2013 Toyota RAV4

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Toyota has unveiled the fourth generation of its iconic RAV4, the world’s original crossover sport utility vehicle. Nearly 1.7 million have been sold since 1996 in 150 countries, and more than 80 percent are still on the road.

One of the distinguishing features of the RAV4 has always been the spare tire that was located outside the rear door, which necessitated it to be side-hinged. However, the 2013 model now has the spare tire located under the rear flooring so it has a standard liftgate and in one of the models there’s a power liftgate with a height-adjustment feature and also equipped with jam protection.

The rerouting of the spare tire has given the opportunity to alter the entire look of the vehicle so that it’s now more stylish in appearance – especially in the sculptured rear, that has the familial look of the Toyota brand. It has aggressively-styled front and rear fenders and a low hood The arc of the roofline and boldly proportioned taillights give it a strong, athletic presence.

The RAV4 is available in FWD or AWD. It’s also available in three trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. There’s only one engine and it’s more than adequate to get the performance you’ll need out of the vehicle. It’s a 2.5L 4-cylinder DOHC w/Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i). It produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to an all-new six-speed Electronically Controlled automatic transmission with intelligence (ECT-i).

The V-6 engine offered with the previous model has been discontinued, as was the four-speed automatic transmission. Trust me, you won’t miss it.

There are two driving modes: an ECO mode and a Sport mode. Eco helps you drive more efficiently. My advice? Pretend it doesn’t exist. The Sport Mode is the setting that makes RAV4 fun to drive, making the handling noticeably more spirited and offering better road feel. ECO mode obviously has a calling…I just choose not to hear it.

EPA mileage estimates are 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway but you’ll still get 22/29 even with AWD. Now I ask you, Gwendolyn, is two more miles per gallon worth missing out on all the fun? I rest my case.

I loved the overall handling of the new RAV4. A sophisticated high-speed interactive management system coordinates control of the vehicle’s new Dynamic Torque Control AWD, Vehicle Stability Control and Electric Power Steering systems to enhance performance, handling and safety. The LE sits on standard 17-inch steel wheels while the XLE comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season radials. The RAV4 Limited is fitted with machine-finished 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season radials. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all grades.

The RAV4 is loaded with safety, starting with class-leading eight standard airbags, Toyota’s Star Safety System that includes Traction Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Brake Assist, Anti-lock Braking System and Smart Stop Technology. The Limited grade has an available Blind Sport Monitor System with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, one of THE greatest safety devices ever made and something I advocate being installed on every vehicle that leaves an auto factory, not matter what segment or what trim level it’s is.

Furthermore, all RAV4s have Daytime Running Lights, something I wasn’t that enthralled with when it first arrived but with the seemingly strange weather patterns, increased traffic, etc., any device that helps to see and be seen isn’t a bad thing.

If you’re done looking at the exterior it’s time to get inside and that’s where changes are really noticeable. Upscale materials are used throughout with soft, stitched leather available that encompasses the vehicle’s occupants in a cocoon of elegance. (Did I really say that?) The instrument cluster is handsomely housed and the gauges and controls are all highly intuitive. There are a number of audio and technology packages available.

The rear seat has a rather rare commodity; legroom usually not seen in this segment. Speaking of comfort, that word fully-describes the seating. There’s also 73.4 cubic feet of cargo volume. Towing capacity is 1,500 pounds.

Pricing for the 2013 RAV4 is pretty decent as well. MSRP for the LE is $23,300; XLE is $24,290 ($25,320 w/Nav); and the Limited is $27,010. Just because the new RAV4 is the fourth generation doesn’t mean Toyota did it over and over again until it got it right; it got it right the first time. Just imagine how much better the new generation is?

— Al Vinikour