2013 Toyota RAV4

The previous generation RAV4 was brilliant for those who lived in the Rockies: powerful thanks to a 3.5L V6 that got the same fuel economy as most competitors’ four cylinders, space efficient and robust. The new one drops the 269hp six (hardly anyone but Coloradans bought it), adds one gear to the tranny and lots more style.

Outside the RAV4 is taught and contemporary—no complaints there. And inside, at first glance it appears more upscale. But spend time in it and the conflicting textures, patterns and horrid faux stitching on the steering wheel’s center boss grow wearisome. And the low resolution, corporate infotainment screen decreases perceived quality, though it works well enough. The test XLE’s cloth seats look inviting too, but their bolsters were already showing wear at 6,000 miles. However, they were comfortable and supportive, and back seat and cargo space are more than generous.

The 2.5-liter four cylinder engine and slick shifting six-speed automatic are adaquite to the task, with power and torque ratings of 176hp and 172lb-ft, respectively. The new RAV4 hits 60mph in just over eight seconds (two slower than the V6 but faster than the old four) and averaged 22-23mpg in mainly urban use. Decent, but a bit off class leader Mazda, whose Skyactiv-powered CX-5 is faster and more frugal. But the Toyota outsells it probably five to one, so a more relevant comparison might be to the Ford Escape. Its EcoBoost turbocharged engines make it feel faster, but it doesn’t sip fuel as parsimoniously as does the RAV4.

There is a button buried on the Toyota’s center console that says “Sport.” It transforms the steering from loose and lifeless to accurate and properly hefty; it should be the default setting. It also perks up the powertrain, giving ready access to the RAV4’s ample midrange muscle. Handling is decent if uninspiring, the ride quality an improvement over the outgoing model, as is noise suppression and general refinement.

When they redesigned the RAV4, Toyota seems to have been aiming solely at the compact crossover class’s best seller, the Honda CR-V. They have bettered it in many ways, too. It is also good value as compared to the Ford or Mazda. But the best vehicles in the CUV class are better to drive, sport higher quality—and less ostentatious—interiors, and get higher real-world mpg. 

EPA ratings: 22/29; 25mpg combined
Price as tested: $27,084
Here is what Toyota has to say about the RAV4.

Isaac Bouchard is the automotive journalist for Colorado AvidGolfer; the state's leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.