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2013 Toyota RAV4 -- First Drive By Steve Purdy

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2013 Toyota RAV4

2013 Toyota RAV4 Another Hit From Toyota

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

I along with other invited journalists are gathered here in Carefree, Arizona to experience the fourth generation Toyota RAV4 small crossover. This is the car that in about 1994 started the mainstream trend of making an SUV-style handy hauler out of a compact car. Some call it a cute-ute. It isn’t really a station wagon, though it sports a relatively square back. It’s more than a compact car in that it sets higher off the ground with a more commanding driver position and lots more cargo area. And, it isn’t an SUV because it has uni-body construction and no off-road pretentions.

Think of all the vehicles in this class: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX5, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forrester, VW Tiguan . . . and on and on. Nearly every manufacturer makes one for a good reason. People want them. They meet lots of motoring needs like: easy ingress and egress, room for cargo and/or people, easy on fuel, and efficient in every way. As the new RAV4 confirms, they can also be mighty good looking.

The Woodstock, Ontario-built RAV4 competes very well within this class as it moves upscale to keep up with the competition.

Let’s start with cosmetics. After all, it must grab our attention before we start making comparisons if it wants to be in our shopping mix, does it not? It is a head-turner. While maintaining essentially the same size and profile as its predecessor – and most of the competition - RAV4 exudes considerable panache with a bold new front fascia featuring high, narrow grille ending in projector beam headlights extending around the fenders rearward, a bull-dog-like under-bite look to the lower air intakes and a swooping sculpted hood. Strong character lines flow rearward and upward with broad shoulders at the C-pillar. Bulging wheel arches contribute to a meaty image. The outside-mounted spare tire on the tailgate is gone. Now the spare tire is below the rear floor so that a conventional hatch is possible. Standard 17-inch alloy wheels on two of the three trim levels and 18-inchers on the top level contribute to a look of substance as well. Lots of little details like “vortex generators” improve the coefficient of drag and looks, smoothing and directing airflow around the vehicle.

Inside, the move upscale is particularly palpable. The entirely new dash design bucks an industry trend by orienting itself horizontally rather than relying on a vertical center stack. The instrument pod with tach, speedo, and essential gauges and readouts remains simple and easy to read. The other controls are no longer stacked in the middle. Rather they all move to the top for easy access. While the cluster including the standard 6.1-inch nav and audio screen with backup camera, buttons and knobs appears busy, we found it well-laid out once we explored it a bit. On top of the dash a shallow but wide vent opening angles just a tad upward to gently guide air to the rear seat occupants.

Most impressive inside perhaps, along with other very nice materials, is a French stitched faux-leather panel underscoring the dash from cockpit to passenger door, standard on all trim levels. They’ve gone with a “color blocking” theme using different shades and colors to add a more aesthetic ambiance. In fact, in the top level Limited you can get striking Terracotta trim.

Though the sleeker exterior might imply a compromise on interior volume, it is not the case. Interior volume increases slightly as does cargo capacity. It feels entirely adequate for even a big guy like me. I did not bump my head getting in or out of front or rear seats. A bit more bolster in the seats is barely noticeable. Rear seat backs fold flat and even recline a bit, though they do not slide fore and aft as do some others. The new RAV4 boasts just a bit more cargo capacity with 73.4 cubic feet with the rear seat backs folded and 30.4 behind the rear seat.

The 2.5-liter, 4-cyliinder engine, making 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque carries over from the last generation but the old four-speed automatic has been replaced by a much more efficient six-speed with a good manual mode. The V6 engine is no longer available. This engine/trans combination is shared with other Toyota products like the Camry sedan. The EPA rates this application of the powertrain at 31-mpg on the highway (up from 28 on the previous model), and 24 in the city. Curb weight is about 3,400 pounds and it will tow 1,500 pounds.

On our drives around the city and some lovely twisty desert roads we found the power to be adequate. It did not sound or feel buzzy, partly because of vastly improved sound insulation throughout the car. Standard also is a two-mode driving system that adjusts throttle response, steering effort (this is a electric power steering system, by the way) and shift points to provide a sportier or more economical experience, whichever you choose. Once you get the hang of using the trans’manual mode and switch to sport mode it keeps you well in control and even entertained.

The new RAV4 comes in three trim levels – LE, XLE and Limited. Starting prices are $23,300, $24,200 and $27,010 respectively with front-wheel drive. (That’s without the $845 destination charge.) All-wheel drive is available on all levels for just another $1,400. The basic LE comes well equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, projector beam headlights, limited-slip differential, privacy glass, adjustable steering wheel (more adjustable than the last car), cabin air filter, back up camera and all the safety features and chassis dynamics we find on most cars these days. The Limited adds a power, adjustable liftgate, 18-inch alloy wheels, 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, Smart Key System with push button start and very nice SofTex (faux-leather) trim. The mid-level XLE falls between these two. Options include a power sunroof, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic warning, and smart key.

Suspension is unchanged and of conventional design with struts up front and a muli-link system in the rear but it has a larger anti-sway bar. The suspension tuning does not change between sport and eco modes but they have found an excellent balance between comfort and control. As we charged through the curves, swales and yumps of our desert road route it handled beautifully. I expect we overzealous journalists drove it harder than most owners would and we found nothing to complain about. I don’t think you will either.

Safety features include 8 airbags (up from 6) and all of Toyota’s Star Safety System chassis dynamics.

Two years or 25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance is part of the deal to go along with Toyota’s regular new car warranty of 3 years or 36,000 miles on the whole car and 5 years or 60,000 miles on the powertrain.

The new RAV4 is at dealers now. A truly international car it will be sold around the world in 150 countries, we’re told.

I don’t envy you your task if you’re considering a new car purchase and wanting a small CUV. There is just too much from which to choose. If you are a conscientious shopper you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time using the many New Car Buyer’s Tools here on The Auto Channel.

I would suggest, however, that you put the new RAV4 on your list.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions. All Rights Reserved