Once the archetypal "cute ute," with its closely-cropped dimensions, car-based chassis, and underwhelming four-cylinder engines, Toyota's RAV4 undergoes its most substantial transformation in its existence with the 2006 model year. In addition to adding a third row of seats and another 14 inches of length, it's getting a much-needed boost under the hood.

For the first time ever, Toyota will offer the RAV4 with an optional V-6 engine. And what an engine it is! Nothing less than a version of the Avalon's 3.5 liter, with a full 268 horsepower and 246 lbs./ft of torque. The big mill will be offered exclusively with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The 2.4L 4-cylinder will continue to be the base engine, with 166 horsepower for 2006.

With the added size comes added features, such as dual zone air conditioning, a power driver seat, an upgraded audio system with a six-disc CD changer, and available leather-trimmed interior seats. It's expected that a rear-seat DVD entertainment system will be offered as well. The '06 RAV4 is expected to be in U.S. dealerships by late December '05. Prices have not yet been announced.