Although probably not originally written in reference to compact SUVs, Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'" certainly applies to the 2013 Toyota RAV4. For the first time in eight years, Toyota's compact SUV will not be offered with an optional V-6. And for the first time in the RAV4's nearly 20-year history, it will not have its signature tailgate-mounted spare tire. Thus, two of the items that made it a unique proposition in the compact SUV class are relegated to the annals of history. Has the RAV4 become just another anonymous compact SUV in what's already a crowded and competitive market or is Toyota simply responding to customers' changing needs and tastes? If the yardsticks are a carlike design, fuel economy, and comfort and convenience features, then the 2013 RAV4 is aimed right at the sweet spot of the market.
With the elimination of the V-6, the RAV4's sole engine is now the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. At 176 hp, peak power output of the engine is down 3 hp from the 2012 model's, though torque remains unchanged at 172 lb-ft. But, rather than last year's "they still make those?" four-speed automatic, the 2013 adds two cogs for a proper, class-competitive six-speed automatic. The added ratios make a worthwhile difference in fuel economy, with EPA ratings going up 2/3 mpg city/highway on the two-wheel-drive model, and 1/2 mpg on the four-wheel-drive model to 24/31 and 22/29, respectively.
Toyota did make one concession to spirited driving by an available Sport Mode. When selected, Sport mode changes the calibration of the electric power steering assist, and shift feel of the automatic transmission, with an audible "blip" on downshifts.
All-wheel-drive RAV4s feature Dynamic Torque Control, allowing driver-selectable control of power delivery. In Auto mode, most power is routed to the front wheels, switching to all-wheel-drive as conditions warrant. In low-traction conditions, the driver can select Lock Mode, which delivers up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels at speeds up to 25 mph, switching to Auto mode at higher velocities.
The trim levels of the 2013 RAV4 also mark a departure from the 2012. The old trims of Base, Sport and Limited make way for LE, XLE and Limited convention used elsewhere in the Toyota lineup. LE and XLE trims will have a six-way-adjustable driver-side seat, with the Limited trim adding eight-way power adjustment with driver-seat memory and heated front seats. All trim levels feature standard privacy glass, daytime running lights, cruise control, audio with a 6.1-inch LCD touch screen, standard rear backup camera, multi-information display, and Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio. Limited and XLE trims get dual-zone climate control, integrated fog lights, power moonroof, heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators, and optional navigation with Entune.
The RAV4 Limited will also be offered with an optional blind-spot-monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert with both an audible and visual warning in the rearview mirror.
In terms of the styling, the 2013 RAV4 abandons the 2012 model's truckish design cues for a smoother, rounder appearance. The front shows influence from the Venza and Camry, with a smooth, raked-back grille and headlights. Around back, the large, prominent horizontal taillights give the new RAV4 a distinctive visual character. The triangular rear-quarter window is the only distinctly identifiable styling element that carries over from its predecessor.
The 2013 RAV4 is within a few inches of the 2012. Its overall length of 179.9 inches is 2 inches shorter than the 2012 model's, with the 104.7-inch wheelbase carrying over from 2012. Height decreases by about an inch and ground clearance goes down from 7.5 to 6.3 inches. Specific curb weight was not released, but Toyota mentioned extensive use of high-strength steel, suggesting a weight reduction.
The RAV4's generous cargo capacity, a key selling point of the previous, carries over with the 2013, with a 38.4-cubic-foot capacity behind the second row and 73.4 cubic feet behind the first row. Towing capacity remains 1500 pounds for the four-cylinder model and since there's no longer a V-6 model, that's how much it can handle, period.
While the loss of the V-6 may turn off some power-hungry potential buyers, the V-6 take rate in this class rarely surpasses 20 percent, so the lack of a more powerful engine will probably not hurt sales. The RAV4's primary competitors, the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape take two competing approaches. Like the RAV4, the CR-V offers only a single powertrain choice while Ford offers three in the Escape. And the 2013 RAV4's sleeker, more carlike styling may appeal to a broader audience than the previous model's dated, blocky lines. Whether Toyota made the right decision with the RAV4's packaging will be validated by sales numbers in the months after its introduction. Our hunch is it will be at least as popular as its predecessor, if not more.