Some models just keep rolling along, while getting better all the time. One such model is the 2013 Toyota RAV4.
The original crossover SUV, the fourth-generation Toyota RAV4 model shows Toyota has kept improving it since its debut in the mid-1990s.
The smaller first RAV4s were noisy, underpowered and rough-riding. But they had decent utility and good fuel economy. Honda, which was Toyota’s main rival, soon got into the small crossover SUV arena with its CR-V. Others followed.
Toyota has dropped the RAV4’s potent V-6 and third-row seat for 2013, and the top-hinged rear hatch finally replaces the clunky side-swinging cargo door.
The nicely shaped cargo area has a low, wide sill for fast loading, and cargo room is especially impressive with the reclining, split 60/40 rear seatbacks folded forward. However, rear-seat headrests must be removed or they prevent the seatbacks from folding forward and sitting flat.
This Toyota is lively off the line and during 65-75 mph passing with its 178-horsepower four-cylinder engine. This 2.5-liter unit has dual-overhead camsafts, 16 valves and variable valve timing. It calls for high revs for the best power and torque when driven quickly, but is generally smooth and quiet.
The engine works with a new, efficient six-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift feature. It replaces a dated four-speed automatic.
Estimated fuel economy is 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on highways with front-wheel drive (FWD) and 22 and 29 with all-wheel drive (AWD). Only 87-octane fuel is required. A new “Eco” mode promotes more efficient driving for maximum fuel efficiency.
The RAV4 comes in LE, XLE and Limited trim levels with FWD or AWD. It’s considerably larger than the early RAV4s, with an overall length of 179.9 inches, and thus weighs 3,435-3,600 pounds.
List prices go from $23,300 for the base LE FWD model to $28,410 for the top-line Limited 4WD version, which I tested.
The RAV4 once looked bland, but now has aggressively sculpted fenders, low hood and a sleek sloping roofline, besides “boldly proportioned” taillights. The interior has a premium look, with soft-touch accents and “driver-centric” controls.
All RAV4s have a standard back-up camera, and optional for the Limited is a Blind Spot Monitor that detects a vehicle in the adjacent lane and a Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) feature. When backing up, the RCTA senses vehicles coming from either direction and provides an audible warning and flashing indicators in the outside mirrors.
The RCTA should be offered for all RAV4s, although that would increase their price.
In any case, all RAV4s have electric power steering and Toyota’s Star Safety System. It includes Enhanced Vehicle stability control with traction control, an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution for surer stops and Smart Stop Technology.
For added safety, all RAV4s have eight air bags, including side curtain air bags, a driver-knee air bag and a front passenger-seat cushion airbag.
Daytime running lights—handy during winter or early evening driving—are standard. They can be shut off with the headlight switch.
The new Dynamic Torque Control AWD system enhances the overall agility and driving performance of the RAV4, during on- and off-road driving. The AWD system automatically shifts from FWD to AWD when accelerating or when sensors detect wheel slippage.
For off-road driving, the system incorporates an AWD Lock button, allowing drivers to lock torque distribution in a fixed 50/50 ratio at speeds up to about 25 m.p.h. Above this speed, the system automatically reverts to Auto mode.
A new Sport mode—standard on AWD models–modifies the RAV4’s power steering, throttle and transmission. It decreases power steering assistance, sharpens throttle response, offers higher revs and provides automatic gearbox management for more dynamic, sporting driving.
Handling of all RAV4 models is good with their all-independent suspension and stabilizer bars. The ride is firm-but-supple. Steering is on the light side, but is responsive. The brake pedal allows nice, progressive stops The anti-lock brakes have electronic brake force distribution for surer quick stops.
The base LE’s standard items include air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM stereo with CD player, keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, 6.1-inch touchscreen with integrated back-up camera display.
There’s also a tilt/telescopic wheel with controls for audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio and a Multi-Information Display. The display provides information including distance-to-empty, average fuel economy and low fuel and battery warnings.
The XLE adds premium bucket seats with French stitching, dual-zone automatic climate control and a power tilt/slide sunroof with sliding sunshade. A sunroof often is offered for many vehicles only on a top model.
The top-line Limited adds larger wheels (18-inch s. 17-inch) and wider tires, eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats and a keyless start. It also has a handy height-adjustable power tailgate.
The quiet interior is roomy, with supportive front seats and plenty of storage areas. Gauges have a new clear blue illumination, but provide just so-so visibility in sunlight. Controls and easy to reach and use.
Rear door openings are rather narrow, but rear power windows lower all the way.
The heavy hood is held open by a prop rod instead of hydraulic struts—a sign of cost-cutting.
I don’t miss the RAV4’s tight third-row set, but am sorry that its optional, potent, fairly fuel-efficient V-6 is gone. But the new RAV4’s other improvements make up for the loss.
Pros: Redesigned. New transmission. Roomy. Lively. Supple ride. Decent handling. Available all-wheel drive.
Cons: No more V-6 or third-row seat. Rather narrow rear-door openings.
Bottom Line: The original SUV continues to grow up.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.
Article Last Updated: November 10, 2013.
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An automotive journalist who has reviewed more than 4,000 vehicles in a nearly 45-year career, Dan is publisher of DanJedlicka.com.