2013 Toyota RAV4 first drive
As we've seen in other product lines, the V6 engine is making itself scarce to boost manufacturers' U.S. CAFE fuel economy ratings. Ditto here. The Camry's DOHC 2.5 L four cylinder is the lone powerplant, rated at 176 hp at 6,000 rpm and 172 lb.-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. Replacing the previous four-speed automatic is a six-speed autobox with manumatic shift. Both fifth and sixth gears are tall overdrive ratios to boost fuel economy. Additionally, a new Eco mode promotes more fuel-efficient driving by adjusting shift points and other aspects of the drive.
Front-wheel-drive models boast fuel efficiency ratings of 8.7 L/100 km in the city and 6.4 L/100 km on the highway, while all-wheel-drive models get an urban rating of 9.1 L/100 km and 6.8 L/100 km in the country. Toyota's new Dynamic Torque Control system automatically engages all-wheel drive when accelerating or when wheel slippage is detected. It's especially quick to act, thanks to the electro-mechanical coupling used to summon rear wheel grip. There are three different drive modes: Auto, Lock and Sport. Lock allows up to half of available engine torque to be dispatched to the rear wheels, enhancing traction in muddy or sandy conditions.
On the road
Our press drive took place over the largely flat farmland surrounding Toyota's manufacturing hub. The trucklet pulls reasonably well for a four-banger, making the "Let's Play" advertising tag seem somewhat fitting. The RAV4 feels light on its feet, even tossable, belying its upright, sport-utility stance. Engine noise is subdued, turning just 2,100 rpm at 120 km/h. On the highway it's the wind and tire noise that gets you, though to be fair, our tester was shod with aggressive winter rubber. While the body was free of squeaks and rattles, I did notice the front cowl was vibrating at highway speeds — an unsettling sight when you consider the money you've laid out.
The thin-backed seats are comfortable enough and the floor at the back seat is flat enough to accommodate the shoes or boots of three close passengers. The 60/40 split-fold rear bench can recline several degrees to enhance comfort. Oddly, the armrests on the doors are very shallow to avoid intruding into the cabin, so those thick of limb might find the perches too small. The instruments, on the other hand, are big pie-plate circles and very easy to read. Needless to say, the new RAV4 offers a host of technology that you've come to expect on the options sheet; things like blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, back-up camera and plenty more.
Given the fact one Toyota engineer turned white as a ghost as he talked about the new models emanating from the House of Hyundai-Kia, we know they're anxious about the Korean product and keen to enhance their own value proposition. Happily, the base front-drive RAV4 LE starts at $23,790 or $1,075 less than the outgoing model, and the lowest priced AWD RAV4 is $25,990 or $1,510 less than the old AWD model. Significantly, that's cheaper than any of its direct competitors' AWD models, including the dreaded Hyundai and Kia cute-utes.
That's the thing about hokey carnival houses of horror: what may frighten one person's date may put a smile on the face of another. Toyota's fear of a wily competitor will likely make a lot of consumers happy with the new RAV4.