Monday, 6 May 2013

RAV4 goes from good to better.

What? The latest remake of vehicle that pioneered small, crossover SUVs in 1996. Four-door, compact SUV available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Five-passenger only; optional third-row seat discontinued.
When? On sale since January.
Where? Made in Canada.
How much? FWD models' base prices including $845 shipping: LE, $24,145; XLE, $25,135; Limited, $27,855. AWD is $1,400 more. Limited AWD test vehicle with navigation, high-end infotainment suite, blind-spot monitor: $31,415.
What makes it go? 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine rated 176 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 172 pounds-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm, six-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 has been discontinued.
How big? Slightly bigger than Honda CR-V or Ford Escape, and a little smaller than Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. RAV4 is 179.9 inches long, 72.6 in. wide, 65.4 in. tall (67.1 in. with roof rails), on a 104.7-in. wheelbase. Weighs 3,435 to 3,600 lbs. Rated to carry 900 lbs. of people, cargo accessories. Tows 1,500 lbs.
Passenger space, 101.9 cubic feet (100.7 cu. ft. with sunroof). Cargo space: 38.4 cu. ft. behind second row, 73.4 cu. ft. when second row is folded.
Turning circle diameter, 34.7 ft. (36.7 ft. with optional 18-in. wheels).
How thirsty? FWD rated 24 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, 26 mpg in combined city/highway. AWD: 22/29/25. Trip computer in AWD test car registered 22.4 mpg (4.46 gal. per 100 mi.) in suburban driving.
Burns regular, holds 15.9 gal.
Overall: Generally refined chassis (but choppy ride on some surfaces), roomy interior, so-so drivetrain, undistinguished styling.

It was hard to foresee in 1996 what a stampede Toyota would trigger as it launched in the U.S. the $15,000 RAV4 — and Honda the philosophically similar CR-V later that year.
The car-based vehicles appealed to people who wanted something SUVish but less daunting — with a tall seating position, styling that was neither car nor a truck, trimmer and more fuel efficient than the truck-based SUVs that dominated then.
That was before Detroit makers could lay legitimate claim to matching the Japanese brands in quality and reliability, so RAV4 and CR-V were no-brainers for many shoppers.
Nowadays, Honda's CR-V and Ford's Escape are battling for the title of best-selling SUV in the U.S. Escape's ahead for the first quarter.
RAV4's a ways down the list, finding five or six buyers for every 10 CR-V or Escape buyers.
So after a seven-year run, the third-generation RAV4 exits and the updated, fourth-generation 2013 RAV4 makes it debut.
Because it uses a chassis and engine similar to its predecessor, it's hard to call it "all new," which is the industry's favorite description. But it's significantly different.
On sale since late January, the new RAV4 is under-performing the overall new vehicle market. RAV4 sales are up 3.9% and new vehicle sales are up 6.4%, Autodata says. It'll take another couple of months to sense how strong a seller the new RAV really is.
Chassis dimensions and overall size are similar to the outgoing model. But a V-6 or third-row seating no longer are offered. And the carryover four-cylinder engine loses three horsepower to its predecessor, an invisible difference to the driver.
Test Drive's response is lukewarm after time behind the wheel in a top-end RAV4 Limited model with all-wheel drive. It's a yes-but vehicle.
For instance, yes, it has slightly more cargo room, but it gives up passenger space, especially headroom, legroom, second-row hip room.
The "yes" items first:
You might like the Toyota because it has a tighter turning circle than rivals Honda CR-V or Ford Escape. That tight-turn ability really makes your life easier in parking garages or maneuvering through jams caused by the more selfish motorists in drop-off lines at school or the train station. It's a quality-of-driving-life issue that captures the attention of too few automakers. Loud applause for Toyota's attentiveness.
Oddly enough for a mainstream model from a somewhat unsporty brand, you might enjoy RAV4 because its four-cylinder gasoline engine likes the spurs. Nail the gas, use the manual-shift mode of the automatic transmission and you're actually having fun. Solid roar, quick gear changes, rapid-feeling progress. Nice.
The upgraded interior is another attraction. The previous model was down at the heels inside. The high-end Limited test vehicle was anything but, with its two-tone leather and nice-touch surfaces.
Tailgate now opens upward, the conventional way, instead of swinging sideways. Seems a better setup for most people most of the time. It can open upward now because it's no longer supporting a gate-mounted spare tire. Instead, there's a mini-spare tucked under the cargo floor.
The generally smooth, quiet way the RAV4 goes down the highway is alluring. Quiet enough on the highway that it begs for a long road trip.
The optional all-wheel drive ($1,400) anticipates when it'll be needed — hard acceleration, corners — instead of waiting for the front wheels to slip before going to work. It balances the cornering feel and eliminates the nose-heavy personality the vehicle otherwise would have.
And now the "but" section:
The engine that's appealing under hard throttle drones annoyingly when driven easily, and the shifts sometimes are sloppy.
The generally refined chassis bounds and hops over wrinkled and oft-patched asphalt.
The infotainment system is a snob. It seemed to make fast friends with Test Drive's oh-so-hip Windows phone. But it didn't remember the phone next time in the vehicle. You know the type, all smiles and enthusiasm at the party, but later you get the, "Sorry, who were you again?"
No excuse, because the RAV4 system would list the Windows phone as the connected, default device. But without a redo electronic nudge from the phone's Bluetooth link, it actually had no connection. A colleague with an iPhone reported no problems at all, though.
Styling, while not unpleasant, doesn't stand out. You could be hard-pressed to find your new RAV at the mall parking lot, without using the remote key fob to flash the lights. Especially if the vehicle is silver or gray, as so many seem to be nowadays.
The RAV's lack of eye-candy quotient might be a blessing. When Japanese brands attempt to deliver high style, it's sometimes just weird.

The latest RAV4 is an upgrade vs. the one it replaces. It is an easy purchase to defend. But it's not one that generates passion or even serious enthusiasm.


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