2013 Toyota RAV4

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2013 Toyota RAV4 review

By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.7

Bottom Line:

More fun to drive and more fuel efficient, the Toyota RAV4 has improved for 2013, but it can't match the best in class for dynamics or refinement. However, pricing doesn't escalate like it does for those vehicles, making the RAV4 a wise choice for small families and empty-nesters.
Pros:
  • Easy ingress/egress
  • Fuel efficient
  • Useful cargo space
Cons:
  • Not as sporty as best rivals
  • Not as refined as best rivals
  • Still has a lot of interior plastics

When the Toyota RAV4 was introduced for the 1996 model year, it started an automotive revolution. It was the first unibody SUV, better known today as a crossover. That first RAV4 was awfully small, but it has grown over the years, eventually adding optional 7-passenger seating and a V6 engine with its 2006 redesign. But that RAV4 was trying to be too many things to too many people. It is redesigned once again for 2013, offering only 5-passenger seating and 4-cylinder power. It may not be as diverse as it was, but the new RAV4 is really what this compact crossover was always meant to be.

Model lineup
Toyota has simplified the RAV4 lineup for 2013. The base trim is gone, leaving only LE, XLE and Limited versions, all offered with front- or all-wheel drive. The LE is fairly well equipped, with unexpected features such as a rearview camera, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth Connectivity, and an audio system controlled by a 6.1-inch touch screen. It also gets cloth upholstery; manually adjustable front seats; eight standard airbags; whiplash-protection front seats; power windows, door locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; tilt/telescoping steering column; and 17-inch steel wheels with wheel covers.

The XLE adds upgraded cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, sport seats, a sunroof and alloy wheels. The Limited gets Softex faux leather upholstery, an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with memory, heated front seats, keyless access and starting, adjustable power liftgate, auto-dimming rearview mirror and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Notable options include satellite high-definition radio, a navigation system with Toyota's Entune infotainment system, an 11-speaker JBL GreenEdge audio system, and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

Under the hood
The 2013 Toyota RAV4 comes with only one carryover engine. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. It trades an antiquated 4-speed automatic transmission for a 6-speed automatic that improves both power delivery and fuel economy. Manufacturer-estimated Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings are 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 22/29 mpg with all-wheel drive.

That all-wheel -drive system is upgraded for 2013. Toyota calls it Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel drive, and it can send up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels in aggressive cornering to let the rear tires help rotate the RAV4 through a turn.

Inner space
Compact crossovers, including the RAV4, traditionally have had overly plasticky interiors. For 2013 the RAV4 gets soft-touch surfaces on the door armrests and center console bin, but hard plastic still dominates the dashboard and door tops. On higher-line models a prominent styling flourish on the dashboard is covered in a stitched, soft-touch material as well. On the base trim this area features a semisoft molded material with fake stitching. Toyota uses a similar material in the Camry and it looks tacky both places. Overall, the interior environment is improved, but not as refined as vehicles such as the Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, or Mazda CX-5.

On the plus side, the RAV4 does come standard with some unexpected equipment, including Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port to connect MP3 players. Most notable among the standard features is a 6.1-inch touch-screen radio with a rearview camera. This system features large buttons and is fairly easy to use. Optional on the Limited is a version of this screen that adds Toyota's Entune infotainment system. Entune pairs with owners' smartphones to provide access to mobile apps, including music streaming through Pandora and iHeartRadio, Bing local search, OpenTable dining reservations, and movietickets.com.

While the environment may not be the best in class, interior space is. The RAV4 is roomy enough for a family of five. The steering wheel angle is lowered this year as Toyota continues to move away from the bus-driver driving position it favored in the past. The base front seats are fairly comfortable, and have more bolstering than last year; the XLE and Limited seats add a bit more bolstering as well. The Limited also comes standard with Softex faux leather upholstery that looks a lot like leather, but isn't quite as soft or rich. The front and rear occupants have plenty of headroom and legroom.

Cargo space is improved this year and it's easier to access. Despite its compact size, the RAV4 has a class-leading 73.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. It also gains two cubic feet of space with the rear seats up for a total of 38.4 cubic feet, which leaves plenty of room for a week's worth of groceries. The RAV4 also switches from a rear swing-gate to a more desirable liftgate. On the Limited the liftgate is adjustable, so shorter drivers can set it to open to a lower height.

On the road
Lately Toyota has made a concerted effort to add some sportiness and driver engagement to its vehicles. While the RAV4 doesn't benefit from that mindset as much as the Lexus GS or Scion FR-S, it is more controlled than the outgoing model. It reacts quicker to steering inputs and doesn't have as much body roll in turns.

The steering is light but pleasingly direct. Toyota provides a Sport mode that makes the throttle more aggressive and lessens steering boost by 20 percent. Even at that, the steering still feels light. There is also an Eco mode that dulls throttle response and makes the air conditioning run more efficiently.

The Sport mode also affects the Dynamic Torque Control all-wheel-drive system. When in Sport, this system sends up to half the torque to the rear wheels during aggressive cornering. We tested it on some tight switchbacks in Arizona and found it gives the RAV4 a bit more of a rear-wheel-drive feel, helping the vehicle rotate through corners. Dynamic Torque Control isn't as advanced as some of the torque vectoring systems offered by luxury brands, but it does help. And while the RAV4 is pleasantly composed, it doesn't offer the sporty driving experience of the Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5.

While the RAV4 loses its available V6 engine for 2013, the performance of the carryover 2.5-liter 4-cylinder is much improved. That's because Toyota replaced the 4-speed automatic transmission with a more responsive and fuel-efficient 6-speed automatic. The 6-speed utilizes the engine's power band better, and drops the zero-to-60 mph time from 10.2 seconds to 8.9 seconds, which is right in the ballpark with the competition. The 2.5 provides spritely punch from a stop and even has enough for decent passing power when needed. We were also impressed by how smooth and quiet it is for a 4-cylinder. Nonetheless, we miss the V6, which made the outgoing RAV4 downright quick.

Right for you?
Compact crossovers like the RAV4 are great choices for young families for their utility and for empty nesters for their ease of ingress and egress; both groups benefit from the fuel efficiency. Families likely won't miss the RAV4's 7-passenger option because the third-row seat was too small, but some might miss the power of the discontinued V6 engine.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitatethis report.)

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.

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BB02 - 7/9/2014 8:59:13 PM