Genchi Genbutsu and Waku-Doki.
These are Japanese terms we heard quoted by Toyota representatives when describing its 2013 RAV4. Apparently the first one means "go and see for yourself" and the second means "heart pumping, adrenaline racing."
Nice expressions, but not exactly the ones we'd choose. So we'll introduce one of our own: "Same same but different."
The latest version of Toyota's compact crossover follows the same basic outline of models past. As ever, its on-road ride and handling are competent but not sporty, the powertrain is smooth and efficient and the price is reasonable. It's a tried-and-true formula, but over the last few years, new competitors like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape have stolen the thunder of Toyota's original cute ute, leading the automaker to refine the mix of ingredients that go into the RAV4 in an effort to take back the compact crossover crown. Read on to see what's new.
Let's talk style. As in, this Toyota has some. Much has been made of Akio Toyoda's corporate mandate that the automaker make no more boring cars, and the last few releases (most recently the redesigned Avalon) from the Japanese automaker have indeed offered more style and substance than in the last several decades. The new RAV4 is no different.
Let's talk style. As in, this Toyota has some.
Up front, Toyota has adopted a split upper grille with attractive chrome accents that artfully extend into the headlight clusters. There are sharp creases along either side of the front fascia that, along with large fog lamps and sweeping bumper protrusion, form a distinctive face. The body sides also feature plenty of metal sculpting, and somewhat surprisingly, even though there are swage lines flowing in several different directions – downward-sloping through the roofline, upward along the window line and the lower doors and flatly horizontal through the tops of the doors – the overall look is cohesive.
That stylish togetherness ends at the rear, however, with funky shelf-shaped taillamps that protrude from the body and an oversize spoiler above the rear window. One other noteworthy change for 2013: A regular liftgate is present instead of the swinging tailgate, a design made possible by the inclusion of an internal space-saver spare instead of the exterior-mounted units of all RAV4s past.
The biggest inside is the deletion of the optional third row.
Adding that liftgate has allowed Toyota to offer optional power assist on Limited models, featuring a memory system that allows the owner to limit the height of the gate's upward swing – useful when parking in garages where vertical space is at a premium. And unlike systems offered by other automakers, it doesn't just default to fully open and three-quarter height positions. See the video demonstrated in our Short Cut video below.
Moving the party inside, the biggest change to the 2013 Toyota RAV4 is the deletion of the optional third row. We asked Toyota about the switch from seven passengers to five and were told that having a third row in the compact RAV4 wasn't a priority. For the most part, we agree, as the way-back in the RAV4 was pretty tiny and uncomfortable for normal-size adults. In any case, there are plenty of three-row crossovers on the market, including Toyota's own Highlander, catering to those who need more room than the compact ute has to offer.
The five remaining seats can be covered in two fabric types or a synthetic leather substitute that Toyota calls Softex. After sampling all options, we definitely prefer the cloth – we find it hard to believe anyone will be fooled by the imitation leather. Sadly, opting for Limited trim necessitates the Softex interior treatment.
Toyota wanted to "add to the RAV4's sportiness" by making a "driver-centric seating area." We're not so sure it was successful – though all the switchgear, LCD screens and driver touch points are within easy reach, there doesn't seem to be any specific sportiness to the overall look and feel of the cockpit. What the interior can be, though, is bold. Toyota has gone with a so-called color block concept inside the RAV4, with large swaths of contrasting materials that can be had in a somewhat jarring Terra Cotta finish on Limited models. It's more mundane in black, gray and beige, but still effective at breaking up the monotony.
Materials are of average quality for this class, though there are a bunch of colors and finishes that don't really match, such as the plastic surrounding the center stack being a different metallic bronze shade than the horizontal trim running atop the dash. We also don't like the criss-cross plastic pattern used around the shifter and on the door panels front and rear. It's so hard we could file our fingernails on it.
Despite the deletion of the third row, rear-seat passengers have less room than before.
There's a bit more room inside the 2013 RAV4 for the driver than last year. Toyota has added an extra 0.8 inches of travel at the back of the seat rail, along with an additional 0.6-inch of height adjustment that allows the driver to sit lower in the car. Add those important adjustments to the taller seatback and longer seat cushion and the end result is a comfy pair of seats.
Considering the deletion of the third row, it's somewhat incongruous that rear-seat passengers have 1.1 fewer inches of legroom (37.2 inches) and 3.5 fewer inches of hip room (48.9) than the outgoing model. We assume moving the space-saver spare tire from the outside of the tailgate to a space under the cargo floor has something to do with this otherwise unexplainable reduction of interior space. In any case, we were still able to fit two occupants comfortably in the back seat even with the front chairs in adult-size positions, but not a third.
Standing outside the 2013 RAV4, it's clear that Toyota has brought its compact crossover closer to the ground. A look at the spec sheet reveals an overall height of 65.4 inches, a reduction of about an inch from 2012. Ground clearance has fallen from 7.5 inches to a sedan-like 6.3 inches, which is probably fine since the RAV4 isn't really intended to travel very far off the beaten path. Inside, headroom is down an inch (without the moonroof) with 39.8 inches available. Adding the moonroof subtracts about an inch of headroom.
We also can't explain why the 2013 RAV4 weighs more than its predecessor. At 3,435 pounds with front-wheel drive, the 2013 model weighs 75 pounds more than the 2012. A loaded-up Limited model with all-wheel drive tips the scales at 3,610 pounds.
