The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE Review and Roadtest

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

Toyota has introduced an all-new RAV4 for the 2013 model year. The vehicle is completely redesigned and while the update is generally well-executed we feel that Toyota has missed the mark in a few areas, which we’ll discuss.

Available configurations have been simplified for 2013 by the deletion of the available V6 engine and third-row seating. The trim levels carry over as before – LE, XLE, and Limited. Even the base LE trim is very generously equipped, including 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, rear tinted glass, full power accessories, A/C, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split second-row seat that reclines, a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with 6-inch touchscreen.

Our tester came to us in XLE trim, which further adds 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, heated side mirrors, roof rails, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and sportier front seats. Opting for the Limited would get you 18-inch alloy wheels, a power rear hatch, keyless entry/ignition, an auto-dimming center rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with memory settings, heated front seats and premium synthetic leather upholstery.

The only option our RAV4 sported was a $549 set of running boards – Because the RAV4 is crafted fairly low to the ground, it’s exceptionally easy for passengers to get in and out without them, making them feel somewhat unnecessary.

On the outside, the RAV4 is a fairly radical departure from the prior style without going so far so as to no longer be identifiable as a Toyota. From a side profile view, the RAV4 looks nicely sculpted, although a little bulgy, with the taillights sticking out really far, almost appearing to stick out further than the rear bumper. The most major change is a top-hinged rear liftgate rather than the prior side-swinging system. While this is undoubtedly more convenient, and the opening to the cargo area is one of the lowest we’ve seen making loading very easy, there is one catch – the control to open is placed fairly high in the liftgate, making opening it somewhat of an awkward feeling to unlatch and lift for those without exceptionally long arms.

As we get into the vehicle, it’s impossible not to note both good and strange to the RAV4’s interior redesign. Seating both front and rear is very comfortable with an attractive pattern and color scheme to the cloth seats. Controls are mostly logical and the dash is easy to read, although the plain-jane segmented LCD in the dashboard to display for things like fuel economy and the trip computer feels a bit dated relative to competitors who are moving to fancier displays, and some controls such as those on the far side of the radio from the driver catch and reflect the sun, making it challenging to see their labels. The cabin is quiet except for the very occasional intrusion of the whiny 4-cylinder engine at high RPM.

Then there’s the STRANGE – the interior design is utterly muddled, as if different designers each owned a different panel that was theirs to manage and never coordinated their design. What do we mean? There’s hard textured black plastic. There’s matte chrome plastic. There’s shiny black plastic. There’s padded stitched vinyl. There’s hard textured black plastic – we said that one already, but there’s more of it, and this time with a different texture. There’s carbon-fiber-look black plastic. And all of these different plastics appear within the center console stack looking down to the gear shift. There are additional curiosity, such as A/C vents – round at the corners of the cabin, but squared off in the middle of the cabin. Nothing is particularly padded or plush. One can’t help but feel that the choices of materials – none of them particularly upscale – is so wide and varied that the cabin feels like a jumble of them all.

Driving the RAV4 is a fairly muted experience – by the deletion of that V6 engine as an option, it’s given up any pretense of sportiness – but it holds the road very well and is competent through corners courtesy of its relatively slick Dunlop Grandtrek tires, even if it’s not a vehicle one would turn up to eleven. Its suspension is carlike and tunes out shakes and bumps nicely. There is a sport mode which slightly improves throttle response as well as an eco mode which slightly dulls it, and the transmission can be put into a sport mode as well, although it simply seems to turn the six-speed auto into a four-speed auto. Regardless of mode, downshifts can be a touch halting and harsh. Steering effort is light, and feel is simply devoid of feedback. We observed an overall combined fuel economy of 26 MPG during our time with the RAV4, a good return for a vehicle of its size.

What the RAV4 lacks sportiness and style is made up by its people-and-stuff hauling capabilities. With seating for five in relative comfort plus a load of gear in the back, it’s not a bad choice for the day-to-day. We suspect, however, that some may find its muted performance capabilities and curious interior design to be disappointing.

2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE

Base Price: $23,300.00
Price as Tested: $27,084.00
Engine Type: DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with dual VVT-i Engine Size: 2.5-liter
Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 172 @ 4,100
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Wheelbase / Length (in): 104.7 / 179.9
Curb Weight: 3,585
Pounds per HP: 20
Fuel Capacity (gal): 15.9
Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded
Tires: Dunlop Grandtrek ST30; 225/65HR17
Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated disc / Solid disc
Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / Double wishbone
Ground clearance (in): 6.3
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG city / highway / observed: 22 / 29 / 26
Base Trim Price: $25,690.00

Options and Charges

Running Boards: $549.00
Delivery: $845.00

Price as tested: $27,084.00