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2013 Toyota RAV4 Close-Up Preview

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2013 Toyota RAV4


2013 Toyota RAV4 Preview

When the Toyota RAV4 first appeared here in 1996, it heralded a revolution. From the outside, it looked like many another small SUV, and was offered in both four-door and two-door form. The SUV fad was at its peak, but in those days "SUV" meant a truck-based vehicle, with comfort often sacrificed for off-road ruggedness and ability. Which in many cases meant style over function.

With its combination of a car's unibody construction and fully-independent suspension and the higher stance and styling of a traditional SUV, Toyota's "Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive" was the first "crossover" SUV. It wasn't meant for serious off-road use, but even then most SUV buyers didn't go for serious off-road operation. With its greater-than-car ground clearance, the RAV4 could handle forest roads and winter driving better than a car, and was more comfortable and economical in daily use than a truck-based SUV. Toyota definitely had a good idea -- there are now 45 or so crossover SUVs on the market. Traditional body-on-frame designs are a minority, and decreasing.

There were two more generations of RAV4 between then and now. The two-door variant disappeared early on, along with most two-door SUVs. The four-door RAV grew a bit in size, but never got too large. Its four-cylinder engine grew larger as well, and for a while a V6 was offered. And despite the "4" in the name, front-wheel drive versions were available.

Two things that never changed for the RAV4 were an externally-mounted spare tire, on the tailgate, a hallmark of early-90s SUVdom, and that tailgate being hinged on the side. Style and interior space dictated the tire position, and the tire position made the side-hinged tailgate more practical than a roof-hinged one. That tire position also decreased rear vision, and the tailgate was tricky to use in tight quarters. Those were hardly deal-breakers - 1.7 million RAV4s have been sold in the US alone, and, according to Toyota, 80 percent of those are still on the road.

The recently-introduced fourth-generation RAV4 isn't quite a "clean sheet" revamp. but it is the most-changed in the nameplate's history -- and for the better. Gone are the pudgy "sport-cute" lines -- and the external spare, and the side-hinged tailgate. The new RAV4 is more athletic-looking, and attention to aerodynamic details, including a partial undertray and air-management "vortex generators" on the outside mirrors and taillights also help stability on the road and fuel consumption -- which is expected to be over 30 mpg on the highway for FWD models, and just under that for AWD. Sitting on the same 104.7-inch wheelbase as the previous generation, the 2013 RAV4 is an inch or so lower, two inches shorter, fractionally narrower, and loses 1.2 inches of ground clearance, now 6.3. It's not and never has been an off-roader, but with care should be fine on most improved forest roads.

Inside, there's a little less headroom, a non-issue for all but NBA first-round draft picks, but more shoulder room, front leg- and hip room, and cargo volume. And all-new styling. Toyota has taken plenty of heat, primarily from the press, about its use of hard plastics for interior panels. While the base LE grade uses some textured hard plastic panels, they're cleverly disguised and look far better than previous low-end Toyota interior materials. Upgrading to the XLE, expected to be the core model, gets better seats, fancier interior trim and upgraded materials, and more. The top-of-the-line Limited gets Softex (vegan "leather") seat upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, and even better interior trim than the XLE. All models, even the LE, have a "Display Audio" touchscreen control for the audio system, auxiliary jack, USB, and iPod® connectivity, a backup camera, soft-touch interior accents, filtration air conditioning, a noise-reducing acoustic glass windshield, and a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with audio, information system, and Bluetooth® phone controls. Looking for manual roll-up windows? Not here.

Power for all models is from Toyota's 2.5-liter 2AR-FE four-cylinder engine. It's an aluminum alloy 16-valve, dual overhead cam design with Dual VVT-i (variable cam phasing and lift on both the intake and exhaust camshafts) for improved efficiency and reduced emissions. Producing 176 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 172 lb-ft of torque (at 4100 rpm), it's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission designed and built for fuel economy and performance. All 2013 RAV4s have Sport and ECO drive modes. Sport increases throttle response, quickens shift times, and reduces electric power steering (EPS) assist by about 20 percent for a firmer feel. ECO decreases throttle response, and regulates the air conditioning and other systems for improved fuel efficiency.

