By Popular Mechanics
Few bones remain unchanged from the old RAV4, even though the new RAV4’s chassis shares a common lineage based on the current-generation Corolla. Toyota’s goal was to make the RAV4 more fun behind the wheel without affecting the car’s versatility. Dropping the third-row-seat option might seem less versatile, but cargo capacity increases 0.4 cubic feet to 73.4 with the second-row seats folded. That’s with the spare tire housed inside the vehicle and with a smaller overall RAV4.
Ordering a new RAV4 is dramatically simpler. Just pick front- or all-wheel drive and check off the box for XE, XLE or Limited trim. The single engine option, shared with the Camry, carries over from before: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 176 hp. That big four comes mated to a six-speed automatic, which replaces the ancient four-speed. The V-6 and hybrid powertrains are gone. The strategy makes sense considering that most of the RAV4’s competitors, including the best-selling Honda CR-V, offer a single powertrain and a straightforward trim strategy.
Tech Tidbit:The RAV4 debuts Toyota’s latest all-wheel drive, called Dynamic Torque Control. It’s largely the same as the Active Torque Control system used on the outgoing RAV4, with an electronically controlled coupling mounted ahead of the rear differential to send torque rearward when needed. But the new AWD shifts the focus from saving you from foul weather to better overall handling. The signals that command the rear coupling are sent more frequently and take into account additional information sent by the engine, transaxle, and electronic power steering systems. A new Sport mode sets the Dynamic Torque Control parameters for quicker response and improved handling by sending 10 percent of torque to the rear as you turn into a corner. This mode also sends up to 50 percent of the available torque to the rear axle to help rotate the vehicle through the corner and mitigate understeer. The Sport feeling is further enhanced by reducing steering assist, sharpening the throttle response, and dialing back the stability control system.
Driving Character:It only takes a few minutes behind the wheel of the previous, third-generation RAV4 to understand the improvements made to this new one. The windshield, steering wheel, and driving position of the old car are all more upright. It’s as though you are perched up high, driving a little bus. The steering feel is heavy and the car rolls quite a bit in the corners.
The new RAV4 drives as though Toyota had borrowed a bunch of Mazda engineers and told them to zoom-zoom the entire vehicle. The 2013 is agile; corners fly by with the suspension keeping the little Toyota flat. And yes, pressing that little Sport button on the dash makes the experience even better. This RAV4 is another step in a recent trend of surprisingly fun Toyotas. Yes, the RAV4 has gained a few pounds (up 75 pounds on base front-drive models), but the four-cylinder and six-speed automatic combination is sprightly enough for dicing through the city streets or slogging up a mountain road. And the 6-speed’s top two gears, both overdrive, make for a relaxed (and quiet) engine on the freeway.
The latest model is noticeably better in tedious bouts of freeway traffic as well. The new interior is much improved, with soft-touch materials right where your hands and elbows want them. The steering wheel (finally) tilts and telescopes. You can lower the driver’s seat, replacing the old RAV4’s bus-like driving position with one more suggestive of a sedan. The interior feels roomier than before, although the specs say the headroom is down by an inch or so in both rows, and legroom is now 1 inch less in the back seat. Hip room is also down by a sizable 3.5 inches for rear passengers. All this sounds like a fairly large sacrifice, but we had little trouble finding comfort in the back seat (even with a nearly 6-foot frame).
Favorite Detail:Toyota finally abandoned the dowdy styling that plagued past generations of RAV4. This new one just looks good. The sheet metal has curves, the fenders are bulging, and the nose is angular and sporty. It’s a real departure from many of Toyota’s mainstream vehicles.
Bottom Line:Toyota has made transformative changes to the RAV4. In both style and substance, the company’s smallest crossover has gone from stodgy to sporty. The new RAV4 is finally fun to drive and has become one of the best-looking vehicles in the class. We’d opt for the XLE trim, which comes with padded interior bits and a power tailgate, since it seems to be the sweetest spot in terms of price and comfort. The downside? The new RAV4 is expensive. Its base price of $24,145 is more than Hyundai’s Tucson and Honda’s CR-V. Even so, the new Toyota is entertaining and practical.
Read more: 2013 Toyota RAV4 Test Drive - Popular Mechanics http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/reviews/drives/2013-toyota-rav4-test-drive-14873288?click=main_sr