New Car Review Video
2013 Toyota RAV4: First Drive Review - Video
Not everyone agrees that an all-new car is better than the version it replaces. For example, many enthusiasts believe the 1999 to 2006 BMW 3-Series (E46) is better than the redesigned versions that came after it. Same goes for the Toyota Camry, many think the 1992 to 1996 version is the best in terms of features and quality.
So what about the 2013 Toyota RAV4? Is the new version better than the old, outgoing model? The short answer is yes, the new RAV4 is better, much better than the version it replaces.
Bold New Look
The most obvious difference is the RAV4's new body -- the new look is more contemporary and a radical departure from the utilitarian look of the previous RAV4.
The interior is all-new too; new and much nicer than before. Instead of the very plasticky look of the previous model, now the interior, buttons and gauges all look like they've been crafted to a higher standard. Honestly, we wish this interior were in the new Camry and hope it's a glimpse into the future of the Toyota Corolla.
Interesting textures and vibrant colors help the RAV4's interior look like it belongs in a premium SUV.
There are also plenty of soft touch surfaces and the availability of high-end features like navigation and dual zone climate control. Even base LE models get a rear-parking camera
Better on the Road
Toyota says their goal was to build a more engaging RAV4 and they've done it. This new 2013 RAV4 is more fun to drive, quieter and even has both an Eco mode and a Sport driving mode. In sport mode, the RAV's responses are tighter and quicker -- steering and accelerator responses are recalibrated in Sport mode making the car more responsive. The Sport mode also tells the transmission to hold gears longer so it doesn't automatically dump you into 6th gear under light acceleration. Eco Mode does almost the opposite, giving the RAV4 a numb feeling and making the gas pedal less responsive, all with the goal of delivering better fuel economy.
The new RAV4 isn't just notable for what it has now, but what it's missing. For example, the RAV4 no longer has a V6 engine. Frankly, the V6 version of the previous RAV4 was overpowered. A compact crossover SUV just doesn't need that much power. Now the RAV is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 176 horsepower. It's more than adequate and actually feels livelier than the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. The slightly larger (but similarly priced) Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with feels quicker off the line with its optional turbocharged engine.
XLE or Limited?
The RAV4's swing out rear door is also gone; now there's a swing up rear lift-gate that can be power operated if you opt for the RAV4 Limited. All versions of the RAV4 are available with either front or all-wheel drive
Prices for the RAV4 start around $24,000. However, you have to pay more for the Limited if you want features like the power rear door or leather seats.
The Limited is clearly the nicest RAV4, but we found the ride to be somewhat choppy due to the 18-inch wheels with aggressive low profile tires. The XLE is much smoother and stays composed even on rough roads. The XLE has 17-inch wheels with cushier tires. Ultimately, the more aggressive 18-inch tires don't really deliver amazing grip, so there's only a cosmetic benefit to this set up. Unfortunately, choosing the RAV4 XLE means giving up some premium features like that power rear liftgate.
At the end of the day, Toyota's re-designed 2013 RAV4 is a considerable improvement versus the previous version. It forces us to re-examine what we expect from, not only Toyota, but compact SUVs in general.