2013 Toyota RAV4 Road Test

2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV

(2.5L 4-cyl. AWD 6-speed Automatic)
  • 2013 Toyota RAV4 - Action Front 3/4

    2013 Toyota RAV4 - Action Front 3/4

    The 2013 RAV4 is among the quickest slaloming small SUVs we've tested. Its sharp handling pays off on the street, too. | January 18, 2013

28 Photos

Ordinary at Its Best

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.

Practical Driving
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.

Other Considerations
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.

Comments

  • rayzor rayzor Posts:

    For over $31Gs, it has fake leather seats; fail!, way less mpg than the CRVs even with a modern 6spd auto; fail! And a look only her mother would love; fail!

  • gpolt gpolt Posts:

    Compared to the 2012, front and rear head room, visibility and cargo height all reduced due to the new shape of the vehicle with its raked windshield and sloping roofline design. Rear side windows are smaller too. RAV loses an inch of ground clearance and overall height. Seat is more supportive, front leg room appears increased and interior is a little wider than the 2012. Have not driven.

  • emajor emajor Posts:

    rayzor, I'd wait for a standardized test or a simultaneous comparison with other CUVs before jumping to any fuel economy conclusions. Toyotas almost universally meet or exceed EPA ratings, and this isn't a new engine that would be expected to buck that trend. I still think the current RAV4 is the best CUV around for my particular wants & needs. If they simply would have upgraded the interior materials, added a bit more thigh support to the front seats, and slapped that 6-spd auto in there, it would be nearly perfect. This new one seems like more of a lateral move than a clear improvement.

  • morey000 morey000 Posts:

    Looks like a fine appliance. You just can't sit this vehicle next to an Escape or Santa Fe and say it has any real style. Inside or out.

  • etanretla etanretla Posts:

    the exterior now looks similar to the outlander in my opinion.

  • kam327 kam327 Posts:

    What an unfair comparison - complaining about the Escape's fuel economy but failing to mention that engine is their V6 equivalent. At least they mentioned the Escape 2.0L blows the doors off the competition. All Toyotas are boring appliances and this will likely be no different. I expect to see it near the bottom of the next small SUV comparo like the Camry was near the bottom of a recent midsize sedan comparo.

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    "The top-hinged gate replaces the previous RAV4's swing-out gate." I'm glad they finally realized that people drive on different sides of the road in different places. That side-hinged rear door made curb-side loading a real pain.

  • ANT14 ANT14 Posts:

    This just made the Escape a much better buy...

  • kburg kburg Posts:

    fake leather. 9 sec 0-60. It's OK, but in what ways is this better than the previous rav4? Oh yeah, no runflats and you can actually see out the back. Any word on visibility improvements? You guys should add that to the article.

  • kburg kburg Posts:

    This is crazy. Why can't I read comments without first posting?

  • kburg kburg Posts:

    fake leather. 9 sec 0-60. It's OK, but in what ways is this better than the previous rav4? Oh yeah, no runflats and you can actually see out the back. Any word on visibility improvements? You guys should add that to the article.

  • wizard__ wizard__ Posts:

    Test drove one yesterday. Shocked at the cost cutting on the inside materials. The thin carpeting, the seating materials. Ride also seemed noisy, and the center console is not very useful. When compared to the CR-V center console, it would be difficult to compromise all that storage the CR-V gives.

  • lostcomma lostcomma Posts:

    The interior is a huge improvement, then again it would not be hard to improves as the previous version was so old. If it aint broke don't fix it. Same old led clock and mirror actuator that I had in my 85 corolla. The exterior I could take or leave. As far as the newly produced competition the forester beats the cr-v and rav4 for front end looks. The aint broke thing appears again with the motor. No direct injection and that is why it suffers so economy. The went for reliability over efficiency. Not a bad remake, still good competition for the other cuv's. I would probably buy the manufacturer that offers a six speed manual.

