Toyota's freshly redesigned 2013 RAV4 isn't groundbreaking. It's not going to prevent any wars, save the world from an oil crisis or forestall Lindsay Lohan's inevitable decline into social stupidity.
In the world of modern crossover SUVs, however, it's an undeniably solid offering. Has been since Day One.
After a few years of getting overshadowed by new, more modern competitors, the RAV4 is looking to get back in the game with a modest though precise redesign, one that specifically targets all the little things that small SUV buyers want. We lived with it for a few weeks to see if the new 2013 Toyota RAV4 is a class leader once again, or merely treading water in the segment that it practically created years ago.
Counting Beans and Horses
Base RAV4s start at $24,145, including destination fees. Our fully optioned Limited All-Wheel-Drive model with Navigation came in at $31,415. In other words, that's the spread you're looking at when it comes to the 2013 Toyota RAV4.
For this fee you get the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder power plant that drove last year's RAV4. The V6 is gone, likely for good, as Toyota realized that the RAV4 really didn't need to be faster than just about every other vehicle in its lineup.
The lone four-cylinder engine uses conventional port fuel injection to produce 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It is paired with a modern six-speed automatic transmission capable of mildly rev-matched downshifts. There are Sport and Eco modes, both of which affect the RAV's responses in the expected ways. Steering in Sport mode is substantially heavier, and Eco mode dulls response enough to excite any hypermiling Prius owner.
None of the RAV's controls are great in terms of communication, but thanks to an extra cog in the gearbox, its powertrain is more eager than that of Honda's CR-V. You'll still need to plan ahead to squeeze in front of that tractor trailer entering the freeway, but the RAV is generally less sleepy around town than its Honda rival.
In testing, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 needed 9.1 seconds to hit 60 mph (8.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip). This is quicker than the CR-V (9.4 seconds), but considerably behind the Ford Escape 2.0 (7.4 seconds). The story was similar in the quarter-mile, where the RAV used 16.8 seconds and crossed the line at 81.6 mph: a dead heat with the CR-V, but a whopping 1.3 seconds behind the hot-rod Escape.
All-wheel drive helps the RAV's dynamics both on the street and in our instrumented testing. On the street it keeps rapid throttle stomps from turning into wheelspin and when cornering, wherever you're doing it, there's better balance once the power is applied.
In our slalom test the RAV's stability control system stepped in only when it was really needed, leaving more freedom to drive the SUV between the cones than we experience in most Toyota products. It weaved between them at 62.7 mph, which is better than nearly everything else in the class including the renowned-for-its-handling 2013 Mazda CX-5. The RAV circled the skid pad at 0.78g, which is average for the class.
There's more to handling than what can be surmised driving around cones in a parking lot, however. And though the little Toyota might exhibit strong numbers, you'll make a small compromise in ride quality. This is at least partially due to the 18-inch wheels and tires, though Mazda's CX-5 uses 19s and produces no better handling numbers.
What's more, the RAV4 exhibits surprising capabilities in light off-roading, with respectable approach and departure angles as well as good ground clearance. And its center differential can be locked for low-grip situations.
The Important Changes
The most significant change to the 2013 Toyota RAV4 happens inside. It's here that the stitched leather on the dash and shifter combines with the simulated leather on the seats (on Limited models at least) to create a more modern-looking and comfortable cabin. This is a solid step up from the last RAV4, which was both unremarkable and downright dated inside.
Primary controls are all easy to use, and previous Toyota owners will find both the mirror adjuster and cruise control stalk common to every Toyota product for the last 15 years. Analog instruments (a tachometer, fuel gauge and 140-mph speedometer [should you opt to rocket assist your RAV4]) are large and illuminated in a handsome blue hue.
Overall cabin space is solid in every direction. Its 73.4 cubic feet of cargo space, 38.4 of which is behind the second row, is tops in the class. Rear-seat passenger space is abundant enough for tall, wide adults, even when another pair of full-size adults is sitting up front.
The RAV's rear seats fold almost flat, and even when they're upright there's ample space behind for multiple strollers. We installed both a rear-facing infant seat and a forward-facing convertible child seat and neither caused us to compromise our preferred front-seat positions. Under the rear load floor hides a removable retracting cargo cover and a spare tire, which is relocated from the tailgate on previous-generation RAVs.
Also new is a height-adjustable power liftgate that can be operated via a dash-mounted button, from the gate or via the key fob. The top-hinged gate replaces the previous RAV4's swing-out gate.
Excluding our testing, we drove this RAV 835 miles, most at or near freeway speeds. During this period it recorded 23.6 mpg, which is on the low end of the EPA's 22 city/29 highway estimates.
We've recorded better fuel economy in both the less powerful CX-5 (25.3 mpg) and less enjoyable CR-V (27.7 mpg) during different tests at different times. Ford's mutant-power 2.0-liter EcoBoost Escape, at 20.5 mpg, didn't do as well.
When it comes to priorities in this segment, fuel consumption is a big one — right up there with cargo space, practicality and ease of use. So even though the new RAV has ditched its thirsty V6, it's still not the most frugal compact SUV around.
That said, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 is among the best in almost every other category. It's comfortable with a full load of passengers, has plenty of cargo space when there are no passengers and delivers predictable, if tepid, performance no matter what's onboard. And even though it won't change the world, it delivers all the things an SUV of its type should to those with more reasonable expectations.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.