The RAV4 – it started out as Toyota’s mini-SUV offering and has always competed directly with Honda’s CR-V. Both have been very successful models, and both have evolved significantly over time. How much time? Well, believe it or not, the RAV4 has been with us since 1994. In the almost 20 years that have passed, it has continuously improved, grown in size and matured in terms of design and quality. The 2013 RAV4 is all-new and brings significant changes to the table.
Pricing: 2013 Toyota RAV4 AWD XLE
Base price (AWD XLE trim): $29,200
Options: $1,170 Navigation Package; $260 Block heater; $2,200 Leather seats (dealer installed)
A/C and other taxes: $100
Price as tested: $34,620
Under the Hood
Toyota has done away with the hot-rod V6 option, and the new RAV4 comes with one engine choice at this time – it’s a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder. It puts out 176 horsepower at 6000 RPM and 172 lb.ft of torque at 4200 RPM. The RAV sends the power through a 6-speed automatic and to (potentially) all four corners via a front-wheel-drive-based all-wheel drive system. The RAV4 stays on the lighter end of things at 3585 pounds.
Fuel economy was never the V6’s strong suit and the new 4-cylinder does pretty well in this department. It’s rated at 9.1 L/100 km (26 mpg) in the city and 6.8 L/100 km (35 mpg) on the highway. I drove it for a week, mainly commuting in the city with the occasional short freeway drive and a quick highway sprint. My average was a reasonable 11 L/100 km (21 mpg). It has a 60 litre tank.
There is little in the appearance of this new RAV4 to remind us of the old ones, and that’s not a bad thing. It sits lower and wider than the previous generation, and Toyota made it slightly shorter as well. Though tidier (length-wise) on paper, it looks longer to me. I enjoyed the styling direction for the new RAV. It definitely looks a bit more athletic and aggressive, although I’d use those terms loosely and only when speaking relatively to the previous RAVs.
I immediately noticed the more aggressively styled front fascia and grille and the sculpted fenders that come across as pretty bold. The headlight pods have some nice details in them as well, and contain projector halogen lights – below them in the air dam are nicely integrated foglights. Toyota didn’t allow the rear profile to escape the scalpel either. Highly stylized tail lights make up a horizontal plane that forms a visual “shelf” that wraps around from the tail gate to the rear flanks. That “shelf” becomes a character crease that sails all the way to the front, starting up behind the front wheel well. The rear spoiler is very pronounced too, and adds to the shape.
Decent looking 17″ rims shod with 225/65-sized rubber fill the fenders, but I much prefer the handsome 18-inchers that come on the top-of-the-line Limited trim. I’m not a huge fan of the black plastic trim around the bottom of the vehicle – I much prefer body colored moldings. Overall, the RAV4 certainly looks more refined and grown-up.
Once you get inside, the headroom is good – certainly for my 5’10” frame and cabin feels pretty spacious. I thought the materials are quite nice to look at – the dash is mostly hard plastic, but it’s nicely textured. I really liked the swath of upholstered, stitched material that runs width-wise across the dash – it feels very up-scale and luxurious. This is personal, as a few of my passengers disagreed with me, but personally, I’m not too fond of the faux carbon fiber trim pieces.
The styling is a bit of a departure from the norm, and it features what I call a chin along the bottom of the dash – it juts out a bit. To clarify, the seats in my review vehicle are not fitted from the factory. They are optional seats, installed at the dealership. I can honestly say that the black leather is some of the nicest and most expensive feeling I’ve seen in any car I’ve driven. The leather is augmented with contrasting stitching and they are just beautiful. To top it off, they are extremely comfortable and bolstered very well too. The seats are heated and manually adjustable – the same goes for the premium fabric seats you would get as standard equipment.
Ahead of you sits a nice steering wheel – it’s manually adjustable and has controls for the media, phone and handsfree functions, as well as the driver information screen. You’ll find most of what you need to know in a simple bin of gauges – a center speedometer, the tach on the left and fuel gauge on the right. The driver information screen is on the bottom and it allows you to flip between the odometer, two trip meters, your instant and average fuel economy, the fuel range and your average speed.
The center stack starts with Toyota’s ancient digital clock at the top. I always complain about this “technology” since Toyota still sticks it into virtually everything they build, but at the end of the day, it works just fine. Underneath the clock is a 6.1″ touchscreen, which handles your audio, phone and navigation. It’s surrounded by number of hard buttons to access the major functions and everything works quite well. The sound system offers a full complement of sources – AM, FM, satellite radio, CD, auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth streaming audio and it sounds quite good.
Below this is a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and that about does it for the “chin”. Underneath it, set back a few inches is a panel with the drive mode buttons, auxiliary, USB and a couple of 12V plugs. The center console houses the gear selector, two cupholders (one is adjustable for size – a detail I appreciate), a traditional parking brake lever and an armrest.
Overhead is a small powered tilt/slide sunroof. The XLE is started with a good old-fashioned key – if you upgrade to the Limited trim, you get a push-button starter.
