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2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD review; A new road for the RAV4

2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD
2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD
John Matras photos, copyright John Matras Media LLC

It’s a given that Toyota buyers do so for quality and reliability. The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is one way how Toyota hopes to change that. Not, of course, by reducing Toyota’s reputation for being reliable and having a good retained value, but by adding spice and pizzazz.

2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD
John Matras photo, copyright John Matras Media LLC

To wit: By 2012, the third generation RAV4 had become rather ordinary in a herd of compact crossover SUV models increasingly slick, enough so that including “SUV” in their class designation has become no longer accurate.

Indeed, Toyota slicked up the fourth generation of RAV4, just going on the market now as a 2013 model. Instead of a fairly mundane and aesthetically safe styling, Toyota designers beveled the corners and applied headlight clusters that extend halfway back on the front fenders towards the windshield. The grille is angled back from a Mercedes-like proboscis while a matte charcoal panel sweeps up from under the front.

The profile is sleeker, too, tapering rearward from a high point over the driver’s head at an angle three clicks from a fastback. The charcoal panel up front continues over the wheel arches and along the rocker panels to buff up the 2013 Toyota RAV4’s image and is used for the rear bumper as well. Like the headlights, the taillights taper towards the center of the liftgate and up along and even atop the rear fenders.

And that’s “liftgate,” with power operation standard on the Limited model. The outgoing RAV4 had a door hinged on the right side with the spare tire mounted on it. Not only was it inconvenient—trying opening it with someone parked closely behind, and then take something to the curb on the right side—it also put weight up high at the rear, not the best for handling. And it’s hardly sleek, more like a giant wart on the RAV4’s behind.

The roof rack is standard—often an option on competitors—and so is the rear spoiler—and ditto for it.

Last year’s interior was serviceable but, at least compare to that of the 2013 RAV4, mundane. Which is another way of saying the new RAV4 is stylish, with an organic look right out of Infiniti’s playbook. The theme is horizontal, the center stack no longer stacked but mounted and laid on a rounded shelf. In the LE model—which Toyota insists is not a “base” model, more about which later—this is made of a rubbery plastic with molded stitching, like the last-forever softballs you played with in gym. The top-of-the-line Limited makes up for it with a leather-like stitched material that, except that it’s not leather, is out of Lexus’ handbook.

Last year’s two-tone interior trim was called “two-tone.” Now it’s “color block.” Whatever, the Adobe and gray of our first-drive 2013 Toyota RAV4 was particularly striking, accenting the larger bolstering of the seats. It’s not leather, but rather an artificial material called “Softex” that might have well been the real thing.

The bigger bolsters are standard on all RAV4 trim levels, thought the fabric of the LE trim level ($23,000) looks particularly, well, base level. The extensive use of soft touch materials across the board is a welcome change.

Room in the rear seating is particularly generous, unlike some other models in this class, with lots of knee room and space under the front seats. The rear seat has belts for three but middle seat has a “riding the hump” contour suitable for short drives only.

The third row seat was eliminated for the 2013 RV4. Only four percent of 2012 RAV4s had the extra seat, so Toyota decided it wasn’t worth the extra expense. And for Toyota crossover buyers who want a third row seat, there’s always the Highlander (for six grand more. But what’s money?).

The rear seatback folds to increase cargo capacity, and in the RAV4, unlike even some much larger SUV models, the cargo floor has an all-but-flat floor, at least flat enough for all practical purposes.

The spare, moved from outside, is now under the floor, offset slightly for a small storage compartment, good enough for stowing a copy of War and Peace.

Like just about every other vehicle out there, the cabin is described as “driver-centric,” which is Toyota’s way of saying everything is within reach. The touchscreen multi-information display for navigation and audio and other functions, is relatively small, but it’s supplemented by hard buttons on either side and is generally easy to use. A sign of the times, however, is a backup camera is standard on all RAV4 trim levels.

The primary instruments are dominated by large central speedometer, flanked by a tachometer on the left and supplemental gauges on the right. Toyota says the instrument panel and dashy feature “new Clear Blue illumination,” but our drive was limited to daylight so, well, we guess so.

The shift lever is on the console and has a conventional zigzag pattern with manual tip shifting to the left. Our RAV4 Limited was equipped with proximity key entry with pushbutton start. It’s not necessary, perhaps, but it is addicting, like power windows and keyless remote. Once tried, it’s hard to go back to where you must actually click a button on a key fob: File under First World Problems.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 comes with a Hyundai-like array of standard features, including standard projector-beam headlamps and Bluetooth, but it’s not just the plethora of stuff that makes a RAV4 good. We found the most impressive element was just how quiet the RAV4 is. Features include an acoustic windshield, which includes an acoustic layer of plastic between the two panes of glass (instead of a conventional layer of film that keep the windshield from shattering on impact).

There are vortex generators on the A-pillars, a little fin on each side that, we’re told, spin the air down each side of the car, which crate a “wind wall” that somehow makes it quieter inside. We almost think they’re kidding us, but it is quiet inside.

