FORT WORTH, Tex. -- Toyota rolls out the 2013 RAV4 compact-class crossover utility vehicle in a new design marking the fourth generation for the popular crossover.
The RAV4 nameplate signifies a Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive traction.
Toyota introduced RAV4 to the home market of Japan in 1994, then shipped it to North America in 1996.
The first-generation RAV4 was a novel concept that defied traditional body-on-frame organization of a rear-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle constructed on the chassis of a truck by instead using the unified structure of a front-wheel-drive car.
It also employed the suspension of a car. Instead of the solid rear axle of a typical truckish SUV, the original RAV4 bore independent suspension elements at every wheel. This brought more control over the vehicle for a driver and, when venturing away from pavement, more comfortable ride sensations for riders.
With the car-like suspension and quick-to-respond rack and pinion steering installed, that initial RAV4 seemed to eliminate all the effort required to drive a rugged sport-ute, and in urban traffic it was easy to maneuver and behaved like a small sedan rather than a truck.
Imitators followed Toyota's lead with RAV4, and some of the crossover competitors brought refinements plus luxury features absent on the original RAV4.
A second-generation version of RAV4 in 2001 addressed shortcomings of the original, although for the third design of 2006 Toyota's designers virtually started from scratch and reinvented the CUV.
Now for 2013 the RAV4 earns a fourth reset which favors popular assets of the previous generation. RAV4 2013 still employs the rigid unibody structure of a car with front-wheel-drive (FWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction choices but it deletes a 6-cylinder powertrain option to focus exclusively on a fuel-efficient in-line-4 engine.
The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine carries dual overhead cams (DOHC) and Toyota's intelligent variable valve timing (VVT-i) unit.
The plant produces 176 hp at 6000 rpm and torque of 172 lb-ft at 4100 rpm. It has a moderate compression ratio of 10.4:1 and operates on 87-octane gasoline
Toyota jettisoned the previous RAV4's 4-speed automatic transaxle and installed an electronically controlled 6-speed automatic with first and second gear ratios optimized for in-town driving and fifth and sixth gears rigged as overdrives to enhance highway fuel mileage.
RAV4's 4-pack engine tied to the 6-speed automatic transaxle racks up EPA fuel economy figures of 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway for FWD versions and 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for AWD versions.
RAV4 with FWD comes with an automatic limited slip differential (A-LSD), which is activated by the driver at low speeds. Through pulses to each front brake, the A-LSD system distributes the engine's power across the front axle.
RAV4 with AWD adds a rear differential with an integrated electromagnetic coupling and dynamic torque control (DTC). The DTC device engages the rear wheels automatically when various sensors (vehicle speed, throttle input, steering wheel angle) figure out that more torque should be sent to the rear wheels to prevent vehicle skidding. Torque distribution front-to-rear may vary from 100 percent front to 50 percent front and 50 percent rear.
RAV4's suspension -- independent MacPherson struts in front with a stabilizer bar and rear double wishbone with coil springs and stabilizer bar -- scores tight tuning.
The rack and pinion steering mechanism uses vehicle-speed-sensitive electric power steering (EPS). It adds driver-select Sport mode for a firmer feel and quicker response to steering input.
Toyota maxes hardware for safety on RAV4, with the cabin surrounded by hidden air bags -- up-front inflators for front seats plus seat-mounted side air bags and one more to shield the driver's knee and a seat-cushion air bag for the front passenger, then curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows.
Standard on all RAV4 editions is Toyota's Star Safety System with an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) plus brake assist (BA), and a vehicle stability control (VSC) device with traction control (TRAC).
RAV4 2013 presents three trim levels -- price-leader LE, well-equipped XLE and deluxe Limited -- plus extensive standard gear and optional packages for add-on equipment.
RAV4 LE rolls on 17-inch steel wheels wrapped with 225/65R17 radials, the XLE trim gains 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/65R17 all-season radials, while RAV4 Limited acquires machine-finished 18-inch alloys with 235/55R18 all-season radials.
RAV4's refined cabin with four passenger doors applied adds flexible seating for five and cargo space in the back bay with access through a new top-hinged liftgate. Up front there are two bucket seats with height-adjustable headrests and a floor-mounted center console. The second-row bench for three splits and seatbacks fold down flat. And cargo space expands from 38.4 cubic feet with second-row seatbacks up to 73.4 cubic feet of room with second-row seatbacks down.
Base model RAV4 LE provides standard gear of the 6-speed automatic transaxle with Eco/Sport modes, air conditioning, fabric-trimmed seats with 6-way power for driver's seat, remote keyless entry device, a dashboard 6.1-inch touchscreen with rearview camera, Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio with AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/USB.
Toyota plots the MSRP chart for RAV4 2013 from $23,300 (LE/FWD) to $28,410 (Limited/AWD).