In the back are three seats, each with its own seatbelt and headrest. I found the headroom, leg room and foot room to be outstanding in the RAV4. The two main rear seats are very comfortable and can be adjusted with a recliner lever, but they do not slide forwards or backwards. As is typical, the middle seating position is narrow, but I found that it could be usable for adults if necessary. The floor is almost flat, so foot space is not an issue in the middle.
In terms of convenience, there are two seatback map pockets and bottle holders in the doors – that’s about it. There’s nothing at the back of the center console – no air vents, no charging plugs. The middle seat back folds down to become an armrest with two square (great for milk drinkers!) cupholders.
We fit all three kids back there with no problem. One issue we found with the lovely leather seats was that there were no LATCH connectors to anchor kids’ seats down. That’s a big issue for a family like ours, so I spoke to the dealership about this. They confirmed that they can leave the 2 pairs of LATCH anchors that come with the vehicle in place with the upgraded seats, so that’s fantastic.
I thought the RAV4 did pretty well in the storage department. There’s a large glove compartment, and a couple of open bins at the front of the center console. You’ll find a carpeted bin under the armrest lid as well as a shallow open bin inside the dash in front of the passenger – great to throw a phone into, etc.
The trunk is the solution to all your storage issues – a chunky 1090 litres is waiting to be used behind the rear seats as well as a tiny bit of underfloor storage for small items. I appreciated the low liftover height and your goodies can be visually secured by the removable, retractable tonneau cover. Fold the rear seats down, and you have a class-leading 2080 litres cargo space.
Though the power seems a bit paltry on paper, it’s just fine for everyday driving. It works well with the transmission, and it will jump off the line if you step on it. Once you’re going, and you need a bunch of power for something like passing on the freeway, it’s a bit slow on the take up. But for the most part, the RAV4’s only engine choice does a fine job. I’m guessing that it would take a little extra time and planning if you’re in the mountains and wanting to pass.
The transmission is smooth, and I found it did a good job being in the right gear most of the time. I found it occasionally hesitated to shift down, but the RAV doesn’t sell itself as a sporty driving machine.
The 6-speed has a manual shifting mode using the gear selector, but it’s slow and basically pointless here. If you need to pick things up a bit, put it in Sport Mode – it sharpens the throttle and steering responses, and holds the shift points longer. There’s also an Eco mode – it goes the other way and dulls the responses in an attempt to save some fuel. Frankly, I felt it made the driving experience lifeless.
I found the ride to be quite firm in the RAV4 – but it never got harsh. Handling is very predictable and I’d say it’s pretty good for a small SUV. You’ll find body roll when you throw it into a corner, but that’s not a knock against the vehicle – it’s expected in this class. I normally knock Toyotas for their dead and numb steering feel, but I am happy to report that the RAV4’s steering is the best I’ve experienced in a Toyota in some time.
The brakes are effective, but I found there was some vibration coming through the brake pedal on occasion. The noise levels are managed well. Engine, road and wind noise are never intrusive. You’ll hear the engine growl when you step on the gas, and the wind noise becomes more noticeable on the highway.
The RAV4 offers an all-wheel-drive lock mode that keeps it in AWD up to 40 km/h which is nice if you’re driving through some nasty stuff.
Visibility is quite good, and it feels as though you’re sitting high up with a commanding view of the road. If you need to tow, the RAV4 is rated to a maximum of 1500 pounds.
I never found the RAV4 fun to drive, but as I mentioned, it doesn’t sell itself that way. It will do everything you ask of it in normal driving situations.
I alway appreciate the addition of a plug in the cargo area – either the typical 12V or, as I was very excited to find in the Mercedes GLK, a real 120V household plug. Neither are to be found here.
I found a wide air vent in the top center of the dash, firing up at an angle. A great way to get that air flowing up to the roof and to the back. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before but it works well to complement all the normal dash air vents.
I never got to use it, but there is a windshield wiper defroster element so you can de-ice the bottom section of your windshield. That would be very useful in our climate for about half of the year.
I’d driven previous RAV4s and always walked away underwhelmed. Toyota did a great job with this new model. I liked the styling – inside and out – and material choices were definitely a step in the right direction. The performance was typically Toyota. Nothing really stood out, but it did a good job in every single department – and when it comes to driving a vehicle day in and day out, that’s all that some people want.
I give the new Toyota RAV4 a 7.5 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was good. She liked the styling, and most of the interior. She thought it drove pretty well, and she really liked how high she sat in it. She did say a power lift gate would be nice, and I have to agree.
If you’re in the market for a small SUV, the two front-runners in terms of sales are this RAV4 and the Honda CR-V. I thought I’d be able to pick a winner between the two, but I have to admit, it would likely come down to preference. There is no clear winner here, and both are solid choices.
The RAV4 does everything well when it’s on the road, offer plenty of utility and space and virtually guarantees reliability as well as good resale value. It’s not fantastic at anything, but does it all with competence. And hey, did I mention I love those dealer-installed seats?
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Sun Toyota on Whyte.
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