Sitting in a four-hour traffic stramash is made a lot more bearable if your car 1) has lot of room for you to shift and stretch and spread out and 2) has a decent stereo.
Both were supplied by the new 2007 Toyota Rav4, which while an unlikely vehicle to take on a road-trip to Vegas proved its worth as we sat in slow-moving single-lane traffic for about four hours and 80 miles on Highway 15 on the way back to LA.
All that room, you see, in the now-much-bigger compact SUV that's become a favorite among young moms and younger professionals. These two disparate classes of driver need room for the two kids or that mountain bike or perhaps both, not forgetting a tricycle or two for the little 'uns if they're not already occupying the two rear-most seats, a new addition which makes this a bona-fide seven seater.
The mom also likes the high-up seating position which gives a commanding view of the road; and the young exec likes the idea that they can shift a little up that gritty track on the way to the mountain bike path.
Space in the Rav4 is great: headroom comes in at 40.8 inches with 57 inches for the shoulders and arms to spread out, about 53 inches for the hips and another 41 or so for the legs. That's pretty much enough for basketball's LeBron James, far less your more averagely-sized motorist or passenger.
And yes, peripheral vision in the Rav4 is excellent for those fast breaks in traffic or, I guess, when you're running the lanes.
So its name indicates four wheel drive - the Rav4 usually comes in front-wheel-drive, though four-wheel is available - and I took it up a winding dusty desert road past one of those ramshackle Chainsaw Massacre-type gas stations and into rattlesnake country, where it performed admirably on the rougher stuff, its unibody construction stiffening it markedly from its predecessor.
Obviously, it's not a cast-iron SUV that'll handle rutted terrain as a Land Rover would, but it was never meant to. In its third incarnation since its 1994 release, it's always been the off-asphalt idea of the Rav4 that has appealed to both male and female drivers, rather than actually taking one there. Still, it performed admirably by way of its new electro-magnetic stability controls and multi-link rear suspension.
When you do get a chance to set it loose away from traffic in the city center, or indeed middle of the desert, the Rav4 packs a gutsy 166hp punch from its 2.4-liter 16-valve engine thanks to its variable-valve timing and high-revving capacity. Its bigger sister model boasts a 3.2 liter, 24-valve variant; both run through a 5-speed box calibrated for higher revs which is smooth enough without ever feeling spectacular - again, expected of its class.
Safety is good for its class with anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, drivers and front-seat passenger front and side airbags with roll-sensing side airbags front and back. Gas is acceptable for a small SUV at 24 and 30 mpg in town and country respectively.
And as always with a Toyota, it's reliability and customer satisfaction that is the unpaid premium you get for your hard-earned.
A perennial high-seller - with Rav4 sales up a record 156 percent in November, year on year from its Japan-based Tahara plant - Toyota plans to switch production to Canada from next year.
Where many of these will feel as at home as they do in the desert: There's a whole lotta room up there, too.
*Toyota Rav4 comes in a range of styles and trim, MSRP $20850 - $26420*