All-new for 2013, the Toyota RAV4 adds new safety features and four levels of Entune connectivity for 2014.
Toyota pioneered the crossover/SUV segment with the first RAV4 (for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4WD) in 1996. This latest, fourth-generation RAV4 handles better than before, and squeezes more miles from a gallon of gasoline. The new styling is more fluid: less truck, more car. The fourth-gen RAV4 is also more focused than its predecessor. The V6 option is gone, as is the optional third row of seating. The RAV4 is now strictly a four-cylinder five-seater. Take it or leave it.
Of course, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder that remains features all of Toyota's usual high-tech hardware, including four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides (VVT-i, in Toyota-speak). It boasts 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It's coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission (also new for 2013), with the top two cogs being overdrive gears to aid fuel efficiency.
City/Highway EPA ratings are 24/31 mpg with front-wheel drive and 22/29 mpg with all-wheel-drive, representing about a 10 percent improvement over 2012 and older models.
As we said, the latest styling is more car than truck. It's been tweaked to create more emotion. The spare wheel is no longer stored on the tailgate but in the more commonly used location under the trunk floor. Yet despite these changes, it still looks remarkably uninspiring and bland.
The fourth-generation interior is upgraded as well, including a SofTex leather band that runs the entire width of the dash. While the feel doesn't scream luxury, it does stack up well against the competition; and comfort is good, too.
On the road, the fourth-gen RAV4 is a nice step forward in terms of handling. It feels far firmer and more planted than before. The steering is a touch rubbery, but braking is good. Yet, again, despite the improvements, the car still fails to engage the driver. It's better, but not fun.
Overall, the 2013-14 RAV4 is a solid improvement over the outgoing model. But it is still a means of transportation, and not a vehicle that you will particularly enjoy driving. In true Toyota fashion it remains remarkably vanilla.
It is, however, practical, efficient and competitively priced (starting at $23,550), making it a car that will sell like a Lightning McQueen toy at Christmas.
Visually, the 2014 RAV4 is a combination of the contemporary and the conservative. Toyota is consciously trying to inject more passion into their vehicles, but the company also understands the ramifications of alienating their loyal crop of current customers. The RAV4 is most definitely designed with them in mind.
Toyota describes the RAV4 as dynamic, sleek, and aggressive. It is, of course, none of those things. The protruding front overhang looks like a boxer with a swollen lip, and little has been done to portray emotion or modernization from the front angle. Headlights are relatively plain-looking halogen units, eschewing techy-looking (albeit increasingly common) projector beams or LEDs. The XLE and Limited models come with simple round fog lamps.
The fender flares are round and open, and a character line runs above the front wheel arch to the top of the rear taillight, becoming more pronounced closer to the rear of the car. The roofline slopes back from the front window, with a rear spoiler extending the roofline's arc, as well as enhancing the RAV4's aerodynamic co-efficiency.
Furthering the car's aerodynamic prowess are small vortex generators, molded into the taillight cases and near the base of the A-pillars. Aero undertrays beneath the passenger cabin help smooth and control airflow. Such attention to detail results in an CD of 0.329 (vs. 0.334 for the previous generation), aiding in improved fuel economy.
The 2014 RAV4 interior isn't luxurious, but for the most part, it doesn't feel cheap, either. It's nicely in line with its competitors.
As you step into the car, the first thing you may notice is the SofTex leather band running the entire length of the dash. It breaks up the monotony of plastic, lending a more expensive feel to the cabin.
All interiors feature contrasting colors (more or less). Parts of the dash, parts of the inner doors, along with the carpet and floor console are always black. Then depending on the trim level and exterior color you choose, the seats, the leather dash pad, and the rest of the inner doors can be Ash (gray), Latte (beige), Black or Terra Cotta. The gray/black and beige/black combinations are attractive, but the two-shades-of-black/black looks odd and simply doesn't work. The Terra Cotta, on the other hand, is limited to the Limited but without question the most sophisticated in appearance.
The seats in the RAV4 LE are fabric-trimmed, while the RAV4 XLE adds a better quality fabric, bolstering and French stitching to the sides of sportier seats. This in itself is a good reason to choose the XLE over the LE model, not withstanding the additional equipment you receive for less than $1,500.
