By BOB GRITZINGER | Contributing Editor The instrument panel "Driving…
Imagine driving through the desert on a solitary dirt road with your favorite 90’s music blaring through the speakers and a fun friend in the passenger seat. It’s not your typical scenario, but that was the scene in and around Scottsdale, Arizona as Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com and I put Toyota’s brand-new RAV4 through the paces.
You’d hardly recognize this RAV4 from its original look, launched in 1994 as the world’s first-ever crossover SUV. The RAV4’s unique identifier (i.e. rear-mounted spare tire) has vanished for 2013, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone distraught over that. Even the RAV4’s deputy chief engineer, Yoshikazu Saeki, admitted that the wheel had to go. Saeki joined Toyota in 1987, working on the Land Cruiser’s suspension and became part of the RAV4 team in 2003.
Toyota has sold more than 1.7 million units since RAV4 propelled into the automotive marketplace, and according to the automaker, 80 percent of those RAV4’s are still on the road today.
Twelve years ago, the SUV landscape looked a lot different. There were only 10 models of utility vehicles available for purchase. Today, there are more than 45 options for consumers. Sales in this segment have tripled since 2000, now accounting for 13 percent of the light vehicle market.
In a speech he delivered to the audience Saeki said, “I had first-hand knowledge on both the RAV4’s traditional strengths, but also where it needed to be improved to meet the changing needs of compact SUV owners.”
During the course of developing the 2013 RAV4, Saeki and his team met with 250 people across the country, traveling to major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Dallas. Toyota wanted to learn what exactly its potential customers wanted in its next compact SUV.
Their research confirmed that the overall size of the RAV4 was just right. Toyota would need to focus more of their efforts on the interior comfort and finishes to match its target customers’ active lifestyle.
“When we began planning the fourth-generation RAV4, we looked at the reasons owners valued their RAV4’s. There were two main areas we had to carry over into the new RAV4. One was the sense of security that owners had while driving on all kinds of roads and a wide range of conditions. The other was versatility. RAV4 has always been aimed at a wide range of active people. It must be versatile enough to handle the everyday needs of its owners, as well as recreational activities.”
–Yoshikazu Saeki, deputy chief engineer, Toyota
The RAV4 finally sheds that awkward rear-mounted spare tire. While I’m glad to see it go, I have to say that its absence takes away a little bit of the ute’s individuality. But Saeki said he wanted to change the way people viewed the RAV4. Over lunch, he explained to BCC how so many people comment that the RAV4 is “cute.” He wants to shake up that perception starting with the fourth generation.
For 2013, the gas-sipping four-cylinder engine (carried over from the previous generation) pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission to give the RAV4 176 horsepower and a more refined driving feel overall. The ride, save for our time on the rocky back roads, was smooth and easy-going.
Toyota also made improvements to the aerodynamics of the RAV4. It was immediately noticeable how little wind noise was present at both low and higher speeds. We drove the current model CR-V to compare and quickly discovered a jump in cabin noise when moving from the base model RAV4 to the Honda.
You may be pleasantly surprised at what comes standard on the RAV4 – from the base LE to the Limited version. Every model will come with steering wheel controls for hands-free Bluetooth phone and audio technology. The XLE and Limited versions will come stock with navigation. Also standard across models are back-up camera, Entune® multimedia system, and Display Audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen.
The 2013 RAV4 also comes with class-leading cargo space of 73.4 cubic feet with the second row of seats folded down. The coolest feature is probably the adjustable power liftgate on the Limited. There are two memory settings so if one driver is much taller than the other you can customize the height of the tailgate when it lifts. Or, if you have limited amount of space in your garage when the door is shut, you can make sure to access the RAV4’s rear cargo area without banging up the exterior of the vehicle.
One change that perplexed me, however, were the gray plastic bumpers in lieu of the prior model’s painted ones. Not even the Limited gets painted trim this time around. I think that little detail actually made the RAV4 look more expensive than it is, a bit of refinement if you will. Comparable models today have the gray plastic trim pieces; likely because it helps reduce cost so manufacturers can put those dollars inside the vehicle where consumers want it (i.e. technology offerings).
On the contrary, I was glad to see Toyota kind of ingeniously used soft touch materials both cost-effectively and common-sensically in the RAV4. The door panels have soft touch materials on the parts where your arm rests and hard plastic where the window controls sit. Toyota may not have been the first company to think of this, but it’s certainly a smart way to save a little cost while still keeping the overall feel of comfort.
2013 RAV4 Pricing
- LE FWD – Base MSRP $23,300 (FWD); $24,700 (AWD)
- XLE FWD – Base MSRP $24,290 (FWD); $25,790 (AWD)
- Limited – Base MSRP $27,010 (FWD); $28,410 (for AWD)
*All prices listed above exclude the Delivery, Processing, and Handling (DPH) fees.
Toyota expects 2013 RAV4 sales to split across the various models pretty evenly, predicting 30 percent for the LE, 40 percent for the XLE, and the remaining 30 percent for the Limited. The company is also anticipating that two-thirds of total sales will go toward the all-wheel-drive version.
The new RAV4 will get an EPA estimated 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway on the front wheel drive version, dropping to 22 city/29 highway for the all-wheel-drive.
If you’re looking for a compact SUV that’s good on gas and no longer bears the name ‘baby hauler’ among your friends, then check out the 2013 Toyota RAV4.
Disclaimer: The author provides strategic communications services for organizations that represent the auto industry, including Toyota. The views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and were not solicited by any third party.