2013 Toyota RAV4: A familiar and pleasantly updated package
Back in 1996, Toyota was first into a then-novel automotive segment, the cross-over. Or was it the mini-ute? Oddball car monikers aside, the RAV4 added up to a hit, attracting buyers who liked the idea of having a capable car-based off-roader with ample cargo room without the growing gas penalty that came with owning a full-size SUV. Sales were swift out of the gate, around 50,000 annually for the first years then doubling and tripling in short order. Last year, 170,000 drivers bought RAV4s, and the Japanese automaker is hoping to hit the 200,000 mark soon.
That lofty sales goal rests on the shoulders of the fourth generation of that Japanese trailblazer, whose re-design comes not a moment too soon. The small-ute market has mushroomed over the past decade, and now includes perennial favorites such as the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape. Now add to that mix more upmarket options including Audi’s Q5 and BMW’s new X1, and soon enough Porsche’s mini- Cayenne, the Macan.
So what’s Toyota got up its sleeve to stave off such formidable competition? For 2013, the RAV4 does a two-step, at once succumbing to the demographic reality of its consumer base while at the same time adding enough whiz-bang goodies so that its affordable package (from $23,300) attracts new buyers.
In the new model year’s out-with-the-old category is the disappearance of the V6 engine option, which fewer than 10% of RAV4 buyers ordered. Now there’s only one engine choice, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder good for 176 hp and 24/31 mpg city/highway for the front-wheel-drive version (all-wheel-drive drops mileage by about 2 mpg, and adds $1,400 to your window sticker). The ute’s long-standing side-hinge rear door is being replace by a more traditional liftgate with a new power option (that move puts the car’s outboard spare tire beneath the rear cargo area). And lastly, a third-row seat is no longer available, though that’s not a tremendous loss (let’s be honest, third-row seating is practical in a Toyota Land Cruiser or GMC Denali, but in anything smaller you better be carting around Hobbitts).
That’s it for deletions. Added to the mix are a six-speed transmission that replaces a tired four-speed slushbox. New Sport and Eco mode options toggle between snappy computer-controlled shifts and a more fuel-efficient operation. There’s also a standard back-up camera across the LE, XLE and Limited line-up. On the XLE and up, RAV4 comes with dual-zone climate control, a moonroof, navigation, heated mirrors and Toyota’s smartphone-savvy Entune entertainment system. The Limited adds the power liftgate, some leather and an uprated JBL 11-speaker, 576-watt stereo for those post-kid-drop-off rides home alone.