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First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4

by Jeff Glucker
December 31, 2012
6 min. Reading Time

The vehicle that introduced the term “compact crossover” to the world is back, and it’s all new for 2013. We’re talking about the Toyota RAV4, and the fourth generation is heading to local dealerships starting soon.

Since its U.S. introduction back in 1996, the RAV4 now finds itself driving down busy streets packed with a host of other compact CUVs, wearing all sorts of model badges. It was time for the Japanese automaker to update one of its lineup mainstays, and the result is a brand-new RAV4 that’s more stylish, achieves better fuel economy, and finally comes into the present day with more gears for the automatic transmission.

Before the new RAV4 arrives at your local dealership, we got a sneak peak at the car and spent time checking it out both on the road… and off of it.

Pricing and Trim Levels: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Toyota has kept things pretty simple with regards to the pricing and available trim lines for the 2013 RAV4. Gone is the six-cylinder engine, so you’re left to just pick between front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, and between the LE, XLE, and Limited trims.

RAV4 pricing starts with the base FWD LE, which wears a price tag of $23,300. Despite being the entry-level model, Toyota has outfitted the car reasonably well. Standard features include 17-inch wheels, a color-keyed rear spoiler, and a 6.1-inch display unit for the audio controls that also houses a standard rear-view camera.

Stepping up to the XLE means you’ll need to fork over $24,290, and the top-trim Limited will run you $27,010. The XLE nets you alloy wheels, a power sliding moonroof, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Limited adds even more goodies, including a height-adjustable power rear liftgate, premium SofTex seating, and an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with both front seats being heated.

For the all-wheel-drive RAV4, the trim packages are the same, but each one cost just a little bit more. The LE, XLE, and Limited AWD versions are priced at $24,700, $25,690, and $28,410 respectively.


Competition: 2013 Toyota RAV4

As we mentioned earlier, the Toyota RAV4 competes in a very cramped set. Automakers around the world are quick to churn out new models for the compact crossover segment because folks are snatching them up at an ever quickening pace.

The funny thing about all of the available examples is just how similar they actually are. Most get nearly 30 miles per gallon the highway, if not more. Most offer solid amounts of cargo space and a mediocre amount of second row legroom. Most have stepped up in the styling department, and most will cost you around $30,000 if you check every option box on the order sheet. Honda has the CRV, Mazda has the CX-5, Ford has the Escape, Chevrolet has the Equinox (or the Captiva if you’re buying for a fleet), Kia has the Sportage, Hyundai has the Tuscon, Volkswagen has the Tiguan, and we could keep on going if you want to spend a few more bucks.

What separates each comes down to the overall driving experience. The Volkswagen, Escape, and CX-5 are a bit more engaging for the person behind the wheel, while the others are a bit more comfortable around town. What has Toyota done to step up and let the RAV4 shine a bit compared to the other choices? Not much, really. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s a wonderful improvement over the outgoing model. But so is every other vehicle in this category. You could blindfold yourself, throw a dart at a board, and be happy with which ever vehicle you wind up with.


Exterior: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Toyota has greatly improved the overall exterior aesthetic of the 2013 RAV4. It’s no longer a box on wheels, but instead it’s received a much-needed dash of style. Up front, the face has been given a nip-tuck that works. This is no botch-job, but a serious upgrade that helps keep the RAV4 up to date with current styling trend. The headlamps are sharply cut and arch rearwards towards the fender. From the side, the RAV4 does resemble most other compact crossovers on the market, but the rear kink is a nice touch in breaking up the body lines. Out back, the addition of the spoiler helps lend a touch of sportiness, but the most interesting piece in the rear is the door itself.

Previous iterations of the RAV4 featured a side-opening rear door. That’s now gone, and in its place is a more traditional rear liftgate. This provides greater access to the rear cargo space, and is a nice improvement over the outgoing model.


Interior: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Just like the outside received a shot of style, the inside has been kicked up a notch in the looks department. However, we believe it will be a bit more polarizing on the inside due to some of the in-your-face elements. Most notable of which is the soft-touch piece of the center console that wraps around towards the passenger side of the dash. We like it from a looks standpoint, but it actually cuts down a bit of front-passenger legroom. I guess sometimes form wins out over function though, because we did enjoy looking at it.