The Limited model adds SofTex to the sportier seats, adding a chunk more luxury to the cabin. SofTex is a leather substitute that is fractionally cheaper to make. While the feel may be slightly inferior to real leather, it isn't sacrificing much.
The steering wheel is telescopic and in the RAV4 Limited model it is wrapped with leather. In the LE and XLE models the wheel feels flimsy and cheap, making the Limited another worthwhile step if you can reach that far.
Driving position is comfortable and easily obtainable. The center console is well laid out and all the dials are intuitive. The 6.1-inch touch-screen looks a little 2005, but at the same time, we appreciate that it comes as a standard feature in all models.
The gear lever on the Limited model is draped in leather, but in all models, the lower part of the center console is made of a very cheap, flimsy plastic. The sun visors are also the worst quality we have ever seen. They feel like they were derived from Wal-Mart.
Poor quality plastic continues in various places throughout the cabin, and it feels like it undoes some of the sophistication added by the leather on the dash and door panels. It's like buying a Hugo Boss suit from Nordstrom, then finishing the look off with a Tommy Bahama shirt.
On a brighter note, the push button start on the Limited model is a nice touch, and the second row seating is comfortable with decent legroom (37.2 inches).
Third-row seating is not available, as it was not often ordered on the previous-generation model. If space and/or passenger capacity are really what you are after, then the Toyota Highlander might be a better option.
The 38.4 cubic feet of space behind the second row seats allows for excellent storage. With the second row folded flat, cargo space increases to a class-leading total of 73.4 cubic feet.
In general, the 2014 RAV4 is a comfortable, pleasing place to be. We just wish Toyota hadn't skimped on the quality of the plastic utilized, as that really neutralizes an otherwise excellent job.
While this latest RAV4 is a marked improvement over 2012 and older models, it still lacks character, emotion and engagement. Praise must be offered, however, because the gains over the previous RAV are sizeable.
The 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It drives through a 6-speed automatic that uses the top two gears as overdrives for increased fuel efficiency. EPA estimates are 24/31/26 mpg City/Highway/Combined with front-wheel drive and 22/29/25 mpg with AWD.
Acceleration feels a touch less responsive than in the previous generation, even with the same 2.5-liter engine. This is likely due to revised first and second gear ratios to aid with city fuel efficiency.
With AWD, you can expect dynamic torque control to aid handling. The all-wheel drive system manages torque transfer between the front and rear wheels via an electromagnetically controlled coupling. Torque distribution can vary from 100:0 to 50:50, with 100:0 FWD engaged under normal driving to improve fuel economy.
When understeer occurs and the front wheels slide, torque transfer increases to the rear wheels by up to 50 percent. This reduces front tire load to provide better lateral grip and balance out the understeer, ensuring a more neutral balance.
It works too, with the AWD drive cars noticeably handling twisty sections better than the 2WD vehicles. Switching between the Eco, Normal and Sport mode adjusts the driving feel. Sport offers sharper gear shifts and throttle response, with the electric power steering being backed off by 20 percent. While you feel the extra weight through the wheel, ultimately, the steering feels rubbery and disconnected, like stretching a taut rubber band.
Like its predecessor, the latest RAV4 has MacPherson strut front suspension and a double-wishbone rear suspension. But the ride is now firmer and less floppy. It's more balanced and poised, with the suspension feeling more rigid. The old car was like driving a school bus, but the new one feels more normal. Braking is good. But despite improvements over the last model, the RAV4 still lacks fun. After driving the new model and initially being impressed by the gains, very soon the novelty wears off, leaving you bored. The RAV4 still feels like a means of transportation, albeit a better one than before.
It doesn't get better off-road, either. In fact, it becomes far worse. Even on a dirt road the car feels like it's going to fall apart, as do your teeth. The vibrations are intolerable and you just want the monotony to end.
The 2014 RAV4 suffers particularly when compared to the Mazda CX-5, whose handling is in a different league. The CX-5 proves that an SUV needn't be a compromise compared to a smaller car. You only need to drive the Mazda CX-5 to appreciate how far Toyota still has to go to make the RAV4 a pleasure to drive.
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 delivers function, comfort and usability. It will do exactly what a small SUV should. Unfortunately, it won't do any more than that, and it isn't fun to drive. It also, most definitely, won't handle off road.
Alex Lloyd filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Toyota RAV4. Alex is based near Indianapolis.