card remains versatility because it can haul the groceries, carry sports equipment, transport four kids to school, ease into small parking spaces, and also serves as a solid computer vehicle.

One of the RAV4’s greatest qualities is its cargo space. In fact, the cargo area of 38.4 cubic feet is so large that one might think the RAV4 is a midsize SUV. Drop the second row down and the space is now 73.3 cube feet, one of the largest capacities in the class. It can make a hardware store run and if equipped with all-wheel drive can handle a trip into snow country.

There is obviously a lot to like regarding the RAV4, starting with a sticker price that ranges from $23,680 to $29,850. One area that draws some criticism and may soon be addressed is the engine. A hybrid model has been added to the 2016 RAV4 lineup, but otherwise the sole engine remains a 2.5-liter, four cylinder that produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It reportedly goes 0-60 mph in 9.2 seconds.

While the RAV4 engine isn’t sluggish, several of its rivals offer more performance, giving its potential buyers a choice of a V6 (which the RAV4 discontinued) or a popular turbocharged model that not only adds more power but typically delivers better gas mileage. The RAV4 gas mileage ranges from 22-31 mpg.

2015 Toyota RAV4

* Performance: 2.5-liter, four cylinder, 176 horsepower
* Mileage estimate: 22-31 mpg   
* Price estimate: $23,680 to $29,850
* Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain: 5 years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance: 2 years/35,000; corrosion: 5 years/unlimited

Even with the four-cylinder engine, the RAV4 and its six-speed automatic transmission still possess enviable qualities, It labors a bit on steep grades, but makes up for that lack of specific power with its solid handling, quiet ride and ability to accelerate in freeway passing situations.

The RAV4 has a modern interior design that features many soft-touch surfaces that add to its overall comfort. Seating is spacious for a compact  SUV, offering good leg and head room in front and second row. Although there are no complaints with overall quality, some people feel Toyota’s Entune audio system could be more simplified.

All things considered, the RAV4 is still a high quality compact SUV that is strong in many areas. It is comfortable, features an appealing exterior, handles well, is reliable, and also has good resale value.

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