- Roomy interior for both people and cargo
- Strikes a good balance between ride comfort and sure-footed handling
- No engine upgrade option
- Usefulness of available Entune system is diminished by cumbersome setup process
In just half a decade, crossover SUVs have become the go-to choice among car buyers. It's no accident; the full-size SUV craze of the late '90s and early 2000s addicted most American drivers to cavernous cargo spaces, elevated driving positions and eye-watering gasoline bills. The Toyota RAV4 was among the first models to downsize that addiction into a manageable package.
With the redesigned 2013 Toyota RAV4, the fourth generation of the popular crossover, the automaker has given and also taken away. Notably, the RAV4 no longer offers an optional V6. Although the burly six-cylinder could catapult the mild grocery getter to 60 mph in quick fashion, Toyota reports that the vast majority of buyers didn't want to pay the premium for it and stuck with the base four-cylinder engine. For 2013, the RAV4 comes with a four-cylinder only. Toyota's compact crossover also dispenses with a third-row seat, another option that the automaker says few shoppers deemed important.
The 2013 Toyota RAV4 does, however, get a six-speed transmission to replace the old four-speed automatic. It improves fuel economy and makes the crossover more responsive during merging and passing maneuvers.
Further, the RAV's styling is more sculpted and aggressive this year. Its physical dimensions have barely changed, though, as the old RAV4 already had plenty of interior room. One major upgrade is the debut of a roof-hinged liftgate, which replaces the old side-hinged gate that swung out to the right and hindered curbside loading. Even better, the spare tire is now housed under the cargo floor, rather than on the tailgate, so the latter isn't as heavy as in years past.
Compact crossover SUVs are quickly replacing midsize sedans as the family car of choice, so this redesign of the 2013 Toyota RAV4 could not have come soon enough. The small crossover class is full of interesting choices, including the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Mazda CX-5. Compared to these models, the RAV4 strikes us as middle-of-the road: It has no major faults but also doesn't stand out for its style, performance or interior accommodations. But with its ample cargo capacity, improved fuel economy and agreeable ride quality, the new RAV4 is definitely one to try.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2013
The Toyota RAV4 is fully redesigned for 2013.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is a five-passenger compact crossover offered in three main trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. The LE comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, power folding mirrors, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split and reclining second-row seat, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with 6-inch touchscreen, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The XLE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated side mirrors, roof rails, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and sportier front seats. An optional package further adds a navigation system, Toyota's Entune smartphone integration system, satellite radio, HD radio and voice controls.
The top-level Limited comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a height-adjustable power liftgate, keyless entry/ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with memory settings, heated front seats and premium synthetic leather upholstery. The navigation system with Entune is available and can be bundled with a premium 11-speaker JBL audio system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2013 Toyota RAV4 features a new interior design that shares motifs with the current Camry and Avalon. Pronounced angles and lines form a more streamlined and modern-looking dash. Quality has improved, too, and some of the materials are nicer than what you'll find in the Camry. Overall, though, the RAV's design and materials are average for the compact crossover class. The cupholder count is adequate in the Toyota RAV4, but there aren't as many useful storage slots as in the CR-V.
The RAV4's optional navigation system includes Entune, a suite of smartphone-connected services that includes the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio and real-time traffic, sports and stock information. Getting started with Entune can be a hassle, though, since you have to install an app on your phone and register for an account, plus you always need an active data connection to use it. The touchscreen interface has straightforward menus, but it's sometimes unresponsive to user touch. On the upside, all the conventional controls in the 2013 RAV4 are easy to use.
Rear-seat passenger comfort in the 2013 Toyota RAV4 is hampered slightly by a low-mounted backseat, but space is nevertheless abundant enough for even taller adults. We also like how the seat reclines to an impressive degree.
The cargo bay measures 38.4 cubic feet and opens up to a generous 73.3 cubes when the second row is folded: one of the largest capacities in the class. There's also a payoff for that low-mounted rear seat: a very flat floor and low load-in height, both of which help minimize the strain of loading large items or even a couple of large dogs. The RAV4 finally gains a roof-hinged liftgate for 2014; it's power-operated and height-adjustable on the Limited.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, whiplash-reducing front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags come standard on every 2013 Toyota RAV4. A driver knee airbag is also standard. Blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert systems are optional on the Limited trim.
In Edmunds brake testing, the RAV4 stopped from 60 mph in 127 feet, which is just a tad longer than average. Regarding Insurance Institute For Highway Safety crash tests, the new RAV4 earned a top score of "Good" for its protection of occupants in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. The RAV earned a Poor rating (the lowest) in the agency's new small-overlap frontal-offset crash test (in which a smaller portion of the vehicle's front bumper strikes a barrier). Several competing small SUVs also received a low rating in this test. The government gave the Toyota four out of five stars for overall protection, with four stars for total frontal protection and five stars for total side crash protection.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard, and the RAV4 is available with either front- or all-wheel drive.
In Edmunds testing, an all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 needed 9.1 seconds to hit 60 mph, an average time for this segment. The front-drive RAV4 returns an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 combined, which is very good for a small crossover. The all-wheel-drive model, meanwhile, achieves 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined.
Although we miss the old RAV4's V6, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder is adequately powerful for most tasks and returns good fuel economy for this class. The new six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but if you tend to drive assertively, you'll find it slow to downshift in passing situations. Additionally, when climbing steady mountain grades, we've observed that the transmission has a tendency to hunt between gears (rather than picking one gear and sticking with it). Both of these issues are a consequence of Toyota's efforts to tune the drivetrain for maximum gas mileage.
The 2013 Toyota RAV4 handles better than before and feels more substantial, refined and comfortable when cruising down the highway. A potential exception is the Limited model, which can get jittery on rough or broken pavement due to its big 18-inch wheels. In spite of that, the cabin remains very quiet, making Toyota's crossover a good option for families with young children who sleep in the car.
More demanding drivers will likely find the 2013 RAV4 less enjoyable to drive than the Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5. It lacks the responsive steering and sure-footed suspension tuning that make those models feel decidedly more carlike. Should you need to venture off the beaten path, however, the Toyota RAV4's available all-wheel-drive system quickly applies power where it's needed for optimum traction and actually gives it a decent amount of off-road ability.
The long-awaited redesign of the Toyota RAV4 is well executed, as this compact crossover SUV now has the performance, features and cabin accommodations to keep up with the leaders in this class. Although it's still not a standout in any one area, Toyota's entry is worth a look.