  • lucien4 lucien4 Posts:

    No review on interior? From pictures looks pretty minimal and cheap.

  • Dumb mistake to get rid of the V6. 0-60 in 6.3 AND get 24 MPG. What were they thinking? I have a 2007 limited and it has served my family well. But I will be crossing the 2013 Rav 4 off the list, unless they bring the V6 back in 2014 hopefully with a 6 spd auto.

  • empoweredbc empoweredbc Posts:

    I believe it has 24/31 EPA MPG vs the CRVs 23/31 MPG, so it can claim better fuel economy (the Honda can claim more power). The Rav4 also has the most airbags and cargo room in the class, so I expect that to come up when a dealer shows you the car. The old rear door cost it some sales, I'm sure. And no one was buying the V6 anyway, and a V6 never slowed the CRV sales train down one iota. Toyota may not take over the class with this, but it will take market share back. Don't even think about it.

  • g35buf g35buf Posts:

    That is simply not good enough in this segment. 23.6 mpg is poor in a slow, small CUV/SUV. You get that mpg or better in 2.0T Tiguan that is far quicker and gives you better materials (albeit more expensive for the same equipment). I've driven ALL the competitors and the CR-V is decent, but still 'Honda-noisy' and the CX-5 is not even a consideration until it gets the new SkyActiv 2.5L later in the year. It gets worse mileage than it should because you are always wooding the accelerator pedal. We ended up buying a Tiguan SEL as it was simply a class up from the CR-Vs etc from a couple grand more in the real world market value.

  • maxxliberty maxxliberty Posts:

    Don't care for the look of the 2013, with the unattractive lower black trim. That trim doesn't belong on this price-level vehicle. So glad I purchased a new 2012 Limited V6. It's fast, agile, rides comfortably, does well on fuel and I've not found any defects in the manufacturing. A plus is the P225/65R17 tires - makes a lot more sense than the faddish, impractical 18's. It's actually fun to drive with a 6,400rpm redline. It's so engaging I wish it had a heads-up display and paddle shifters! One thing I don't like is the constant bonging/warning noises for everything, and that the customer can't disable same. The dealer, for a charge, can disable only some of the annoyances. I need a wiring diagram to disable all I don't like.

  • luvcars6 luvcars6 Posts:

    No rear seat vents! BIG FAIL. How could Toyota over look this. Too bad.

  • I love Toyotas. I have 1994 MR2 and 2005 4Runner. Now... This 2013 RAV-4... it is nice inside, but Gosh what a boring car. It is designed for house-wifes to drive to grocery stores 2 miles away from home. That's it. But! it is very nice for that purpose. Vey nice! So, my wife wants to buy it and we will buy it soon. I will stick to my 94MR2 turbo for spirited driving and to the 4Runner for off-road and hunting and other gun-n-bible activities. But the RAV-4 has everything a wife needs: most important rear view camera; convenient back door; good view of the road; nice ride; wonderful sound system; elegant inside; handling that matches her skills and doesn't make driving difficult. By the way, if you put an average driving person into a sports-handling car, she will most likely end-up in a ditch. So, 2013 RAV4 is perfect from that point of view. And it is a very nice looking car too. XLE is the best choice. The Limited gives you a choppy ride. Its 18" wheels will produce hydroplaning on wet roads. They will not improve neither handling nor acceleration. AWD is also not needed South of Boston. FWD is lighter and will behave better. It will not affect the so-called off-road capability since it will be limited to grass parking in local markets and tree-nurceries anyway. For those who want a real hot driving in a compact cross-over, go buy 2012 3.5L RAV4 while they are still available. But if you are dreaming about a real off-road, get the Rubicon. But for my wife, we are getting the 2013 one :-) 3rd Toyota in the house. By the way. I had to repare my 94MR2 only once in 18 years and the 4Runner also once in 8 years. Both under $1k. Think about it. Everyone, have a nice day.

