1997: Toyota RAV4
“The RAV4 is our 1997 Automobile of the Year because it is fun to drive, fun to ride in, and fun to contemplate, and because it is already, in less than a full year in the American marketplace, bringing about a sea change in the way the automobile industry and its customers perceive sport-utility vehicles.
“So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the RAV4 seems to ring a bell with everyone who sees it. Its jaunty, off-beat appearance says ‘Buy me’ to an amazing cross section of Japanese, European, and American new-car prospects, but most especially to the youngest generation of consumers. The RAV4 is not cheap, but it reeks of friendliness and accessibility. Its whole personality leads the prospective buyer to look beyond the sticker and happily imagine that he or she could manage one of these little roustabouts.
“When we had completed our test drives through Kentucky and Tennessee, and sat down over dinner in our hotel to hammer out some kind of consensus, it became clear that the RAV4 stirred real passion in the breasts of our enthusiasts/ journalists. We shared the belief that it is an extremely successful answer to the twin SUV problems of rising cost and rising fuel economy, and one with a great deal of entertainment value. It charmed us the way it has charmed the market. It is a real pleasure to name it the 1997 Automobile of the Year.”