A 6.1-inch touchscreen audio system and a backup camera are standard.
There's one good bit of interior usefulness to report: Cargo volume is up to 73.4 cubic feet with the second row folded, which is a best-in-class figure, and there's a reasonable 38.4 cu-ft available behind the rear seat.
As far as technology goes, Toyota has seen fit to offer its touchscreen Display Audio system as standard equipment, along with a backup camera integrated into its 6.1-inch display. That means all 2013 RAV4s will have an auxiliary jack, a USB port, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth. Navigation and Entune are optionally available on XLE and Limited trim levels, and a JBL sound system with 11 GreenEdge speakers can be had on the Limited. It's a fine audio system that offers plenty of volume, which is good, since there isn't going to be a beautiful soundtrack from the engine.
Stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology, each with its appropriate acronym, make up Toyota's Star Safety System, which comes standard on the 2013 RAV4. Optional on Limited models is a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. When so equipped, the driver will be warned of oncoming vehicles when the RAV4 is in reverse. Irritatingly, desirable bits and pieces like sun visor extensions (seriously, why are these not standard?), a smart key, heated seats and the aforementioned power liftgate come only with the Limited model, which also means accepting the fake leather Softex upholstery.
LE models come equipped with 17-inch five-spoke steel wheels with "alloy-like wide vent" wheel covers which do a surprisingly convincing job of looking like alloys at a distance. XLE and Limited models are equipped with alloy wheels in 17-inch and 18-inch sizes, respectively.
The big news is a move out of Ye Olden Days in the transmission department with six-speed automatic.
Under the hood, buyers will find a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine offering up 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. This engine carries over from 2012 with only a few updates designed to improve efficiency, but the big news is a move out of Ye Olden Days in the transmission department. A six-speed automatic has finally replaced the old four-speed unit. Hooray! With two extra gears comes improved fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon city, 31 highway and 26 combined with front-wheel drive or 22/29/25 with all-wheel drive, increases of one to three miles per gallon across the board. What's more, the 0-60 run now takes 8.9 seconds, a drop of well over a second from the 2012 model with the same engine, and there's much better spacing between gears on mid-speed roads.
Toyota's six-speed automatic gearbox also includes AI-SHIFT control, which attempts to deliver the kind of shift feel that the driver and road conditions dictate, and a Sport mode with Dynamic Rev Management that allows smoother and quicker shifting when activated. There's also an ECO mode that kills driver involvement at roughly the same rate as it improves fuel efficiency. We engaged it, then immediately turned it off it.
The 2013 RAV4's all-wheel-drive system is more sophisticated than before, with a computer-controlled electromagnetic coupling transferring power front to rear as required. Up to 50 percent of the engine's torque can be sent to the rear wheels, and the system can be locked at speeds under 25 miles per hour. When set to Sport mode, RAV4 models with all-wheel drive now feature all kinds of computer trickery to help reduce understeer.
We could definitely feel the high-tech AWD drivetrain helping out when the road turned twisty.
Adding all-wheel drive to any RAV4 model will likewise add $1,400 to the sticker price. Base LE models begin at $23,300, while mid-grade XLE trim models start at $24,290. Opting for the top-level Limited brings with it a window sticker of $27,010. Toyota expects the XLE to make up 40 percent of RAV4 sales, with the other 60 percent divided equally between LE and Limited trims. A heart-of-the-market, all-wheel-drive XLE with navigation and Entune will cost $26,720. If Toyota's calculations prove correct, about two-thirds of the 200,000 RAV4s it hopes to sell in 2013 will be equipped with all-wheel drive. That sales goal, by the way, would represent an increase of about 30,000 units over the sales peak in 2007 that was nearly matched in 2010 before dropping to 132,000 in 2011. Ambitious plans, it seems.
On the road, we could definitely feel the high-tech AWD drivetrain helping out when the road turned twisty, actively rotating the rear of the vehicle through the corner. Enthusiast drivers take note: we suggest you test drive the all-wheel-drive RAV4 even if you don't expect to drive in adverse weather conditions, and don't forget to select Sport mode.
The RAV4's suspension has received plenty of tuning adjustments, but it's still geared toward smooth running in lieu of sporty handling and road feel. Similarly, the electronic power steering delivers reasonable response and effort for a compact crossover, but don't expect to feel much feedback from the road. Fortunately, big impacts are very well damped by the moving bits below, and we'd describe overall handling as pleasantly predictable.
"Pleasantly predictable" and "perfectly adequate" pretty much sum up our opinion of the 2013 RAV4.
Four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated up front) are standard, though we find it a bit odd that the LE model is fitted with smaller (10.8-inch diameter, .98-inch thickness) units than XLE and Limited models (11.7-inch and 1.1-inch). Rear brakes are the same all around, measuring 11.1 inches in diameter and .472 inches in thickness. Regardless of size disparities, we found the brakes perfectly adequate during our drive.
In fact, the descriptors "pleasantly predictable" and "perfectly adequate" pretty much sum up our opinion of the 2013 RAV4. Thing is, the same could be said of the 2012 RAV4 as well. We appreciate the updates Toyota has made to keep the compact crossover competitive, and we don't really mind the deletion of the V6 engine option and the seriously cramped third row of the past. Whether or not Toyota's comprehensive refresh of the 2013 RAV4 is enough to put it atop the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape is another matter entirely.