First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s Website
Toyota Canada

Review by Mike Schlee, photos by Mike Schlee and Courtesy of Toyota Canada

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2013 Toyota RAV4

Toyota is on a mission to shake the perceived notion that they only build boring cars. You have surely heard the jokes before: Corollas can be had in any colour as long as it is beige; or, Toyota builds some of the finest appliances on the road. Well, despite every manufacturer’s boastful claim that they are building excitement, this time, Toyota is serious. They are injecting some welcome life into their products, and successfully, too. Just look at Toyota’s recent track record. In the past year they have brought to market the stylish Avalon and a purist sports car, the Scion FR-S. Now it is time to reinvent the RAV4. For this Toyota has gone bold; very bold.

On sale since 2006, the current generation of RAV4 has done well for Toyota. Aside from blistering acceleration via the optional V6 engine, the 2006–2012 RAV4 wasn’t exactly an exciting vehicle to drive or look at. It was a great, reliable family vehicle, but didn’t excel at much more. It still found favour with consumers as 29,942 RAV4s were sold in Canada during 2012. Despite being the last model year for this generation of RAV4, that is still a 20 percent increase over the tsunami-disrupted 2011 sales year.

It was also good enough to place the RAV4 near the top of the sales chart in the compact crossover segment, but for 2013, Toyota wants the RAV4s to gain the number one sales slot in Canada for compact crossovers. To achieve this, the RAV4 has undergone a radical redesign.

First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge

One glance at the 2013 RAV4 and it is obvious it is different; not just from the 2012 RAV4, but from compact crossovers in general. Toyota wanted to give the RAV4 bold styling and they definitely succeeded – it may be a little too bold for my taste, but looks are subjective. Up front, a new fascia adorns the RAV4, featuring chrome accents within a grille flanked by two projection headlights. At the rear, the most obvious change is the removal of the door-mounted spare tire; it is now located inside the ute under the cargo floor. The reason for this change is that the RAV4 finally has a conventional lift-back tailgate instead of the swing out design synonymous with this compact crossover. A bit of an oddity for me is the fact that the rear bumper is not painted, even on top of the line limited models; at least not yet. Hint: more variations of the RAV4 are sure to come, but more on that later.

Inside, the RAV4 has undergone an equally radical reinvention. The dashboard is a mix of materials, colours and designs that are indeed bold, and come together in a way that I really like. It does look better in two-tone beige-black than two-tone grey-black. Overall, there will be three interior colour combinations and three seating surfaces, dependent on trim level. On Limited Edition RAV4s, there is also the addition of fake carbon fibre inserts – the jury is still out on whether I like them or not. The doors, like the dashboard, also feature a variety of colours and textures that all come together to work in harmony.

First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge

The dash itself is finished in hard plastic on top, with soft-touch middle and lower sections. The doors are also hard-touch plastic minus the generous armrest that takes up roughly a quarter of the door. Up front, the seating position is easy to adjust and very comfortable. However, even in top trims, the passenger seat is only four-way manually adjustable with no height adjustment option. The rear seat is also spacious and comfortable, and all trim levels come standard with reclining seats that not only recline the seatback but also adjust the seat cushion accordingly. 3rd row seating has been dropped in the 2013 RAV4 since not enough consumers opted for this feature, and it was cramped while also compromising cargo capacity. Toyota figures if you really need a 3rd row of seats, you can move up to a larger CUV with more overall space like the Highlander.

First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge

Content will not be lacking in the new RAV4, with options like smart key with push-button ignition, lane departure alert, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and a height-adjustable power liftgate available. As well, Toyota has sweated the details by adding nice standard features like an adjustable centre armrest, sunshade extenders, and eight airbags. Their most trick feature, though, has to be the auxiliary air reducer located dead centre on the top of the dash that will blast air to the rear passengers.

The 2013 RAV4 is wider than the outgoing 2012 model, but shorter and not as tall. This does not hurt interior space, however, as it will feature a class-leading 2,078 L of cargo space with the rear seats folded down – more than even the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. The RAV4’s reign as cargo champion will be short lived, though, as the soon-to-arrive 2014 Forester will trump them all with 2,115 L of cargo-carrying potential.

Under the hood, the only engine available at this time will be a 2.5L four-cylinder that is basically a carryover unit from the 2012 RAV4. The engine produces 3 less hp, now rated at 176 hp, and the same level of torque at 172 lb-ft. The big change has to do with the transmission. Toyota’s antique four-speed automatic finally put out to pasture, replaced by a new six-speed automatic, the only transmission available.

Despite a slight overall weight gain, Toyota claims the 2013 RAV4 will hit 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds compared to 10.2 seconds for the outgoing four-cylinder model.

Like the old RAV4, the 2013 will be available in both front-wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) versions. Three drive modes will be available: Sport, Regular and Eco. In Sport mode, the engine will blip downshifts when decelerating and adjust the AWD system to split power 90 percent to the front wheels and 10 percent to the rear wheels. This up from the RAV4’s standard operating procedure of sending 100 percent of power to the front wheels until slip is detected. If slip is detected, up to 50 percent of the engine power can be sent to the rear wheels in all modes. There is also a ‘Lock’ mode that sets AWD power distribution to an even 50/50 split front to rear. Lock mode will only work at speeds up to 40 km/h.

On the road, power is adequate and all this vehicle really needs. It feels very similar in performance to our ex-long-term 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek. The steering is light but not sloppy while the suspension is solid and feels planted. The ride is about average in harshness as I could feel large bumps make their way through the cabin, but smaller road imperfections were soaked up with ease. I know ‘car-like drive’ is an overused cliché, but I can think of no better way to describe the new RAV4.

First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives First Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge

The engine is fairly quiet at operation, as is wind noise. Just like the exclusion of the third-row seats, Toyota has dumped the RAV4’s V6 option because of low uptake; Toyota was quick to point out that rest of the market was dumping V6 engines in compact crossovers for the same reason and if you really need a V6 engine in your crossover, there is, again, still the Toyota Highlander. But this doesn’t mean the RAV4 will be powered exclusively by the 2.5L for long. When asked about any future engine options, Toyota hinted there may be one on the horizon, but would only commit to saying “keep an eye on the Auto show circuit.” Don’t expect a turbocharged engine or diesels, though; think more along the lines of a Hybrid – the Camry Hybrid’s drivetrain makes perfect sense in this application. As much as I wish we could get the European 2.0L diesel engine in North America, we as North Americans don’t buy diesels en masse. Toyota states that a Hybrid makes more sense as they have proven hybrid technology and people actually buy them.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Toyota hopes the RAV4 will continue to be a strong seller. I have a feeling it will be. With two FWD models and three AWD models available, the RAV4 will appeal to a broad demographic of potential buyer. For a little added incentive, Toyota has actually lowered the price on base AWD models by $1,510. Add in a welcome dose of style inside and out and Toyota should be able to gain their conquest sales to move on up the compact crossover sales charts.

Pricing: 2013 Toyota RAV4
RAV4 FWD LE (Starting MSRP: $23,790)
RAV4 FWD XLE (Starting MSRP: $27,000)
RAV4 AWD LE (Starting MSRP: $25,990)
RAV4 AWD XLE (Starting MSRP: $29,200)
RAV4 AWD Limited (Starting MSRP: $31,700)

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