Often touted as the vehicle that created the compact crossover segment, consumers care little for history and instead want a product that fits their modern needs and wants; which is why the Toyota RAV4 came to be in the first place.
|1. Gone is the optional 3.5L V6, leaving only one engine option, a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 24/31 mpg for FWD models and 22/29 mpg for AWD.
3. New Sport and Eco drive modes enhance performance for either better throttle response or improved fuel economy.
4. Pricing starts at $23,300 for the LE, $24,290 for the XLE and $27,010 for the Limited with AWD an extra $1,400 for each.
So with demand for the small soft-roader waning, a fourth-generation RAV4 is here, looking to attract new buyers with more sport and more style, though without a few of the features we’ve come to expect.
Dressed to impress, the new RAV4 is cooler than ever with a new front fascia, a lower roofline, sportier alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. Mirroring the sort of swoopy lines that characterize modern competitors like the Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-5, it’s certain to resonate more clearly with car shoppers looking for a more stylish cute-ute.
With a look unseen on any Toyota products, it comes to a point with angled headlights and an under-biting front bumper. Of course, higher trim levels deliver plenty of chrome detailing, with foglights included with XLE and Limited trims. With the new style come new wheels with 17-inch rollers standard while 18s are fitted to the Limited trim. Optional on LE models and standard on Limited and XLE trims are roof rails to help keep the look sporty though with a premium touch.
Among one of the bigger changes is the absence of the spare tire mounted on the rear liftgate. Toyota has removed the identifying SUV-inspired detail, and made a much-needed change. Now instead of a side-swinging rear door, it opens upward. What took so long?
As a bonus on the Limited trim, the liftgate is power operated with a programmable height feature. Plus all models get a rear spoiler, completing the more modern look.
Changes are just as significant under the hood, where Toyota has made the bold decision to drop the V6 engine option.
The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder remains producing 176 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque, though it gains a 6-speed automatic transmission, adding two more gears for better acceleration and fuel economy. Helping compensate for the loss of the V6 engine, the RAV4 also gains a Sport mode that improves throttle (as well as steering) response.
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The transmission helps improve fuel economy to 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway with the front-drive and 22/29 mpg for all-wheel drive equipped models. A strong improvement, those figures aren’t quite best-in-class, coming up short of the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape. For added fuel thrift, the RAV4 does gain a new Eco mode, to balance out the Sport mode, dulling throttle response to ensure maximum fuel mileage.
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you can’t ignore that for a small, cost effective vehicle, the RAV4 has some real interior appeal.
Resembling the faces of sports watches, the sleek new dash clusters are cooly illuminated with a blue-colored backgrounds and red needles gauges. That’s just the start of better cabin fashion. Available to the XLE and Limited trims, French stitching gives the dash a more up-scale flavor, while helping to make even the most basic models look modern is a standard 6-inch touchscreen display system which includes a backup camera. A new shift gate panel helps take the cabin another step towards feeling like a car, though the long shifter looks dated already, as does the digital clock, while the carbon-fiber styled accenting material seems out of place in a crossover.
Other cabin standard features include 6-speaker audio system, a USB port with iPod connectivity, handsfree phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth. Optional to the Limited trim is a better infotainment system with display audio, navigation, Entune, and an 11-speaker JBL audio system with a subwoofer.
Along with making more noise, the 2013 RAV4 also helps drown it out, with improved sound deadening throughout, as well as a new thicker windshield.
Getting rid of the two-tone seating color scheme, long a part of the RAV4’s pedigree, is the implementation of color-blocking styling, a look often found in high-end sports cars. Color options include black, gray, beige and the most premium-looking of the combinations, a new terra cotta choice (basically clay red and dark gray), solely available on the Limited trim. The Limited seats also used a Softex material, rather than genuine leather, which is now only used on the steering wheel and shifter. Both the LE and XLE trim levels feature fabric-trimmed seats, which look better than before.
Rear seat legroom is actually down by an inch, though slimmer seatbacks mean even taller passengers won’t be wanting for space. They’ll also enjoy a wider armrest with side-by-side cup holders.
One of the biggest changes is the removal of the third-row seating option. With low sales and little demand the change allows for cargo capacity to be increased to 38.4 cu-ft behind the second row and 73.4 cubic feet total.
On the road, the RAV4’s new style with improved aerodynamics makes for reduced wind noise, while a larger rear sway bar helps reduce body roll. Overall the drive is smoother and more energetic.
We drove our AWD Limited tester throughout the hills of Scottsdale, Arizona and it fared well in the semi-mountainous terrain but it was also clear that the RAV4 is less of an off-road vehicle than ever before. If the style doesn’t communicate the message enough, the fact that ground clearance has been reduced by over an inch certainly will.
Instead, it’s best left on the beaten path, with an Eco mode for your daily commute and a Sport mode for long freeway stretches and twisty hills. The Sport mode really is one of the highlights and it’s a convenience feature RAV4 owners might have not realized they were missing. It’s all about quicker shifts as well as improved throttle response, not to mention more reactive steering. On all-wheel drive models, the assistance of Dynamic Torque Control offers 10 percent more power to the rear wheels and combats understeer affording better balance to the vehicle.
An all-new AWD system is included with three drive modes: Auto, Lock and Sport. The auto mode is essentially a front-drive setting that adds power to the rear once slip is detected. In the case you do find yourself in the mud or snow, a Lock mode will engage the rear axle with up to 50 percent of the power being set to the rear wheels at speeds of up to 25 mph. Finally, when in the car’s Sport mode, up to 50 percent of the torque can be sent to the rear wheels at any speed, helping improve cornering.
New driving aids have also been introduced like the (standard) one-touch three-blink turn signal for easier lane changes as well as the option of a Blind Spot Monitor indicator on outside mirrors in the Limited trim. Also, in the airbag department, is a driver knee airbag which curbs the impact to the driver’s legs in case of a collision.
Those looking for functionality in the towing department, the RAV retains the 1,500 lb towing capability of its 4-cylidner predecessor, though without the V6 engine, those looking for more, will have to look elsewhere.
Once a leader in the crossover segment, the RAV4 has slipped away from setting the trend but looks to regain its former status with this fourth generation model.
Moving further from the SUV by dropping its V6, third row and visible rear spare tire, it’s less unique in the segment. Seemingly a bad thing, it’s a response to consumer demand and does make for a more pleasing product.
In place of those features is more space, better driving dynamics and a style that’s so attractive you wouldn’t expect it from Toyota. Combine that with some new tech, a vastly improved interior and the quality we’ve come to expect from the Japanese auto giant over the years and the 2013 RAV4 is poised to compete at the top of its class.