North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

Z_CNHI News Service

December 2, 2013

RAV4 gets upgrade as small SUV's popularity grows

During the press launch of the new RAV4 earlier this year, Toyota officials said they forecast sales of their redesigned small utility would surpass the 200,000 mark.

Guess what? If present trends continue, they will not only reach their lofty goal but surpass it. Not bad for the compact SUV segment competing with the likes of Honda's CRV, KIA's Sportage, the Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape.

Hedging their bet, Toyota throws in two years or 25,000 miles of scheduled maintenance for the RAV4, making the compact utility more attractive than most of its competition. The coverage is included in the purchase for all three trim levels available - LE, XLE and Limited - with base prices ranging from $22,300 to $27,010, respectively.

Big changes for this fourth generation RAV4 year include a more fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine powering a new six-speed transmission. The previous V6 engine is gone, along with the exterior rear spare tire, a long-time component of the RAV4 look.

During a week of city and interstate travel, the XLE model handled all sorts of driving conditions with ease. The tuned 2.5-liter engine performed like a six cylinder with ample power for passing on interstates, although it was strained going up steep grades.

Fuel consumption was on target with EPA estimates - a rare occurrence with a lot of four-cylinder engines. Sport mode delivers a more spirited driving experience, while Eco mode slows gearing and overall performance for better fuel economy.

Road noise was minimal under power due in part to a new acoustic windshield filled with special materials between two glass panes. A backup camera is standard along with a 6.1-inch touch screen for climate, audio and navigation controls.

I found the navigation system lacking in functionality and audio prompts compared with previous Toyota systems. A reduced screen size and display also hinder its operation.  

Interior materials are soft touch, and the layout of instruments is intuitive for driver controls. Redundant steering wheel controls are large and straight-forward as are knobs and switches surrounding the gauge clusters and center console.   

Seating for five is comfortable for such a small utility vehicle. It feels larger with generous legroom and headroom. While no third row seat is offered, the rear seats fold flat for more than 73 cubic feet of storage, enough for four sets of golf clubs and luggage with room to spare.

An available power lift gate opens up this year replacing the unpopular side mount door that opened toward the curb.

Minor sheet metal tweaks include a raised hood, a sloping roofline and wedge-styled rear quarter panels with an integrated rear spoiler.

Overall the 2013 RAV4 handles better than its predecessor and is a sensible purchase for a compact sport utility vehicle.

Len Ingrassia is an automotive columnist. Contact him at lenscarcorner@ptd.net

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