While advertisers would like you to believe that bigger is always better regardless of whether the topic is department stores, dish detergent or diners, some people aren’t into thinking big just for the sake of it.

Aside from the fuel mileage and social stigma, there are actually many benefits that come with owning an SUV that don’t involve intimidating pedestrians.

Having additional space to carry the tiny sprigs of your family tree with the peace of mind that come from an elevated driving position and four-wheel-drive are but a few reasons drivers abandoned the minivan and station wagon years ago.

Smaller SUV’s have become commonplace for most manufacturers, which blend the aforementioned advantages within a package that is more likely to fit your finances, not to mention your garage.

Launched as a 1996 model, the original Rav4 was the first SUV to be built on the chassis of a car. The Corolla-based mini SUV was offered in both two and four door versions. While it was debatable which model was the more hideous of the two, the Rav4 has always enjoyed a decent-sized audience, primarily with women as a matter of fact.

It seems that blending small, fuel-efficient engines and off-road capabilities have become a winning formula for Toyota.

Thankfully, the mini off-roader was completely revamped in 2000 without the aquarium-sized windows and with less plastic Lego body cladding.

The third generation model was redesigned in 2006 and has received a facelift for 2009. Changes include a re-styled grille and bumpers, active headrests for the front seats and a more powerful 2.5L four-cylinder engine that boasts 179 hp and 172 ft-lbs of torque.

A 3.5-litre V6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission is available on all trim levels, producing a respectable 269 hp and 246 ft-lbs of torque while getting the four-cylinder-like fuel economy numbers.

The Rav4 is offered in three variations: Base, Sport and Limited, which are available in both four- and six-cylinder engine configurations with a four-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment.

The third generation Rav may still be considered a mini SUV, but it offers a roomy interior big enough for five adults, 73 cubic feet of cargo space and an available third row for the little tykes in Base and Limited form.

The Rav4 is easy to drive, even when navigating cramped parking garages or city gridlock, which is unheard of when it comes to most SUVs.

While the V6 version hits zero-60 mph in just over seven seconds, the four-cylinder version left something to be desired in the performance department with only marginally better fuel efficiency than its V6 counterpart. Handling is precise and predictable.

Standard features for the base RAV4 include 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player and auxiliary audio jack.

The Sport version adds rear tinted windows, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, foglights and heated side mirrors.

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