- Noticeable improvement in ride quality and driving dynamics
- A demure and sleek exterior design for a crossover
- Rear side hinged door replaced with lift gate and spare tire moved inside
- Backup camera, USB port, and Bluetooth standard across all three trim levels
- Seat heaters only available with the Limited trim level
- Crossover shoppers must move up to Highlander if they want V6 power
Don’t discount Toyota. They know how to design cars, trucks and especially SUVs. Granted the mid-size crossover segment is crowded with strong contenders such as the redesigned Ford Escape and attractive Hyundai Santa Fe that also offer great value, but the all-new 2013 Toyota RAV4 will go wheel-to-wheel with anyone in its class and find a place near the top of anyone’s shopping list of crossovers.
After its splashy announcement at the 2012 LA Auto Show last December, we were invited to drive and pick apart the new RAV4 in sunny Carefree, Arizona just outside of Scottsdale.
Big changes for the fourth generation are as follows. The 2013 RAV4 loses the V6 option and third row of seats, upgrades to a 6-speed automatic transmission and swaps its swing-gate cargo door for a more conventional roof-hinged liftgate.
The smoother ride and better fuel efficiency are great moves forward, but the RAV4 is up against several comfortable, refined, efficient compact crossovers, including the jack-of-all-trades Honda CR-V, the mileage king Mazda CX-5 and the popular Ford Escape.
Unlike some its competition that offer two or three different engine options, the RAV4 is only offered with one powerplant – a 176 horsepower, 2.5-liter four cylinder engine. Front-wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) models are available across three different trim levels – LE, XLE, and Limited. Toyota’s 2.5L engine is a carryover from the 2012 model which has strong reliability and repair history numbers according to J.D. Power and Identix.
Fuel Economy (MPG)
Not a fast crossover by any measure, power from the 176hp, 2.5-liter engine is adequate with front- and all-wheel drive, and it builds steadily thanks to a responsive six-speed automatic transmission that replaces last year’s outdated four-speed.
Gear ratios chosen by the Toyota engineers work well with the engine’s power band and keep everything buzzing along nicely. Shifting from the 6-speed automatic is smooth and barely noticeable under normal driving conditions. Kick-down is fairly quick when you need to stomp on the pedal for some extra oomph.
New for 2013 are “Sport” and ECO modes. Switching Sport mode on causes steering feedback, throttle response, and engine mapping to tighten. On AWD models, Sport mode dynamically increases responsiveness on dry pavement and maximizes AWD traction by proactively distributing more torque to the rear wheels at initial turn in to help improve steering. The result is a more predictable and intuitive driving experience and is immediately noticeable.
ECO mode increases fuel efficiency by decreasing throttle response, and regulating A/C output and other comfort features. Our test drives were too short to measure the true effectiveness of ECO mode, but we plan to do more extensive testing when we get the new RAV4 in for a week of evaluation.
Location of the Sport and ECO mode switches is not the most optimal. Our experience reaching for the switches was awkward and may require you to move your vision away from the road. Basically, it’s a little challenging finding and pressing the right switch when actively driving.
We were particularly pleased with the RAV4’s refined handling. Underneath the 2013 RAV4 is a sophisticated system that integrates Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Control for the AWD models and major suspension improvements. The new RAV4 rides more than 1 inch lower than the outgoing model and improvements to suspension and steering do a lot to build driver confidence. Its small turning radius and car-like ride make the RAV4 one of the most nimble SUVs in the segment.
Driver and passenger comfort are always an important design consideration. The revamped cabin design is emphasized to give the passengers a semblance of a spacious cabin. Four average-sized adults won’t have a problem getting comfortable in the RAV4. The backseat is predictably firmer and flatter than the front seats, but it’s not uncomfortable and it still reclines.
Front and rear headroom and legroom are mid-pack. Out of the four most popular mid-size crossovers, the Escape (with 43.1 inches) offers the most front legroom when compared with the RAV4’s 42.6. The Mazda CX-5 handily beats it and the others when it comes to second-row legroom, however, with 39.3 inches compared with the RAV4’s 37.2 inches.
With 73.4 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, the new RAV4 offers a tiny bit more than the old one. The outgoing model had 73 cubic feet with the seats folded. Either way, it’s still more than the CR-V (70.9), Escape (67.8) and CX-5 (65.4). With the seats up, the RAV4 is at the top of the list again with a couple more cubic feet of luggage space than the others.
The cargo area is also nice and tall, with a comfortably low lift-in height. An under-floor storage compartment now stows the spare and has provision for stowing the retractable tonneau cover when not in use. A thoughtful touch from the Toyota engineers to cover a minor annoyance.
Auxiliary and USB ports for audio, Bluetooth audio streaming is standard across all trims. The 11-speaker JBL sound system is better than many of the Bose sound systems found in the competitor’s cars.
Heated seats are only available in the Limited trim level. For a feature that is as common USB ports, leaving out seat heaters in the lower trims is a faux pas in our opinion.
The MSRP for the new RAV4 LE trim will be $23,300 for the FWD and $24,700 for the AWD. The XLE will be $24,290 for the FWD and $25,690 for the AWD model. The MSRP for the Limited grade will be $27,010 for the AWD and $28,410 for AWD. Toyota RAV4 MSRPs do not include a delivery, processing and handling (DPH) fee of $845.