Rav4 vs Grand Caravan ES

I traded in my 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan ES AWD for a 2006 Toyota RAV4 Limited 4WD, and I wanted to blog a few points about the transition.

These are obviously very different vehicles.  The Caravan is a comfy living room on wheels, whereas the RAV4 is a driving machine.  The Caravan is more posh; the RAV4 is more fun to drive.  That about sums it up.  It’s not as big as the Caravan, but the Caravan was too big; we were looking for something smaller.

There are some surprises about the RAV4 though.  Here are some observations, in no particular order:

  • The RAV4 doesn’t automatically turn your headlights on when it gets dark.  Every car I’ve driven for the last 15 years or so has done this, and the RAV4 does it in Europe, but not in Canada.  This is a bizarre omission.
  • The RAV4 stereo has an automatic speed sensitive volume level adjuster, which works well enough for the volume, but doesn’t adjust for acoustics.  In other words, if you’re listening to the stereo when stopped and it sounds good, when you get up to highway speed, all you’ll hear is bass and treble; the midrange gets completely lost.  Adjust for that and it’ll sound wrong when you stop.
  • No power passenger seat on the Limited?  My wife is not impressed.
  • This thing sticks to the road.  Very little body roll, and the electric steering system provides great road feedback.  With the Caravan you were lucky if you knew there was a road there at all.
  • The seats.  Some people love them, but after putting ~800km on the vehicle over the last few days, I’m finding them uncomfortable.  This isn’t the sort of thing you can really pick up on a road test, but now I’m wondering what I can do about it.  Probably not much.

There a lot of nice little touches about the Caravan that seem frivolous but that are noticeable when you take them away.  Things like:

  • A handle on the rear door that lets you close it without touching the door exterior (which is probably dirty).
  • Mirrors that automatically dim at night, so headlights behind you aren’t blinding you.  The side mirrors really pick up the headlights.
  • No digital compass (or any compass at all).
  • No trip computer (so no guess at KMs until empty, no estimated MPG).

The RAV4 nails the core driving experience – it’s fun to drive, no doubt – but misses out on a few little details that for me just make it a bit less than perfect.