All-new for 2013, the Toyota RAV4 adds new safety features and four levels of Entune connectivity for 2014.
Toyota pioneered the crossover/SUV segment with the first RAV4 (for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4WD) in 1996. This latest, fourth-generation RAV4 handles better than before, and squeezes more miles from a gallon of gasoline. The new styling is more fluid: less truck, more car. The fourth-gen RAV4 is also more focused than its predecessor. The V6 option is gone, as is the optional third row of seating. The RAV4 is now strictly a four-cylinder five-seater. Take it or leave it.
Of course, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder that remains features all of Toyota's usual high-tech hardware, including four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides (VVT-i, in Toyota-speak). It boasts 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It's coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission (also new for 2013), with the top two cogs being overdrive gears to aid fuel efficiency.
City/Highway EPA ratings are 24/31 mpg with front-wheel drive and 22/29 mpg with all-wheel-drive, representing about a 10 percent improvement over 2012 and older models.
As we said, the latest styling is more car than truck. It's been tweaked to create more emotion. The spare wheel is no longer stored on the tailgate but in the more commonly used location under the trunk floor. Yet despite these changes, it still looks remarkably uninspiring and bland.
The fourth-generation interior is upgraded as well, including a SofTex leather band that runs the entire width of the dash. While the feel doesn't scream luxury, it does stack up well against the competition; and comfort is good, too.
On the road, the fourth-gen RAV4 is a nice step forward in terms of handling. It feels far firmer and more planted than before. The steering is a touch rubbery, but braking is good. Yet, again, despite the improvements, the car still fails to engage the driver. It's better, but not fun.
Overall, the 2013-14 RAV4 is a solid improvement over the outgoing model. But it is still a means of transportation, and not a vehicle that you will particularly enjoy driving. In true Toyota fashion it remains remarkably vanilla.
It is, however, practical, efficient and competitively priced (starting at $23,550), making it a car that will sell like a Lightning McQueen toy at Christmas.