Most impressive, however, is how little road noise makes it into the cabin, even over coarse pavement that would make certain expensive models rumble chambers. Not only will it reduce fatigue on long road trips, it also improves listening to the radio, having conversations, or eavesdropping on what the kids in the back seat are cooking up.

Performance comes in at mid-pack. The V-6 option is gone, with the only available engine now is Toyota’s 2.5-liter four, rate at 176 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 172 lbs-ft. of torque at 4,100 rpm. The 2013 RAV4 makes up for the loss of the six cylinder with the replacement of the old four-speed automatic with a six-speed automatic transmission. With a wider spread of ratios, the RAV4 can take off quicker and cruise at a lower rpm, which is quieter, more economical and creates less wear and tear. Toyota says that the previous four-cylinder RAV4 took 10.6 seconds to reach 60 mph, reduced to 8.9 seconds in the new RAV4, a significant improvement.

Standard on all 2013 Toyota RAV4 trim levels is a Sport mode, which reduces power assist on the electric power steering. The extra effort increases the feedback for better road feel, which is what sporty drivers like. Sport mode also holds the transmission in a higher gear than the normal mode, for less hunting during off-and-on throttle operation. An Eco mode, on the other hand, upshifts more quickly to get the RAV4 into a higher gear for more economical running. The Eco mode also increases steering boost for a “softer” feel.

All-wheel drive is standard on all trim levels and has what Toyota calls Dynamic Torque Control AWD. It uses the various vehicle sensors (speed, steering angle and speed, throttle angle and yaw rate) to automatically control how much torque is sent to the rear wheels. Torque is transferred when slip is detected (as with the 2012 RAV4) but also steering input and cornering forces indicate that torque transfer would improve “overall agility and driving performance.”

With all-wheel drive, Sport mode starts torque transfer from the moment the steering wheel is turned, adjusting automatically to a 90:10 front/rear torque distribution to reduce the load on the front tires which, says Toyota, helps improve handling. If understeer is detected, the system transfers even more torque to the rear wheels.

It must work. The all-wheel drive 2013 RAV4 went around corners easier than the front-wheel drive, which had a tendency towards understeer, requiring more turning of the steering wheel to turn as sharply.

Front-drive versions of the 2013 RAV4 have an Automatic Limited Slip Differential (Auto LSD), which can be selected at low speeds. It optimizes grip in low traction situations via pulsed application of the individual front brakes, slowing the wheel that beginning to spin.

Brakes differ in size between the LE and XLE/Limited, Toyota claiming that the added weight of the extra stuff on the more expensive models requires more stopping power.

That’s a technical detail, however, and one that Toyota buyers might take to heart, like many of the elements on the new 2013 Toyota RAV4. The question remaining, however, is whether Toyota buyers, who’ve been notoriously resistant to the appeal of style, will appreciate it on the 2013 RAV4 or miss the sturdy charm of the squarer body with the external spare tire, the optional V-6 and third-row seating. The numbers, says Toyota, favor the new. True and we like the new one too.

2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD, key specifications as tested

Body style/layout: 5-door crossover, front engine/all-wheel drive

Base price: $28.410

Standard equipment: Automatic projector-beam headlamps, rear spoiler, fog lights, automatic limited-slip differential, power heated outside rearview mirrors, variable intermittent wipers and rear window wiper, power sunroof, adjustable power liftgate, roof rails, backup camera with guidelines, display audio w/ 6.1-inch touch-screen w/ AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA /USB w/ iPod connectivity, vehicle info, Bluetooth phone and music, auto-dimming rearview mirror, cruise control, 8-way power driver seat, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding rear seat, power windows with driver auto up/down, automatic power locks, cargo area tonneau, proximity key with pushbutton start, remote power liftgate.

Navigation/Entune/JBL, Tilt/tele urethane steering wheel with remote controls, Heated power outside rearview mirrors w/ turn signal and blind spot warning indicators: $2,160

Blizzard Pearl exterior: $395

Destination: 845

Price as tested: $31,810


  • Type: 2.5-liter 16-valve DOHC I-4
  • Displacement, cc: 2494
  • Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
  • Compression ratio: 10.4:1
  • Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 172 @ 4100 rpm
  • Recommended fuel: regular unleaded
  • Fuel economy, EPA est.: 22/29 mpg city/highway
  • Fuel economy, observed: n.a. mpg

Transmission: 6-speed automatic


  • Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / double-wishbone
  • Wheels: 18 x 7.5-inch alloy
  • Tires: 235/55R18
  • Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 11.7-inch dia. front/11.2-inch dia. rear
  • Steering: electric power rack-and-pinion
  • Turning circle: 36.7 ft.


  • Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
  • Length: 179.9 in.
  • Height: 67.1 in.
  • Width: 61.4 in.
  • Curb weight: 3,600 lbs
  • Trunk volume, min/max: 38.4/73.4 cu. ft.
  • Fuel tank: 15.9 gal.


  • Airbags: Front, driver front knee, front passenger seat cushion, front side, side curtain (w/roll sensor)
  • Anti-lock brakes: Yes Traction control: Yes Stability control: Yes Electronic brake-force distribution: Yes Brake assist: Yes

Other: Engine brake override


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