Everything else in the cabin looks rather nice as well, especially the 6.1-inch display screen mounted front and center. If you step up on the trim and options list, that screen will display the navigation system and the available Entune features like Pandora radio.


Powertrain and Fuel Economy: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Say adios to the available six-cylinder engine and the four-speed automatic transmission. They’re both out for the all-new 2013 RAV4. Under the hood you’ll find the Toyota 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine, which produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. This engine is now paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox. Both the engine and transmission work well together, which results in fuel economy ratings of 24 city and 31 highway for the front-drive RAV4. The all-wheel-drive version returns 22 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon out on the highway.


Safety: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Safety is an area of great concern for Toyota, and the automaker has spared no expense making the cabin of the RAV4 a class-leader. Eight airbags come standard, as do four-wheel-disc brakes and the Star Safety System. This system is comprised of a variety of other safety systems that all work together to provide a confident and safe driving experience. This includes the traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, vehicle stability control, brake assist, and the anti-lock braking systems.


Driving Impressions: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Jumping behind the wheel of the 2013 Toyota RAV4, our first thought is one of comfort. The engineering and design team have done a good job supplying the new vehicle with seats that both look and feel good. Everything else in the cabin falls easily at hand, but not everything’s bright inside, literally. Driving during a sunny day, we struggled to get a good view of the new 6.1-inch display screen. Tossing on a pair of sunglasses of course only made it worse. Since we were driving though, we kept our eyes mostly on the road ahead. There’s a bit of road noise, but the cabin is otherwise a nice and quiet space.

There’s no reason to mourn the missing V6 option here as the 2.5-liter four-banger is ready for the task at hand. The new transmission shifts smoothly, and the addition of the five and six overdrive gears is wonderful out on the highway. Occasionally, however, we did notice that the gearbox hunted between the two while we held a steady speed. We can chalk this up to our vehicle being a pre-production unit, and we’ll withhold final judgment until after we drive the full production version.

One great feature Toyota has employed is the use of a Sport mode. Press the button, and the electronic power steering system is dialed back about 25%. This means you get closer to a real sense of steering feel, and the RAV4 gets a bit more character. We actually preferred driving the RAV4 with the Sport button pressed because it felt more precise and direct.

Not as exciting though was the revised all-wheel-drive system. While it’s nice to have such a system available on a vehicle like the RAV4, we thought the new Dynamic Torque Control system could use a bit more calibration. This system can automatically shift from front-wheel to all-wheel-drive when it detects wheel slippage. It can also transfer torque from the front to the rear. We took the new RAV4 off of the clean tarmac, and on to a gravel-covered back road, and that’s where we were a bit let down. Instead of creating an expected and easily controllable understeer situation, we found a quick sensation of intended oversteer before the car settled down. It was unsettling, and felt like the opposite of what we expected to happen. This never happened on-road mind you, just when we took the car for some soft roading on a dusty, dirty trail.


Final Thoughts: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Toyota has entered into the fourth generation with the all-new 2013 RAV4, and the timing couldn’t be better. As other automakers are stepping up in the segment that Toyota created, the RAV4 was ready for a massive makeover and it got one. The new exterior styling is far more pleasing to the eye compared to the outgoing model, and the interior has a healthy dose of style as well. On top of that, the standard features list is a strong one, and the EPA-estimated fuel economy figures should help save a few bucks at the pump.

The problem, however, is that there’s nothing here to make the Toyota RAV4 stand out. It’s got good looks, a strong four-cylinder engine, and plenty of interior features, but so does everything else. There are no exceptional driving dynamics, nor is there something culled from a class above. It’s getting harder to stand out from the crowd in this segment (all segments, really) so we were hoping for a bit more from one of the kings of the category. There’s nothing wrong with the new RAV4… there’s just nothing to RAVe about either.

-Exterior styling is a serious step up from the outgoing version. -Standard features list is well outfitted. -The switch to the rear liftgate is a nice change over the rear side-opening door.

-It doesn’t stand out, it just blends in with the crowd. -Dynamic Torque Control felt wonky off road. -The 6.1-inch screen is easily washed out on a sunny day.



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