It's been 6 months and I've put twice as many miles on the new-to-me RAV4 than I had planned. (Background is here.) I took a trip to Idaho in January that I NEVER thought I would take. Living in the southern half of Arizona, I could see snow on the mountains but had no intention of ever driving in the stuff. That leads to the one minor regret I have about buying this vehicle. I did not get a RAV4 with 4-wheel drive -- Figured front-wheel was enough for me. It would have been, if not for the unexpected trip north in winter to help my brother who had hip-replacement surgery. Don't get me wrong, the vehicle performed well for the 1200+ miles each way. I never felt tires slipping on the road. I'm sure it was an operator headspace problem, but I just felt less confident about my safety during two or three particularly wintery hours out of my 20-something hour drive.
So here's what I like about the RAV4:
1. Very good mileage, even when carrying a load. I've doubled the mileage since buying it and improved the cumulative MPG from 23.9 to 24.8, probably from using the cruise control as often as possible.
2. You can carry a load -- I filled it up for my long drive. I could have built a cabin in the woods, furnished it, and not needed to hunt for food for a month with what I fit in this seemingly small SUV.
3. Seats are comfortable, front and back. I am really picky about headrests, and these don't force you head into an uncomfortable position.
4. Not underpowered for most circumstances. Some of the long uphills in Utah challenge it to keep above 65 mph without the MPG going to single digits, but I wasn't in a huge hurry.
5. Corners nicely and has a reasonably small turning radius. Not as small as a Subaru I had years ago when I lived on the UP in Michigan, but still pretty small.
6. Quiet. Very little road noise.
7. I'm 5'6" and can put one of the back seats down and sack out with room to spare.
8. My 6' tall husband is much too comfortable in the driver's seat when I let him drive.
9. So far, only normal maintenance has been needed -- oil and filter change, tire rotation, etc.
10. Has a cabin air filter, which really helps because I have allergies.
11. The front-wheel drive is enough to get you into a lot of places off the paved roads. Haven't really tried cross-country, but have been on a couple of fairly ratty 2-track roads and she did just fine.
12. Some cool technology, like the instantaneous and total cumulative MPG and outside temp displays. Remember, my old car was a 2000 Honda, so times have changed and I am playing catch-up.
13. Really good visibility -- lots of nice windows and no weird architectural blind spots. My brother has a Toyota Cruiser (FJ? BJ? Cruiser) that has some nasty blind spots in places you need to have visibility when backing out of parking spaces. Bad design.
14. The ground clearance on the RAV4 is very good -- higher than several other vehicles in the under $20K slightly-used price range. The little Scions and similar cubish cars have much less clearance. In fairness, I did not drive a KIA Sedona, so that may be a comparable vehicle for ground clearance.
15. Several good storage spots to keep personal items nearby, but out of sight, while driving.
16. Sound system is OK -- not a high priority for me as long as I can get clear reception on the radio or hear my Bob Marley driving CD, so it may be better than I think.
Here's what I don't like:
The 2011 standard model doesn't have a way to connect my ancient phone to a hands-free system that is integrated into the vehicle. The 2012 did, but you needed blue ray capability. Heck, if my crummy old phone had blue ray I wouldn't need an integrated system for hands free! I'd just get one of those ear thingies!
Also not crazy about the 2-tone interior on this one. It's mostly sand beige (good) with some black accents (not good). The black dashboard is fine for winter, but by mid-May I'll be begging for one of those cheesy velour dash covers in a light color to avoid a generous blast of hot air in my face every time I get in the vehicle.
I haven't used the roof rack, so can't comment about that, but it was there if I needed it. I'm also completely ambivalent about the 'moon-roof.' If I'd bought new, I definitely would have skipped that extra.
ACCESSORIZING YOUR RAV4: I bought a cargo net and a cargo cover for the rear storage area. They are very useful and easy to use. I anticipate getting the aforementioned cheesy dash cover and probably will have a trailer-hitch attached. I don't anticipate pulling a trailer, but one of those small extension carriers would be great to carry a 5-gallon gas can and one or two 20-lb propane tanks.
OVERALL, I'd say that using a 2011 RAV4 as your way to get 2 adults and up to 2 children out of an area on existing roads in ADVANCE of an anticipated potential emergency-- say a Hurricane Sandy -- is a reasonable, relatively low-cost choice. I'd definitely go for a 4-wheel drive if encounters with snow or loose sand would be part of your preparedness scenario.