In a little over a decade, the compact crossover/sport utility segment has more than doubled in the number of competitors and they come from all corners of the globe. Automakers have seen sales figures of these vehicles account for nearly 13 percent of all light vehicle sales and they all want a piece of that pie.
Toyota introduced its first small SUV, known as the RAV4, in 1994 globally and here in the U.S. the following year. For 2013 the automaker brings an all-new Gen-4 RAV4 that will be sold in more than 150 markets around the world. Since 1995 Toyota has sold more than 1.7 million of these little runabouts and they claim 80 percent are still on the road today.
For the new model Toyota has made some choices for the buyer easier as they now offer only one powertrain in the form of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is backed by an all-new six-speed automatic gearbox. Toyota says this new configuration allows fuel economy of up to 31 mpg highway. They will also still offer an all-wheel drive version that features new Dynamic Torque Control for improved traction.
Another significant change for MY2013 is the elimination of the third row seat option, which Toyota said got very few takers in the previous generations. This allowed engineers to move the spare tire from its previous outboard position on the rear door to under the cargo floor inside the vehicle, thus also paving the way for the new rear overhead hatch as opposed to the previous side-opening rear gate.
Styling upgrades both inside and out are immediately apparent with the new model and perhaps the best selling point up front. Toyota has modernized the RAV4 looks making it more competitive with the likes of the Korean competitors who, in my opinion, have some of the best designs on the market currently.
Other new notable features include a standard backup camera on the 6.1-inch display audio screen, adjustable power liftgate, class-leading 73.4 cubic feet of cargo space, and eight standard airbags.
The 2013 RAV4 will be offered in three trim levels of LE, XLE, and Limited with all-wheel drive available across all models. Pricing begins at $23,300 for base front-wheel drive LE models with AWD tacking on an extra $1,400. A Limited model with AWD fetches a base MSRP of $28,410.
Charting the changes versus the previous generation the 2013 RAV4 is nearly an inch shorter in height, retains the same wheelbase, sheds two inches in overall length, and is slightly narrower. It gains a few pounds overall and the front and rear track width increases incrementally for slightly improved handling and stability on the road.
There is slightly less headroom in the 2013 model but front leg-, shoulder-, and hip room all increase as does cargo space behind both front and rear rows of seating. Second row legroom decreases slightly but the new model loses the sliding capability found on the outgoing RAV4.
The new powertrain setup provides 176hp and 172 lb. ft. of torque which does quite well in most applications. The new RAV4 has decent acceleration and midrange power but the little four is a bit noisier than some of its competitors. New Sport and Eco drive modes are offered for drivers to tailor their experience behind the wheel.
That Dynamic Torque Control I spoke of earlier is integrated into the all-wheel drive system and uses electromagnetic coupling on the front of the rear differential to distribute the necessary amount of torque to the rear wheels when needed. I was able to engage the system while driving through some loose sand in a wash I found on one of the drive routes during a recent model launch program in Arizona. The system worked flawlessly and unobtrusively. For serious driving situations there is a lock mode for the unit.
I found the 2013 RAV4 comfortable and well-mannered and a worthy, attractive contender in this highly competitive segment.