These days, doing something overtly conventional is viewed by the automotive media with dimly-veiled skepticism. “Conventional” is terminally unworthy.

Given that premise, Toyota Motor Corp.'s all-new '06 RAV4 compact cross/utility vehicle should be dead on arrival. After all, Toyota's taken what used to be the brand's only genuinely strange, slightly-off-kilter model and stamped in a heavy dose of Camry-think.

It's obvious from the third-generation RAV4's mini-Highlander sheet metal that the days of funky styling are finished. Chief Engineer Kiyotake Ise calls it “modern rugged.” We see the new lines as crisp and clean, period. And to Toyota, that's going to translate better in the U.S. market, to the tune of a predicted 135,000 annual sales — practically double the RAV's 2005 tally of 70,515.

The most important driveline change is the addition of V-6 power, the excellent 2GR-FE 3.5L DOHC unit Toyota is spreading liberally throughout its U.S. model range.

For the '06' RAV4, the 3.5L DOHC V-6 cranks out 269 hp and 246 lb.-ft. (334 Nm) of torque. Stomp the right pedal, and the RAV4 hauls butt in a fashion befitting an entry sport sedan.

The V-6 is available in any of the Base, Limited or Sport trim levels, and can be coupled to front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). The only transmission with the V-6 is a no-nonsense 5-speed automatic that does exactly what you want, when you want.

As per the segment rules, base power is a 4-cyl., the yeoman 2.4L DOHC unit also serving duty in many other Toyotas. It makes an adequate 166 hp and 165 lb.-ft. (224 Nm) of torque that is unexciting — particularly when the only transmission available is a hesitant and emphatically overmatched 4-speed automatic.

The sweet new electronically controlled AWD system uses an electromagnetically controlled wet-clutch coupling bolted directly onto the rear differential. As much as 45% of engine torque can be directed to the rear wheels.

The '06 RAV4 is larger. Much larger. It has increased its girth in almost every dimension. It's 6.7 ins. (17 cm) longer in wheelbase and 3.2 ins. (8 cm) wider and a segment-shifting 14.5 ins. (37 cm) longer overall. The increased spread-out space is palpable: Dispensing with the grueling details, Toyota tape measures say the interior volume is up by 21%, and now there's room for an optional third-row seat.

As seating per se, the new RAV4's third row is as useless as most, but the 50/50 split seats stow so quickly and cooperatively it seems silly not to pay the $700 just to have them. Inexplicably, the third-row option is unavailable for the Sport trim.

The new dash layout is simple, effective and attractive, and there are plenty of thoughtful storage cubbies, including the neat 2-tier glovebox and a princely total of 10 cupholders.

Pricing is going to give fits to Toyota's rivals. The lineup starts at $20,200 for a FWD 4-cyl. RAV4 and runs to $25,770 for a V-6/AWD Limited. There are several options, including a nice rear-seat entertainment unit and leather.

Critics will moan about Toyota wringing out the “personality” from one of the few quirky vehicles in its lineup. But in the case of the '06 RAV4, the newfound conventionality makes it a better vehicle in every sense.

Anyway, don't lament the RAV4's loss of funk too much. The likable but definitely peculiar FJ Cruiser (see p. 44) is coming later this year to take up the cause.

#39;06 Toyota RAV4 Limited (AWD)

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 7-passenger 4-door SUV

Engine: 3.5L (3,456 cc) DOHC V-6, aluminum block/aluminum heads

Power (SAE net): 269 hp @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 246 lb.-ft. (336 Nm) @ 4,700 rpm

Compression ratio: 10.8:1

Bore × stroke (mm): 94 × 83

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 104.7 ins. (266 cm)

Overall length: 181.1 ins. (460 cm)

Overall width: 71.5 ins. (182 cm)

Overall height: 66.5 ins. (169 cm)

Curb weight: 3,675 lbs. (1,668 kg)

EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg): 21/28

Market competition: Chevrolet Equinox; Ford Escape; Honda CR-V; Hyundai Tucson; Jeep Liberty; Kia Sportage; Suzuki Grand Vitara