The fourth-generation Toyota RAV4 arrives for 2013. While the 2013 RAV4 may look a touch better than the outgoing model, and drive better too, in true Toyota fashion it remains remarkably vanilla.
The RAV4 was introduced to the U.S market back in 1995 as the world's first crossover SUV. Since then, three progressive generations have been developed, including the current generation 2006 RAV4. Light cosmetic surgery has been performed during this last generation's reign, but the all-new fourth generation has been totally reborn.
For 2013, RAV4 loses its third row seating due to a lack of demand, as well as ditching the more powerful V6 engine option, again due to a low take rate, with customers favoring the more efficient 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
That engine remains, boasting 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic has replaced the four-speed automatic transmission; with the top two cogs being used as overdrive gears to aid fuel efficiency.
Fuel economy has been increased throughout the board with City/Highway/Combined EPA rating 24/31/26 miles per gallon with front-wheel drive (compared to 22/28/24 mpg for the pre-2013 RAV4) and 22/29/25 mpg for the all-wheel-drive 2013 RAV4 AWD (21/27/24 mpg for the outgoing model).
The 2013 RAV4 exterior receives tweaks in an effort to create more emotion and lust. The spare wheel is no longer stored on the tailgate but in the more commonly used location under the trunk floor. Despite the changes, it still looks remarkably uninspiring and bland.
The 2013 RAV4 interior gets some nice upgrades, including a SofTex leather band that runs the entire width of the dash. While the feel doesn't scream luxury, it does stack up well against the competition, and comfort is good too.
On the road, the 2013 RAV4 is nice step forward in terms of handling. It's feels far firmer and planted than before. The steering feels a touch rubbery, but braking is good. Despite the improvements, the car still fails to engage the driver. It's better, but not fun.
Overall, the new 2013 RAV4 is a solid improvement over the outgoing model. But it is still a means of transportation, and not a vehicle that you will particularly enjoy driving. It is, however, practical, efficient and competitively priced (starting at $23,300), making it a car that will sell like a Lightning McQueen toy at Christmas.
Toyota RAV4 LE ($23,300); XLE (24,290); Limited ($27,010)
The 2013 RAV4 is an evolution of the bland outgoing model. While it has been modernized and freshened, it is still very conservative. Toyota is conscious to try and inject more passion into their vehicles, but understand the ramifications of alienating their loyal crop of current customers. The RAV4 is most definitely designed with them in mind.
Toyota describes the new design as dynamic, sleek, and aggressive. It is, of course, none of those things. The protruding front overhang looks like a boxer with a swollen lip, and little has been done to portray emotion or modernization from the front angle. Headlights do not receive the LEDs that have become standard amongst manufacturers, although halogen headlights are now adorned. The XLE and Limited models come with fog lamps.
The fender flares are more sculpted and a character line runs above the front wheel arch down the top of the rear taillight, becoming more pronounced the closer to rear of the car you get. The roofline slopes back from the front window, with a rear spoiler extending the roofline's arc, as well as enhancing the RAV4's aerodynamic co-efficiency.
Furthering the car's aerodynamic prowess are small vortex generators, molded into the taillight cases and near the base of the A-pillars. Aero undertrays beneath the passenger cabin help smooth and control airflow. These updates improve drag from 0.334 Cd to 0.329 Cd, aiding in improved fuel economy.
The new RAV4 interior resembles the RAV4 of old, but adds more technology, better quality materials and increased comfort, putting the 2013 RAV4 nicely in line with its competitors. It isn't luxurious, but for the most part, it doesn't feel cheap.
As you step into the car, the first change you notice is the addition of a leather band running the entire length of the dash. It breaks up the monotony of plastic, allowing a more expensive feel to the cabin.
The door trim and leather band is distinguished by contrasting colors, including beige, gray, black (which simply doesn't work and looks odd) and Terra Cotta on the Limited model. Without question, if you opt for the Limited model you should choose the Terra Cotta color combination, as it looks the most sophisticated.
The seats in the RAV4 LE are fabric-trimmed, while the RAV4 XLE adds a better quality fabric, bolstering and French stitching to the sides of the sportier seats. This in itself is a good reason to choose the XLE over the LE model, not withstanding the additional options you receive for less than $1,000.
The Limited model adds SofTex to the sportier seats, adding a chunk more luxury to the cabin. SofTex is a leather substitute that is fractionally cheaper to make. While the feel may be slightly inferior to real leather, it isn't sacrificing much.
The steering wheel is telescopic and in the RAV4 Limited model it is wrapped with leather. In the LE and XLE models the wheel feels flimsy and cheap, making the Limited another worthwhile step if you can reach that far.
