New Car Review: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Toyota RAV4

They grow up so fast.

The Toyota RAV4 was among the first wave of small SUVs, then called "cute utes", more than a decade ago.  It was set apart from the rest  (which came to include the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage) by it's somewhat stubby profile, rounded edges and the spare tire mounted on the tailgate.

The others have matured, grown and moved on in terms of materials and technology.  In 2013, it's the RAV4's turn.

While no teenage boy is likely to have (or want) a poster of it on his bedroom wall, the RAV4 has become, within the parameters of this class of vehicle, a looker.  Much more aggressive front styling gives it character and definition....and what's out back?

Rear 3/4 view of 2013 Toyota RAV4

That's right, the spare tire is gone.  Well, not gone, just tucked conveniently out of sight. Our tester was the mid-level XLE, a mere $990 step up from the base LE, an upgrade that gets you dual-zone climate control, color-keyed heated outside mirrors with turn signals built into them, roof rails, and makes navigation and Toyota's Entune infotainment system an option (it's not available on the LE). Starting price for the XLE: $24,290.

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter four making 176 horsepower mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  That combo is supposed to (according to the EPA) be good for 24 mpg city and 31 highway...a combined 26.  But, as they say, your mileage may vary and ours did.   In about 450 miles of mixed city street and urban freeway (but not traffic jam) driving, we just managed 22.

A four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, stability control, traction control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, eight airbags, tire pressure monitoring, projector beam headlamps, fog lamps, a power moonroof, privacy glass, acoustic glass windshield, variable wipers, the aforementioned dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker audio system,  backup camera, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, fabric-trimmed 6-way adjustable driver's seat, 4-way adjustable front passenger seat, reclining fold-flat second row seats, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, eco and sport modes, cruise cotrol and two power outlets.

For $24,290.  That's impressive value. And the RAV4 is a dream to drive.  The longer wheelbase and independent suspension smooths out the ride and while it's by no means a pavement-ripper, there's more than enough power. And rear-seat passengers will experience a big improvement in legroom over the last-gen RAV4.  In fact, I was in the back seat of the Highlander the day before the RAV4 arrived, got in the back of the RAV4, and found myself with about the same legroom.

Interior view of 2013 Toyota RAV4

And while we're talking about the interior, big points to whoever styled the new dashboard.  Logically laid out, and with a look and finish that seems several price-points higher. I especially like the stitched leather cover that runs along the bottom of the HVAC and above the glove box.

Ah, yes...price.  Our tester had only one option...the Navigation and Entune package...which also gives you iPod connectivity, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, Bluetooth and all the goodies you are rapidly coming to expect in your ride.  And it all worked smoothly  and flawlessly....at a price we can accept...$1,030...about half the price of nav alone just a few years ago.

Total as-tested price with handling:  $26,165.  I've driven lots of small SUVs and have always thought that for a family of four with teenaged or young adult children, they were probably too small and too limiting.  The new 2014 Subaru Forester changed my mind about that.  And while I like the Forester better, if I were shopping, the RAV4 would be on my list, too. ..and a close third at that (behind the Forester and the Mazda CX-5).  Final purchase price, the service reputation of the dealer and insurance costs would probably be the deciding factors. But no apologies are needed for the RAV4, now a fully competitive and very nice small SUV.