  • drjjjj drjjjj Posts:

    The 3.5 liter V6 from Toyota in the old Rav and Camry is an Engineering gem and fast as a musle car. Cracked 100mph in the quarter mile in the Camry while getting 30mpg at 75mph. It smokes any 2.0 turbo The Rav is a fine choice, no CVT, no direct injection, no premium required turbo etc-CRV is great too for the same reasons!

  • I don't understand all of the "RAV4 looks like an appliance" remarks when a lot of vehicles in this class (yeah, Honda CRV and Ford Escape, I'm talking to YOU) have obviously changed their design to look more like the RAV4. The new RAV4 looks radically better than the last generation. Between the wheel hanging off the back door and the rear squareness of an '80s Volvo, my wife's 2009 RAV4 looks like something your 60+ Aunt Clara would drive when viewed from the rear. It looks a LOT more classy and refined from the side, giving it a weird duality depending on the angle that you're looking at it. My wife's 2009 RAV is a great vehicle, fun as heck to drive, and hasn't had the slightest hint of any mechanical or electrical problems, it just looks funny from the back. I think Toyota really did well by abandoning the side-opening rear door. And if you are going to have a side-opening rear door, why on earth would you make it open toward the street instead of the curb? That's nutty. The side opening hatch was a a good experiment and scores points for somebody looking sor something different, but the vertical gate is a lot better and the side-opener became a good example of what not to do. Good on Toyota for putting it out of its misery. For the guy complaining about the cost of $31K, I challenge you to find a vehicle with the RAV4 Limited's features for under $35K. OK, I found ONE: the Kia Soul !, fully loaded. Nice vehicle on the inside, downright embarrassing on the outside. I'm 43 years old, married, and have a kid. I've been nowhere near cool and happenin' for 15 years, and I wouldn't be caught dead in a Soul (a.k.a. The Witch Car). As for the reviewer that claims that head room in the front in back is worse: it's lower by an inch and I can't believe it would make a difference unless you're in the NBA. My sitting height is 95th percentile at least. When I'm on an airplane, I can look cleanly over everybody's head. I can't just lean my head back and relax in the airplane chair like 99% of the population, my head flops back on top of the seat. I have to have a neck pillow. My point? I've never had problems with head room in the 2009 RAV4 or the 2013 RAV4, period, end of story. And I'm the guy who was really interested in the Nissan Xterra, attempted to test drive one, and couldn't even get out of the parking lot because the bottom of the raised sunshade was 2 inches BELOW my eye-level with the seat fully lowered. I have that problem with a lot of vehicles. My only gripe: the got rid of the V6. The 4 cylinder is great around town but it's not my friend on a road trip. When I'm at highway speed on cruise control, the slightest up-slope causes the engine to kick down a gear and rev like you pounded your foot into it. It's jarring. I'd rather lose 5 MPH than hear what sounds like a lawnmower being red-lined to destruction. Going up a mountain pass or doing rolling hills would get real old real fast. The V6 purrs like a kitten when you're going up a 12% grade, I'll take the 2 MPG penalty (considering what you're paying for the car itself, the license, the insurance, the maintenance, etc., people get WAY too wrapped around the axle when it comes to gas mileage; if you're being socially conscious, alright, whatever; from the standpoint of cost, get a grip). Getting rid of the V6 was a mistake.

  • I agree, drjjjj. I have a 2001 Camry with a V6. When it comes to speed and acceleration, I can hang with anybody except some of the high-end, no-kidding muscle-cars or the once in a blue moon 300-hp BMW that you see once a year. Toyota screwed up when they discontinued the V6. I think they grossly underestimated that impact. For anybody that has a V6 now, they're not coming back to a 4-banger that sounds like a lawnmower on any decent hill and, when you get into the land of the 10% grade, will horribly decelerate no matter how much foot you put in it.

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2013 Toyota RAV4 in VA is:

$130 per month*
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