Driving position is comfortable and easily obtainable. The center console is well laid out and all the dials are intuitive. The 6.1-inch screen looks a little 2005, but at the same time, we appreciate that it comes as a standard feature in all models.
The gear lever on the Limited model is draped in leather, but in all models, the lower part of the center console is made of a very cheap, flimsy plastic. The sun visors are also the worst quality we have ever seen. They feel like they derived from Wal-Mart.
Poor quality plastic continues in various places throughout the cabin, and it feels like it undoes some of the sophistication added by the leather on the dash and door panels. It's like buying a Hugo Boss suit from Nordstrom, then finishing the look off with a Tommy Bahama shirt.
On a brighter note, the push button start on the Limited model is a nice touch, and the second row seating is comfortable with decent legroom (37.2 inches). This is, in fact, an inch less than the old RAV4 but the front seats have been granted an extra inch with trunk space increasing, too. The third row is no more, due to a low take rate, but if space is really what you are after, then the Toyota Highlander might be a better option.
The increased trunk space allows for excellent storage. With the rear seats up, you have two additional inches of space compared to the old model (38.4 vs. 36.4 inches). With the second row folded flat, cargo space increases by 0.4-inches, giving it a class-leading total of 73.4-inches.
In general, the 2013 RAV4 is a comfortable, pleasing place to be. We just wish they hadn't skimped on the quality of the plastic utilized, as that really neutralizes an otherwise excellent job.
While the 2013 RAV4 is a marked improvement over the outgoing model, it still lacks character, emotion and engagement. Praise must be offered, however, because the gains over the previous RAV are sizeable.
The 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine remains, producing 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. The more powerful V6 option available in the outgoing RAV4 is ditched, with Toyota stating they sat stagnant on dealers' lots.
Replacing the old 4-speed transmission is a 6-speed automatic that uses the last two gears as overdrive for increased fuel-efficiency.
Fuel economy has been improved, earning an EPA-estimated 24/31/26 mpg City/Highway/Combined with front-wheel drive (compared to 22/28/24 mpg for the old RAV4) and 22/29/25 mpg for a 2013 RAV4 AWD (vs. 21/27/24 for the outgoing model).
With AWD, you can expect dynamic torque control to aid with handling. This all-wheel drive system manages torque transfer between the front and rear wheels via an electromagnetically controlled coupling. Torque distribution can vary from 100:0 to 50:50, with 100:0 FWD engaged under normal driving to improve fuel economy.
How this helps handling is when an understeer occurs and the front wheels slide, torque transfer increases to the rear wheels by up to 50 percent. This reduces front tire load to provide better lateral grip and balance out the understeer ensuring a more neutral balance.
It works too, with the AWD drive cars noticeably handling twisty sections better than the 2WD vehicles with no dynamic torque control. Switching between the Eco, Normal and Sport mode adjusts the driving feel. Sport offers sharper gear shifts and throttle response, with the electric power steering being backed off by 20 percent. While you feel the extra weight through the wheel, ultimately, the steering feels rubbery and disconnected, like stretching a taut rubber band.
The RAV4 has MacPherson strut front suspension and a double-wishbone rear suspension and, despite improvements over the last model, it still lacks fun. After driving the car and initially being impressed by the gains, very soon the novelty wears off leaving you bored. It still feels like a means of transportation, albeit a better one than before.
Acceleration feels a touch less responsive than the old RAV4, even with the same 2.5-liter engine. This is likely due to a revised first and second gear ratio to aid with city fuel efficiency.
The ride is firmer and less floppy. It's more balanced and poised, with the suspension feeling more rigid. The old car was like driving a school bus, but the new SUV feels more normal. Braking is good, but if you drive the Mazda CX-5, the handling is in a different league. The CX-5 proves that an SUV needn't be a compromise compared to a smaller car, whereas the RAV4 still feels like an SUV lacking passion.
It doesn't get better off-road, either. In fact, it becomes far worse. Even on a dirt road the car feels like it's going to fall apart, as do your teeth. The vibrations are intolerable and you just want the monotony to end.
No doubt the 2013 RAV4 is a chunk better than the old model, and we congratulate Toyota for bringing the car into the ballpark. But you only need to drive the Mazda CX-5 to appreciate how far Toyota still has to go to make the RAV4 a pleasure to drive.
Redesigned and re-engineered, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 delivers function, comfort and usability. It's better than the old car by a decent amount, and it will still do exactly what a small SUV should. Unfortunately, it won't do any more than that, and it isn't fun to drive. It also, most definitely, won't handle off road.
Alex Lloyd filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Toyota RAV4. Alex is based near Indianapolis.