Most noticeable about the new Toyota RAV4's handling and ride are the increased stability from the wider track and the smoother ride from the extended wheelbase. In the Sport, the suspension is tuned toward stability over smoothness. Steering response is confident, although understeer (where the car wants to go straight while the driver wants it to turn) is the dominant response to excessive exuberance. There's moderate body lean in corners. However, dive under braking and squat when accelerating are decently damped.
Brake pedal feel is firm, and depending on the engine, response to the gas pedal is prompt or borderline overwhelming, especially in light of the fact that the 2006 RAV4 weighs 500 pounds more than the '05. Prompt response comes from the four cylinder, up five horsepower over the '05 and unchanged in torque. In both front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, this engine delivers solid, linear acceleration. Torque steer, that front-wheel-drive syndrome that tugs on the steering wheel, is minimal. The accompanying mechanical and exhaust sounds, although not intrusive, clearly identify the engine as a Toyota four cylinder.
Not so with the V6, with its head-of-the-class 269 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque. This engine readily challenges for command of the steering wheel, rather stoutly with front-wheel drive, somewhat less so but even with four-wheel drive. There's effective masking of mechanicals, and the exhaust note is more soothingly tuned than in the four. Some wind whistle crept into the cabin around the side door windows, but we were driving an early production version.