Auto Review: The RAV 4 opens the gate

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Aug. 1, 2013
Contributed
- Contributed Photo

There are all kinds of parts to an automobile, and whenever an automaker makes major changes to a popular model, there’s an enormous number of things that can be altered, added or deleted entirely. Toyota’s RAV4 – the compact SUV that basically created the class of what is now one of the most popular vehicles in the Northeast – has been primarily unchanged except for minor tweaks and improvements since the third generation appeared in 2006. For 2013, the company decided to overhaul the entire platform, although at first glance you might not notice all the changes.

If there is one thing Toyota has been good at, it’s retaining the things customers like most about their more successful products and making improvements without compromising what has worked well. In this case, even the overall body structure has been changed, although most of these upgrades (with the exception of a liftgate that replaces the big, right-hinged conventional door at the back of the vehicle) are not obvious. The overall shape is the same, with a slightly more aggressive rear roofline, and use of high-strength steel both lightens and improves overall structural rigidity. Another change is a paring down of engine/transmission options, as Toyota decided to focus on refining one primary drivetrain for both optimal performance and economy.

The new RAV4 comes with either front-wheel or all-wheel-drive (with Dynamic Torque Control) and one engine choice, for the V6 option from the past has been deleted, leaving a 2.5-liter Inline Four as the lone motivator. This engine is fairly quiet while producing 176 horsepower, but the big change is found in the transmission. While the previous RAV4 four-cylinder had a four-speed automatic (a five-speed with the now defunct V6), the gearbox is an all-new six-speed. It does a great job at both delivering brisk acceleration and respectable fuel economy, and is very smooth in operation. Our all-wheel-drive Limited test unit was a pleasure to drive with a solid, controlled ride (a bit stiffer than the previous RAV) and quick, secure handling. There are three AWD modes: Auto, Sport and Lock, and in the Auto mode the rear wheels only come into play when slippage is detected, and Sport mode can engage the rear wheels to aid handling as well.  Below 25 mph you can lock into AWD to help get you through bogs by pushing a button.

Inside, the RAV has a revamped interior, although all the excellent room that made this such a useful family wagon is basically intact. The new liftgate (powered in Limited trim) at the rear means easier access in crowded parking lots, and the spare tire goes from the rear door to under the cargo floor (and is a temporary type, as opposed to full-size). Otherwise, there’s room for five and the latest in Toyota’s electronic goodies, as well as a standard backup camera in all models.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited is EPA rated 22 MPG city/29 highway and has a base price of $28,410. With options, our sticker came to $31,415. www.toyota.com


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