Front-wheel drive models have a standard electronically-simulated limited-slip differential to improve traction. All-wheel drive models use the "Integrated Dynamic Drive System", with coordinates the Dynamic Torque Control AWD, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), and EPS systems to improve stability, handling response, and fuel efficiency.

Suspension is superficially familiar, fully-independent by MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones with trailing arms in the rear. But, as has been the recent way at Toyota, careful attention has been paid to proper tuning, for good ride comfort and very good handling characteristics, with flat cornering and the maneuverability to avoid potential hazards.

Safety equipment is as expected in a Toyota today. The Star Safety System combines VSC, traction control, antilock brakes (four-wheel discs), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology (SST). There are eight airbags in every new RAV4, dual front and front-seat side, driver's knee, front passenger seat cushion, and full-length roll-sensing side curtains. The front seats are designed to decrease damage from whiplash. The RAV4's unibody structure uses high-strength steel for strength, rigidity, and protection with decreased weight

To get a good look at the 2013 RAV4, plus get information straight from Toyota, and a chance for a back-to-back comparison to the previous version, I recently traveled to Scottsdale, AZ for the short-lead press introduction. Negative lead time, really, as the new RAV4 has been on sale since January. Typically for Toyota, after the morning briefing and technical presentation, assembled journalists had the opportunity to drive all three grades of 2013 RAV4, in both FWD and AWD form, on several short routes through the local area. All pavement, no off-road fantasies here -- if you want offroad in a Toyota, the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser will do that very capably.

First off, a stint in an AWD Limited. Why not start at the top? I was immediately impressed by the interior design and material quality. Just Say No to cheap plastics. Seat comfort was very good, especially for the class, and the car (yes, it is) was quiet and well-behaved on the road. Power was more than adequate, and should be fine for the RAV's purpose. Ride and handling were first-rate, and the EPS system's responsiveness and steering feel lets it be known that such systems do not have to have the numbness of a video game controller. I've been in some competitive compact crossovers recently, and as good as they were, Toyota plays to win. MSRP is $27,020 for FWD or $28,410 for AWD. Available options include navigation and a blind-spot warning system with cross-traffic alert.

Next up, an LE FWD. MSRP $23,300 (or $24,700 AWD) but nothing "cheap" about it. No, the seats weren't as comfortable as those of the Limited, but I've felt worse, for more money. The LE has all you really need, and the only factory options are roof rails and a tonneau/cargo cover.

Then a longer time in an XLE. No surprise that Toyota expects this one to be the volume seller. For $990 more than an LE ($24,290 FWD, $25,690 AWD) you get noticeably better seats, more soft-touch interior panels, a tilt-and-slide power moonroof, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The only option is a navigation system.

And finally, a quick trip in last year's RAV4. Seat comfort, ride quality, interior layout and design, and engine and transmission response have all been noticeably improved. Very noticeably improved, much more than numbers would indicate. Toyota has listened to criticism, and improved its product. And that's what matters in the long run.

2013 Toyota RAV4

Base Price		FWD LE $ 23,300 XLE 24,290 Limited $ 27,010
			AWD LE $ 24,700 XLE 25,690 Limited $ 28,400
Price As Tested		$ N/A
Engine Type		aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder 
Engine Size		2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.
Horsepower		176 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)		172 @ 4100 rpm
Transmission		6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length	104.7 in. / 179.9 in.
Curb Weight		3453 lbs (FWD LE) to 3600 lbs (AWD Limited)
Pounds Per Horsepower	19.6 to 20.5
Fuel Capacity		15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement	87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires			LE and XLE: P225/65R17  Limited: P235/55R18
Brakes, front/rear	vented disc / solid disc, ABS
Suspension, front/rear	independent MacPherson strut /
			 independent double wishbone
Ground Clearance	6.3 inches
Drivetrain		transverse front engine,
			 front- or all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway	FWD 24 / 31  AWD 22/29
Maximum Towing Capacity	1500 lbs