The RAV4 has come a long way baby! [fimg=right]http://www.cleanmpg.com/photos/data/501/2013_Toyota_RAV4_News.jpg[/fimg]Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG - Jan. 3, 2013 2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD -- $24,145 to start including Destination and Handling and providing a 24/31 mpgUS city/highway rating. Scottsdale, AZ -- This desert town of over 215,000 residents is known mainly for its 4 and 5 star resorts, spas, golf courses and upscale shopping centers. At first you would guess urban sprawl but on a more sustainable front, the town is located smack dab in the middle of the Sonoran Desert hosting one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Unusual wildlife and vegetation including 2,000 native plant species and the Saguaro cactus that can only be found within its confines are the highlights. This desert oasis may not be all that hospitable in July but in mid December, nowhere else can provide the wild beauty, diverse terrain, interesting wildlife and great weather. It just so happened to be an excellent venue for the introduction of the all-new light-duty FWD and AWD 4th generation 2013 RAV4 CUV. Meet the 2013 Toyota RAV4 The first RAV4 is known as the original light duty crossover providing some of the attributes of an off-road 4x4 but without the poor ride and handling characteristics of most body on frame vehicles. Introduced in 1995, three generations and more than 1.7 million RAV4s have been purchased. And like most Toyota’s, the quality goes in before the name goes on, 80% of all RAV4’s sold in the last 17 years are still on the road today. The purpose of the RAV4? It is not meant as an off-road rock crawler but a light duty all-around crossover. Meaning light trails, unpaved or unimproved roads when you want to get away from it all. Where it shines however is its car like ride and responsive handling to meet your daily needs of commuting, transporting the family to and fro and those pesky weekend projects where a visit to the Home Depot requires some space to haul the “goods” back home. The designers of the RAV4 must have been involved with the latest Toyota catch all phrase entitled “Let’s Go Places” because that is exactly what the RAV4 was designed to do. 2013 RAV4 Pricing, Options and Specifications The 2013 RAV4 arrives with three trim levels in a FWD or AWD format. Complete pricing, specifications, standard and optional equipment can be found within the 2013 Toyota RAV4 Pricing, Options and Specifications page. Toyota RAV4 Drivetrain What happens when you place the already powerful 176 HP and 172 lb-ft. of torque 2.5L engine from the Camry in a lightweight CUV? You get a pretty darn quick CUV. The hyper fast V6 is gone as is the 4-speed AT with a modern 6-speed automatic taking its place. Within that all-new 6-speed AT is new hardware and programming. One of the features is called “Flex Start” that allows the torque converter to more progressively lock up as low as approximately 12 mph providing improved fuel efficiency while also smoothing powertrain performance. The new engine did not have any problem holding lower RPMs during light or hard launches although when pushed, that 2.5L will roar inside the cabin. Toyota RAV4 Exterior Some of the indigenous wildlife on a local golf course mixing it up with the RAV4 From the front, the hoods layout is a reverse of many more so called “athletic designs” where the raised portion of the hood is in the center. On the RAV4, the feature lines come down off the A-pillars towards toe grille work with a smooth drop off of a few mm into the center of the hood. It adds softness vs. bravado and makes perfect sense for the RAV4s mission. The other highlight is the new projector headlamps with jewel like reflective surfaces on the inside. The curved wraparound lenses do not harm the "look" either. The grillwork itself is also unusual in that the honeycomb like mesh in the upper grille is decorative allowing no airflow into the engine bay. Only the two lower openings in the bumper fascia are open to the wind. From the profile, Toyota also added something pretty slick. That being a two bend character line running from the rear tail lamps where a sense of haunches was created and running forward above the body colored door handles only to disappear just under the base of the A-Pillar. Toyota’s standard air tabs at all four corners are evident for aerodynamic drag reduction and raised front and rear fenders provide an off-road look. A single thin chrome trim piece along the bottom window glass describes the classy belt line. The standard roof spoiler extends the roof arch and is said to drop a few counts from the aero drag as well. In the rear is where someone may have gotten a little to creative as there are compound curves, shelves and a taillight design that appears to be shaped for no apparent reason other than to “look different. Finishing the rear end on a high note, the side swinging rear hinge design of past RAV4’s has finally been replaced with a more traditional and parking lot friendly hatch design. It took 17 years but they finally figured it out. In addition, the Limited trims one-touch power rear liftgate incorporates a unique driver-selectable memory height setting. A handy feature for those of a shorter persuasion. Toyota RAV4 Interior Soft touch plastics where they are supposed to be and classy single stitch seam on the lower dash trim piece but the urethane wheel on the LE and XLE trim and no sunglass holder was a disappointment. The new RAV4's interior has a more premium look and feel over its predecessor with much softer touch plastics in the central dash where you actually do control some of the gizmos, a real sewn texture print headliner instead of that Toyota standard mouse fir on egg carton you hear me complain about inside older Toyota’s from time to time and driver-centric controls. All RAV4 steering wheels will have controls for audio, Bluetooth, and the Multi-Information Display (MID). Like all Toyota’s, the RAV4 control stalks have a familiar and high quality look and feel. The base trim has formed stitching within the plastic trim piece that runs along the base of the dash and steering wheel hub cover adding a slightly more upscale look without the upscale price. The XLE uses real stitched seams in the lower dash trim piece whereas the Limited includes that and brightwork inlays in the vent directionals themselves. The seats were comfortable for the few