2013 Toyota RAV4 Review

The next generation of Toyota's cute-ute.

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February 15, 2013

2013 Toyota RAV4 Review

Acceleration was adequate following an interminable wait for the transmission to kick down.

Introduction
Toyota officials are happy to talk about how the first-generation RAV4 was one of the first compact-crossover SUVs to reach the market, and the RAV4 is certainly one of the major competitors in the class. Along with the Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Ford Escape, and others, the RAV4 are competing for customers in the compact crossover SUV class. For 2013, the RAV4 has undergone another redesign, entering its fourth generation.

Changes are plentiful. Toyota has dropped the V-6 engine, the side-hinged cargo door is now a standard top-hinged liftgate, and a six-speed automatic transmission replaces the four- and five-speed automatics available on the previous car. A third seating row option is no longer available; Toyota spokespeople told us the demand wasn't high enough.

The brand is pushing interior and exterior styling and technological features as selling points for this generation, but there's always more to a car than the manufacturer's talking points. We spent a day sliding around the fringes of Phoenix to find out more about this mini-ute.

2013 Toyota RAV4 On the Road Most compact crossover SUVs are marketed to young families or people who have a need for hauling cargo. As such, few are marketed as performance vehicles, with good reason. The sole engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, and the aforementioned six-speed automatic transmission is the only one available.

While front-wheel drive is standard on the RAV4, all-wheel drive is available on each trim (base LE, mid-level XLE, and top-line Limited) for $1,400. We sampled both front-wheel and all-wheel drive and noticed very little difference between the two systems on dry pavement.

Acceleration was adequate following an interminable wait for the transmission to kick down. Toyota offers three drive modes: Eco (softens throttle response and cuts down on A/C and other fuel-sucking features), Normal, and Sport (increases throttle response, cuts back on electric power steering by 20 percent, sets transmission to shift faster), and the difference between them was noticeable. The steering firmed up in Sport mode, and the transmission became much more responsive.

The RAV4 felt nimble in cornering, but there was way too much body roll. When straightened out, the ride was smooth without being soft, even on coarse pavement. Speaking of coarse pavement, the RAV4 kept most tire noise out of the cabin. Wind noise was well-muted, too. The same can't be said for the engine--it got loud at higher RPMs.
2013 Toyota RAV4 Exterior Toyota has given the RAV4 curvier styling compared to the outgoing model, and the look is attractive, but the RAV4 doesn't stand out. We doubt that any locals even noticed the RAV4 during our drive around Scottsdale--it doesn't turn heads the way the sleekly styled Escape does.
2013 Toyota RAV4 Interior Interior materials were generally class-appropriate on the XLE and Limited trims (we especially liked the leather stitching on the dash in the Limited) but they felt cheaper and down-market in the base model.

We had enough headroom, but taller drivers might want a tad more legroom. Most buttons and switches were easy to reach, although we wished the buttons for Eco and Sport modes were mounted higher.

Cargo room has increased by 0.4 cubic feet with the second row folded and two cubic feet (from 36.4 to 38.4) with the second row upright.
2013 Toyota RAV4 Final Thoughts The RAV4 is updated to reflect its customers tastes (hence the disappearance of the third row option), but despite the new sheet metal and interior cabin, it drives much like the old one.

That's probably fine from Toyota's perspective, it's not like the outgoing model was a slow seller. We don't think this one will be a slow seller, either, since even the top-line Limited starts at just a tick over $27,000. A judiciously optioned Limited can be had for less than the Escape (Escapes can easily crawl into the mid-$30k range), making the RAV4 an interesting value proposition in a segment where price, interior space, and fuel economy usually trump exterior styling and on-road performance in buyers' minds.

The RAV4 won't stand out in the crowd, but it's that go along to get along attitude that could help it stand out on the sales charts.
2013 Toyota RAV4 Features, Prices, Specs Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder

Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission

Drive Wheels: Front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive available.

Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway (22/29 w/AWD)

Base Price: $23,300

Available Features: Bluetooth, navigation, satellite radio, rearview camera, fog lamps, tilt/telescope steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring system, power liftgate, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, power moonroof.

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