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I test-drove the auto 4wd and wasn't impressed with the inline acceleration for passing and overall highway driving, but it wasn't too bad. But, I place a premium on MAX performance and 90% of my daily drivers have been manual trannies in the past (I've owned 6 different Japanese "daily drivers" since '88, two of them from "premium" divisions). If you put any emphasis on performance at all and want every bit you can get out of your 4-cyl. motor while simultaneously getting decent fuel mileage, then the ONLY way to go is with a manual transmission. Larger 6's and 8's are better motor choices coupled to auto trannies. But, it depends on your needs. If I were purchasing a new RAV for primarily in-town usage, then the auto trans would suffice, especially if you're doing tons of stop-n-go driving. If you plan on commuting and do a lot of hwy driving, get the manual. Someone mentioned the auto trans got better mileage...do cows fly? I don't think so. The new RAV in the 2wd manual trans config is the highest-mileage RAV there is; it's rated for 31mpg on the hwy. I haven't done an "official" mileage test on ours yet, but it's just broken in with only 1900 miles on it and seems to be getting outstanding mileage.
Now...2wd vs. 4wd. I thought that subject was dead. Remember, the 2wd RAV is front-wheel-drive, and fwd's get great winter traction. If they didn't, then why would the majority of new cars have fwd? I lived in MT for nearly 4yrs. I was the first one to my local ski area after a large snowfall every time. I owned a '90 CRX at the time, fwd manual, of course. How'd I do it in the deep snow? Very carefully, a manual transmission, and winter tires. If you get a 2wd RAV and purchase a set of Bridgestone Winter Dueler tires (and another set of wheels would help so you could unbolt your factory tires/wheels and bolt on your winter set in a jiffy) to be used for your winter months, nothing will stop you. Everything, anything, and all possible things about winter, summer and all-season tires for cars and trucks are found at <http://www.tirerack.com>, the source for all tire knowledge. Don't work for 'em, don't know 'em, but I've purchased my last 8 sets of tires from them and a winter tire/wheel set that I've used for the past two seasons on my '96 G20. I got a nice set of OZ-brand aluminum 6-spoke wheels with Bridgestone MZ-02 winter tires mounted, balanced, and delivered to my doorstep via UPS for about $575. What's your life worth to you? If you want MAX winter driving safety, how come you haven't purchased winter tires yet? YES, they're that good. Do you wear your Birkenstock sandals year-round, even in the snow? Sure, they're great summer shoes, but they don't belong in a winter environment. So, why should you expect your "summer" tires to suffice in the winter? Oh yea, you have all-season tires, meant to be used all year round. Well, I thought all-season tires were cool until I found out about winter tires. All-season tires are like a jack of all trades. A jack of all trades is a master of none. They're meant to be used in all seasons, but they're never good or outstanding in any one season. I know people say they're tires are "good enough" for them. Well, that's fine. But, don't knock winter tires until you try 'em. Once you try them, you'll never want to use your "all-season" tires in the winter again.
Wow, what a book...sorry. My reasoning is our RAV will rarely, if ever, leave the pavement. I rather go with the mechanical simplicity of the 2wd RAV (which also gets better gas mileage than the 4wd) and spend the $600 or so to get the winter tire/wheel set from the Tire Rack this fall instead of paying the $1000-$1100 premium for the 4wd option. The 2wd (front wheel drive) RAV is probably the best choice for most drivers in most situations. Besides, if you're into real off-roading (which requires 4wd), you should be looking for a 4-Runner or a Land Bruiser instead of a car-like RAV.
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