Vanessa Leigh: When downsized SUVs became all the rage almost ten years ago, Toyota helped set the bar with its RAV4. After seven years of competing in the category it helped to create, the RAV4 is still a major player in an increasingly competitive class.

That's because Toyota got it right the first time and has steadily improved the RAV4 year after year. The RAV4 still has a tough-but-contemporary shape that continues to influence the styling of its competition. It has a face just about anyone can love!

You have the choice of three trim levels: Base, Sport, and Limited, and each level offers a varied selection of standard and optional features.

The recently redesigned Honda CR-V brings a lot to the table, including a larger interior. The Kia Sorento might be the RAV4's closest matchup, and you should take a close look at it before making a decision, while the Chevy Equinox gives you a huge back seat, and like the RAV4, a choice of 4 or 6-cylinder power.

Plus, Toyota is bringing back its electric-powered RAV4 EV this year. Like we said, the competition is fierce in the crossover SUV class.

The interior of the RAV4 is a mixture of pluses and minuses. One plus is the elevated driving position giving you great outward visibility. And we like the small third-row seat, not common in an SUV in this class.

Here's a minus: the dashboard is a bleak, blocky sea of hard plastic that's definitely Old School. The Optitron gauges, however, help brighten things up and the quality of the interior materials is a plus.

You'll like having standard iPod/USB/Bluetooth connectivity across all three trim levels, but Toyota's excellent Entune mobile app system and navigation setup are only available on the Limited.

Cargo space is also worth mentioning. There's 12 cubic feet behind the third-row seat, more than 37 behind the second row, and a full 73 cubic-feet with the rear seats folded down.

The RAV4 can hold its own when sizing up its performance. Both the standard 4-cylinder and optional 6-cylinder engine move the RAV4 with a peppy personality. The steering is crisp and the RAV4 has a solid feel that gives you peace of mind if you head off-road.

Go with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, but either way, only a somewhat archaic 4-speed automatic transmission comes with the inline 4. The 6 gets a much better 5-speed automatic.

And the fuel economy will make you smile at the gas pump. Both engines score budget-friendly EPA ratings, even with the V6 and all-wheel drive.

The RAV4's safety equipment includes stability control, six airbags, and 4-wheel ABS. The IIHS gave its highest rating of "Good" in its battery of crash tests.

Ready to buy? $22.650 will put you in a Base RAV4 before options, while $25,330 is the price of a RAV4 Limited before add-ons.

And those prices include Toyota's 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Until the next generation RAV4 comes to market, the 2012 Toyota RAV4 remains a big favorite with crossover buyers, and we can see why.

It's grown older, but it's also grown better with a perfect size, high build quality, and Toyota's great tradition of strong value.

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