hours I spent in them with the ergonomics better than older Toyota’s as the tilt and telescopic wheel, pedal depth and even lower seat cushions were long enough to fit comfortably. Like the XLE and Limited’s real stitching in the lower dash seam, those same trims include a real French stitched seam in the seats as well. Front to rear seat roominess was another plus with plenty of room for five 6 footers in both the front and the back if needed. And those in the back will enjoy the 60/40 split/fold second-row seats with the ability to recline a few degrees for even more comfort. Where the RAV4 deserves accolades is its cavernous rear cargo volume. The 2013 RAV4 is built off a smaller platform yet has more useable interior volume than its predecessor. No matter if the seats were up (38.4 cu. ft.) or down (a whopping 73.4 cu. ft.), you could load luggage, gear or supplies for the vacation trip into the wilderness or groceries and hardware runs for the more mundane day to day loads we are all subject to from time to time. It has more room than you would think a compact CUV should have. 2013 RAV4 Infotainment Standard on all RAV4 models is Display Audio with a 6.1-in. touchscreen, AM/FM/CD, SiriusXM Radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and AUX mini-jack, and six speakers. Available on XLE and Limited, Display Audio with Navigation and Entune includes advanced voice recognition. Available on RAV4 Limited, JBL Premium Audio features eleven GreenEdge speakers, including a subwoofer, and an eight-channel, 576-Watt max power amplifier. Entune 2.0 which includes three years of complimentary access to apps and services via most smartphones s is available on RAV4 XLE and Limited. Entune 2.0's includes: Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable.com, and Pandora. 2013 RAV4 Ride and Handling A CUV is not at its best off-road nor is it meant to be an autocross sensation. The RAV4 is equipped with a MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone out back providing a smooth and compliant on smoother roads with decent road feel when the Sports mode was engaged (reduces power assist by 20%). When the going gets tough -- a few mile stretch of off-road washboard -- you really do not want to be driving a RAV4 as it will jar your teeth out. A lack of speed descent control is yet another reason to keep the RAV4 on light trails and save the serious off-road travels for those with serious off-road machines. The AWD system incorporates what Toyota calls Dynamic Torque Control meant to improve directional control by blending in up to 10% torque to the rear wheels at initial turn in to improve steering response. The RAV4 turned where I wanted it to go on tight switchbacks but I was not aware of any positive additions from the system during those maneuvers. There was more body roll compared to some of the sedans we have been driving as of late which was not unexpected. The system can also shunt up to 50% of the engines available torque to the rear wheels if needed. For off-road driving, the system incorporates an AWD Lock button. This allows drivers to lock torque distribution in a fixed, 50/50 ratio at speeds up to about 25 mph. Above this speed, the system automatically reverts to Auto mode. 2013 RAV4 Safety On the passive front, the 2013 RAV4s arrives with a high percentage of high-strength steel chassis designed to move crash forces around the passenger safety cell. Front, side, side curtain, driver side knee and passenger seat positioning airbags are also standard. On the active safety front, the RAV4 has the Star Safety System including Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), and Smart Stop Technology (SST) brake override system. An electronic tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and rear view Back-Up Camera is also standard equipment. The Limited grade has an available Blind Spot Monitor system (BSM) that operates when RAV4 is traveling at approximately 10 mph or above. It can be turned off with a dashboard switch. The available Blind Spot Monitor incorporates Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), which uses the Blind Spot Monitor radar sensors at the lower rear bodywork of the vehicle. When backing up, RCTA senses vehicles approaching from either direction and provides an audible warning combined with flashing indicators in the outside mirrors. Toyota’s have traditionally scored well in both the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests until the IIHS Small overlap was introduced a few months ago. I suspect the RAV4 will earn 5 stars on the NHTSA and receive the usual Top Safety Pick from the IIHS. With the recent trouble Toyota’s have received on that small overlap however, a Top Safety Pic + score (TPS+) remains in doubt. Fuel Economy Capabilities With the routes essentially going up into the mountains one way and descending out of them coming back, the 32 to 45 mpg runs really did not mean anything. However on a 5-mile stretch of the 101 enveloping the Phoenix area, the RAV4 did provide an indicated 41.8 mpg aFCD result with an elevation differential of just minus 5 ft. in low 60 degree temperatures and no wind with cruise control set at 60 mph for the distance. A promising result for a vehicle rated at just 31 mpgUS highway. Early Conclusions While I have not made a competitive comparison table for this first drive, a segment leader in the form of the Honda CRV was on hand for a direct comparison. The seats in the CRV are terrible and within 20-minutes, I was squirming for a better position. The interior layout was a pickem with the CRV’s center console and storage being much larger and far more user friendly. The CRVs control knobs had much better tactile feedback and feel then the RAV4 as well. The CRVs interior plastics however were cheap, cheap and cheap. On the ride front, the CRV rode and drove like a truck. The RAV4 was much more compliant. While the CRV is definitely the target the RAV4 was aiming for, I would choose the RAV4 over it because of the seats and ride alone. I would also wait for the 2014 Mazda CX-5 with the high output 2.5L SLYACTIV-G for a back to back comparison if I were shopping this segment. The CX-5 has nicer interior appointments, handles better, and possibly pound for pound, has an advantage over both of these small CUV competitors. We’ll just have to wait and see. Another sample of the local wildlife in the Sonoran desert just outside the 2013 Toyota RAV4 launch venue.