Toyota RAV4 2000-2005 used car review

The Toyota RAV4 is a small SUV with a purposeful look.

Richard Edwards
Richard Edwards
Expert Reviewer | Auto Media Group

The Toyota RAV4 is a small SUV with a purposeful look. The steering is disappointing and the boot is tiny.

Exterior , 3.5 out of 5 Drive , 3 out of 5 Safety , 3 out of 5 Value , 2.5 out of 5 Interior , 4 out of 5

Overall score , 3.2 out of 5

The good
  • Cute chunky looks
  • Reasonable ride and handling for a small SUV
  • Zippy 2-litre engine
The not-so-good
  • Steering is vague
  • Tiny boot holds hardly anything

The RAV4 was a huge success for Toyota - this second generation was able to overtake the Honda CR-V to become the world's top-selling small SUV. It was available in three and five-door forms. A convertible version of the first generation was sold at the same time. Japanese models are known as the RAV4J.

Inside and out

The RAV4 looks tall and narrow and has design features that hint at off-road ability - grey plastic body cladding, a chunky front bumper and rear door-mounted spare wheel. The Limited model also gets roof rails, a small rear spoiler and large front fog-light and indicator units.

Inside, the faux tough theme continues, with plastic bolts appearing to hold the centre console on. The dash cluster is sporty, with white-faced gauges in individual pods, and there’s a sporty, leather-clad steering wheel. 

The CD player stereo has an ugly blanking plate where a cassette player would be in some countries. Unlike import models that have climate control air-conditioning, New Zealand-new models have manual control dials.

The front seats are large and comfortable and offer lots of side support. You sit very high which gives a great view out of the vehicle. The passenger seat tips and folds forwards to give access to the rear seat which is designed for just two. 

Headroom is okay in the back but legroom is tight and the car’s thick rear pillars give a closed-in feel. Both rear seats slide forward and back and fold forward to expand the luggage space.

At just 150 litres, the boot is tiny and so slim only small cases and soft bags will fit. The RAV4 is best used as a two-seater with the back seats folded forward - that provides a much more substantial luggage space with a low loading lip. The large rear door with the spare tyre mounted on it can be awkward in tight parking situations and is cumbersome to open and close, especially on an incline.

On the road

Three engines are available in the RAV4. New Zealand-new models were sold with 2-litre and 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engines and Japanese import models were also sold with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder. The 2-litre engine fitted to our review car produces 114kW and 192Nm. A five-speed manual is standard with the four-speed automatic an option. The engine provides plenty of power for what is a small car.

Performance in town and on the road is zippy although, with only four ratios in the transmission, you can end up revving the engine a little high on hard acceleration.

Handling is reasonable. The ride is comfortable and there is a little body roll, though it’s not excessive. The steering in our review car was very soft and vague but the brakes performed well. The RAV4 has a small amount of off-road ability in places that have smooth gravel tracks or ice surfaces but don't expect it to tackle serious conditions.

With such a short length, it is easy to see all four corners of the car from the driver's seat - good for parking and nipping around town. Parking sensors and cameras are not standard on any model and are not needed. Some Japanese import versions have them fitted as an aftermarket accessory.

The RAV4 has an acceptable tow rating for a small SUV. It can pull up to 750kg unbraked (a medium-size garden trailer) and up to 1,500kg braked (a small trailer boat).


RightCar lists the three-door RAV4 (2001-2003) with a three-star Used Car Safety Rating, based on real-world crash data. Driver and passenger airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution are standard. The five-door model is a four-star ANCAP rated car if it is fitted with the optional side and curtain airbag package.

The three-door model does not feature ISOFIX child seat mounts. However, these can be found on some used import five-door versions.


This generation RAV4 is considered very reliable even though it is not without issues. Its engine features a timing chain that does not need to be replaced regularly.

In rare cases, the engine can begin to consume more engine oil than usual. Repair is expensive and involves an engine rebuild, including a new piston assembly. It is advisable to check the oil level regularly and have the engine looked at if consumption is high.

The centre differential can bind up and is not cheap to replace. To check it, drive slowly forward and backward while turning under moderate load and see if you can detect a rumble or banging from the drive unit.

The rear shocks wear out faster than those in front. Have them checked if you find your RAV4 is handling poorly or moving around under brakes. Replacing them will cost $200-$300 each.

Cost of ownership

Toyota recommends servicing the RAV4 every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Services cost around $360 each. Major services at 30,000km and 90,000km include brake and transmission fluids, and then spark plugs cost $350 and $800 respectively.

RightCar estimates that over 14,000km of driving a year, a three-door RAV4 will cost $2,660 to fuel - pricey for a relatively small vehicle. The 57-litre fuel tank will cost $114 to fill at $2 per litre and should take you 540km before the fuel light comes on.

A vehicle licence for the RAV4 costs $99.02 a year, with the car in the second cheapest ACC levy group.

Trade Me Insurance estimates insurance for a RAV4 valued at $6,640 will cost $42.31* per month. This is the same as cover for a three-door Suzuki Grand Vitara.

Buyers' guide

RAV4s are available on Trade Me priced from $4,500 to $17,000 for later and lower mileage vehicles. New Zealand-new cars are all-wheel drive but imports can be front-wheel drive - ask when buying and look under the rear for driveshafts if you want this feature. Three-door models are less common than the five-door versions.

New Zealand-new

  • Base - Features alloy wheels, cruise control, remote central locking, manual air-conditioning, grey bumpers and CD player stereo.
  • Limited - Adds roof rails, rear spoiler, leather-covered steering wheel and fog lights.

Japanese import (RAV4 J)

  • X - Features steel wheels, climate control air-conditioning, CD player stereo and remote central locking.
  • X G Package - Adds alloy wheels, fog lights, leather steering wheel and body coloured bumpers.
  • X Aerosport - Adds sports alloy wheels, rear spoiler and body kit.
  • X Widesport - Adds wide body kit.


  • 2000 Launched globally
  • 2003 Given minor styling and specification update. 2.4-litre engine becomes standard on New Zealand-new models
  • 2005 Replaced by new model


Review vehicle

2002 Toyota RAV4 Limited


$7,000 to $13,000 for models which have travelled 70,000 to 120,000km


2-litre four-cylinder 1145kW/192Nm (claimed)


Four-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

Safety rating

Three-star Used Car Safety Rating


15,000km or 12 months

Spare wheel

Full size wheel

Fuel economy

9.5-litres per 100km (claimed)

Fuel type








Towing capacity

750kg (unbraked), 1500kg (braked)

Turning circle


This review covers the Toyota RAV4 for model years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Review vehicle supplied by Turners Cars.

*Our insurance estimates are based on a 35-year-old male with no accidents in the last two years, garaging the car in Mission Bay, Auckland. The car is not used for business and will cover 10,000km to 20,000km a year. We estimate with no option add-ons and $500 excess. Customise your estimate at Trade Me Insurance.

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