2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD XLE
2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD XLE. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

For many years, the Toyota RAV4 has been a mainstay among compact SUVs in Canada. It’s a “go-to” vehicle when you’re looking for a combination of utility, price, reliability and fuel economy, with consumers liking the way a RAV4 drives like a car, carries cargo like a truck, and has understated looks that stand the test of time. It’s even built in Canada, pleasing those who want to “buy local.”

But it’s been a while since we’ve seen an all-new RAV4, and in the meantime, competitors like Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Honda are significantly raising their game in this sector. Our long-term 2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD XLE represents the fourth-generation RAV4, and seems all about meeting that competition with a product that’s a bit more content-rich while wearing somewhat more dynamic styling than RAV4s of the past.

We’ll have our “long-termer” based in Ottawa for almost a couple months, during which time it will perform a range of tasks transporting people and cargo both locally and on the highway. We’ll do two longer road trips: one to Quebec’s Eastern Townships and the other to the Niagara Region. The intention is to experience the new RAV4’s utility, fuel economy, comfort and convenience, and its drivability (handling, ride, responsiveness). We’ll be updating regularly.

There are five RAV4 trim levels for 2013, starting at $23,790 for the front-wheel drive (FWD) LE version, rising to $27,000 for the XLE FWD. Other levels include the all-wheel drive (AWD) LE at $25,900, the $29,900 AWD XLE and finally the AWD Limited, which starts at $31,700.

Our Magnetic Grey Metallic FWD XLE adds only a $1,170 navigation package with satellite radio and voice recognition, and when you include the $1,635 Freight/PDI charges, its as-tested price is $29,905.

2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD XLE
2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD XLE. Click image to enlarge

Like all 2013 RAV4s, our test vehicle arrives with a 2.5L four-cylinder engine making 176 horsepower. New is the six-speed automatic transmission with Sport, ECO and normal driving modes replacing the previous model’s four- or five-speed automatics. The formerly available V6 engine is no longer offered.

In addition to the LE’s standard air conditioning, power windows, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, four-speaker audio with USB input, cruise control and power door locks, the XLE trim level also includes a dual-zone, automatic climate control system; a six-speaker audio system with 6.1-inch display, backup camera, heated front seats with premium upholstery, soft-touch instrument panel with contrasting stitching, and power windows with auto up/down for the driver.

Additional XLE equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, rear privacy glass, colour matched door handles, silver painted roof rails, variable intermittent wipers, tonneau cover, rear intermittent wiper/washer and windshield wiper de-icer and fog lamps. Also standard across the range are power adjustable heated exterior mirrors with integrated turn signal.

Outside, you’ll see all-new styling, and a new lift-back rear door with lower loading height and no externally mounted spare tire.

Depending on the trim level, there are numerous extra-cost safety and convenience features available for the 2013 RAV4, including rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, blind spot monitor, power liftgate and automatic high beam. Our XLE FWD should represent a popular choice, however.

2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD XLE
2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD XLE. Click image to enlarge

On the road, the 2013 RAV4 is designed to provide owners with a more engaging drive. It features enhancements in suspension performance, optimized electric power steering, optimized spring rates and tuned shock absorbers to sharpen handling.

The new transmission’s Sport mode changes shift timing, throttle response and steering response. When downshifting in Sport mode, the system “blips” the throttle, contributing to the sporty experience.

What most people will notice first, however, is the new exterior design. It is clearly more dynamic and assertive than previous RAV4 designs, with Toyota using adjectives like “sophisticated”, “aggressive”, and “sleek” to describe it, a departure from previous RAV4s.

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