Monday, October 20, 2014

The compact SUV that started it all

In just a little over 5 years, crossover SUVs have quickly become the go to category for car buyers. It is no accident either; the full-size SUV craze of the 90's and very early 00's addicted most shoppers to huge cargo spaces, elevated seating positions, and cry-enducing stops at the gas station. The Toyota Rav4 was among the first vehicles to downsize that package to a more modest level.

     With the redesigned 2013 Toyota Rav4, the 4th generation of what could be said to be the most popular crossover, Toyota has given and also taken away. One way of that this is true, the Rav4 no longer comes with the option of a V6. Although the stout V6 could get to 60 mph faster, Toyota data suggests that people didn't want to pay the premium, and chose the 4-cylinder instead. For 2013, the Rav4 comes with a 4-cylinder only. The Rav4 also ditches th 3rd row, another option Toyota says that shoppers deemed not highly important.

     For the 2013 model year, it does come with a 6-speed automatic transmission to replace the tried and true 4-speed automatic. The benefit of this is that it improves fuel economy and makes the small ute more responsive during mergeing and passing.

     The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is a five-passenger compact crossover offered in three main trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. The LE comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, power folding mirrors, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split and reclining second-row seat, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with 6-inch touchscreen, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.

     The XLE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated side mirrors, roof rails, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and sportier front seats. An optional package further adds a navigation system, Toyota's Entune smartphone integration system, satellite radio, HD radio and voice controls.

     The top-level Limited comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a height-adjustable power liftgate, keyless entry/ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with memory settings, heated front seats and premium synthetic leather upholstery. The navigation system with Entune is available and can be bundled with a premium 11-speaker JBL audio system.

     For 2013, the Toyota Rav4 is powered by a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine that makes a modestly healthy 176 horsepower, and 172 lb.-ft of torque. As mentioned earlier, a 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, and you can opt for either front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive.

     In acceleration testing, the Rav4 needed just 9.1 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill, which is an average time for this segment of vehicles. The front-wheel drive RAV4 returns an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway, while the all-wheel drive RAV4 gets 22 city/29 highway mpg.

     Anti lock brakes, stability control, traction control, anti-whiplash front head restraints, front-seat side airbags, and full length curtain airbags come standard on every 2013 Toyota RAV4. A driver knee airbag is also standard. Blind-spot detection and a rear cross traffic system are optional on the Limited trim only.

     In brake testing, the RAV4 stopped from 60 mph in 127 feet, which is just a hair longer than the average. Regarding IIHS crash tests, the Rav4 earned a top score of good for its protection of occupants in moderate-overlap frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength tests. It earned a poor rating, the lowest, in the agency's new, small-overlap frontal offset impact test. But to be fair, the vast majority of the vehicles on the road today would also score a poor rating, due to the design of bumpers. The government gave the RAV4 4 out of 5 stars for total frontal protection and five stars for side crash protection.

 The 2013 Toyota RAV4 features a new interior design that shares themes with the current Camry and Avalon. Pronounced angles and lines form a more streamlined, and some could say modern, looking dash. Quality has improved somewhat as well, and some of the materials are a little nicer than what you will find in the Camry. The important cup-holder count is of an adequate number, but useful storage slots aren't as plentiful as say, the Honda CR-V.

     The optional navigation system includes Entune, a cornocopia of smartphone-connected services that includes the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio and real-time traffic, sports and stock information. Getting started with Entune sure can be a hassle, since you have to install an app on your phone and register for an account, plus you always need an active data connection to use it. The touchscreen interface has pretty straight-forward menus, but it is at times unresponsive to user touch. On the positive side, all of the conventional controls are very easy to use.

     Rear seat passenger comfort is hampered in a small way, thanks to a low-mounted back seat, but space is still abundant for even taller adults. I also liked how the seat reclined to an impressive degree.

     The cargo hold measures 38.4 cubic feet, and opens up to a generous 73.3 cubic feet with the second row folded. There is also a payoff for that low-mounted rear seat: a very flat floor and low load-in height, both of which help to minimize the strain of loading large items, or even a couple of dogs. For 2013, the RAV4 finally gains a roof mounted hinge, that is power operated and height adjustable on the Limited.

     Although you might miss the V6, the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder is adequately powerful for most situations, and it returns good fuel economy for the class of vehicle that it is in. The new 6-speed automatic shifts smoothly, but if you tend to drive on the more aggressive side, you'll find it a tad slow to downshift in passing situations. Additionally, when climbing certain mountain grades, you might observe that it has a tendency to hunt for the proper gear, rather than picking one and staying with it. Both of these issues are directly related to Toyota's efforts to tune the drivetrain for maximum gas mileage, which they were pretty successful at.

     The 2013 RAV4 handles better than the old models, and feels more substantial, refined and even a little more comfortable when cruising down the highway, however the seats are very very firm to the point of almost being uncomfortable. A potential exception to this is the Limited model, which can reportedly get jittery on rough or broken pavement thanks to its large 18-inch wheels. In spite of that, the cabin remains somewhat quiet, unless you have to do some heavy accelerating, in which the cabin then sounds like it has become a beehive.

     More demanding drivers will likely find the 2013 Toyota RAV4 to be a less enjoyable drive when compared to the Ford Escape, or Mazda CX-5. It lacks the responsve steering and sure-footed suspension that make those 2 arguably more car-like. Should you feel like taking the road less traveled however, the RAV4's all-wheel drive system quickly applies the power where it is needed for optimum traction and actually gives it a decent amout of off-road ability.

     Compact crossover SUV's are quickly becoming a dime-a dozen, so this redesign of the RAV4 could not have come soon enough. The small crossover class is full of interesting choices, including the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and Mazda CX-5. Compared to these competitors, the RAV4 feels decidedly middle-of-the road. It has no major faults, just several small ones, but it also doesn't stand out for its style, performance, or interior accomodations. But with the more than ample cargo space, fuel economy, and a more-or less agreeable ride quality, the new RAV4 is certainly worth a test drive.

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