Test Drive: 2013 Toyota RAV4 2.2 D-CAT image

Nobody believed that Toyota will be able to create a new segment back in 1994 when the Japanese automaker unveiled for the first time the RAV4 compact crossover.

Yes, the RAV4 was the first compact crossover, a vehicle designed for consumers wanting a vehicle that had most of the benefits of SUVs but with fuel consumption somewhere near a compact car.

Today, after almost 20 years, Toyota sells the fourth generation RAV4, a crossover that was unveiled for the first time during the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s a completely new car, bigger than ever before, a car that combines sleek and sporty elements with modern design lines.

But the most important visual update to the new model is that the tailgate-mounted spare tire is gone – it was been relocated to a hidden space, beneath the cargo load floor; and the silly right-hinged side-swinging rear door is gone too – it was replaced with an electrical tailgate (standard for the top model) that is hinged at the top – a much more efficient design.

Good job Toyota – I never understood why they made that silly right-hinged side-swinging rear door; let’s not forget that many times was almost impossible to open it with someone parked closely behind.

Engine, transmission
In Europe the Rav4 is available with only one petrol engine (2.0 VVT-I – 151hp ) and two diesel units – a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder that is capable of 124hp, and a 2.2 liter four-cylinder with an output of 150hp. The petrol unit comes with a CVT gearbox, while the top of the range 2.2 liter diesel is connected thru a six-speed automatic transmission (a manual is also available).

That’s for Europe – for the U.S. bad news – only one engine is available – the 2.5-liter four-cylinder petrol; so no more V6’s guys.

We’ve tested the top of the line 150hp diesel RAV4 in the Italian Alps, and during our trip to the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany. On the highway the car gets easily to 180 – 190 km/h, even if it was not designed for such high speeds. It feels stable, but over 140km/h the cabin gets noisy. For normal daily commuting the engine feels ok, but I was expecting something a little bit more responsive.

You have two driving modes – Eco Mode and Sport. To be honest I didn’t feel much difference – in sport the gas pedal feels a little bit more responsive and the steering’s electric power assist is lowered by 20 percent and alters Toyota’s new Dynamic Torque Control system in all-wheel drive models. In English means that Sport mode will increase the feedback for better road feel.

Toyota says that during the Eco mode, the output (and draw) of the AC compressor is significantly reduced, and that the transmission shifts into higher gears sooner to maintain lower engine RPM. Well I can tell you that even with a temperature of over 30 degrees outside; I didn’t feel that the AC is strangled; it was just powerful enough to cool the entire cabin without any problem.
Over 140 km/h even with the Eco model on, the transmission will change into lower gears instantly if it feels that you want to accelerate just a little bit.

At the end, Sport is great if you’re stuck in traffic and need to shift lanes quickly, but don’t expect to get 100hp more with a push of a button.

Our car was equipped with Dynamic Torque Control, a system that offers a torque-vectoring handling effect by transferring power to the rear wheels based on a lack of yaw rate and, in Sport mode, the amount of steering angle that is dialed in. What’s important here is that you have the Lock Mode for low speeds. Press the lock button and the fifty-fifty front-rear power slip remains fixed at speeds up to 25 mph (40 km/h).

But the greatest improvements are related to its on road attitude. With the updated powertrain and revised suspension (revised spring and damping rates, beefier stabilizer bars and tweaked struts and bushings and by lowering the center of gravity) the new RAV4 feels sharper and fun to drive. And it doesn’t make you feel tired even after a long trip.

Suspension, handling, breaking
As expected the highway ride over smooth pavement is very comfortable; a larger stabilizer bar helps reduce role. The front suspension system now features L armed MacPherson struts. On the back the RAV4 uses a highly rigid, lightweight trailing arm double wishbone system.

Toyota reduced the turning circle from 11.4 m to 10.6 m, a move that will help you when parking and u-turning.

You also have Downhill Assist Control and Hill-start Assist Control, both “gizmos” standard on top end 4×4 models. Downhill Assist Control will help the car from slipping sideways by putting exactly the right amount of hydraulic pressure to prevent the wheels from locking. We’ve tested the system many times on different steep gravel roads and it works really well – all you have to do is to concentrate to the steering and the car will do the rest.

The electric steering feels confident and sharp during high speeds, but I can’t say the same if you’re going less than 50km/h.

Fuel consumption
– to be updated

Interior and gadgets
Inside the design lines are very straight, something that make us remember some Lexus models (ok let’s not exaggerate). The extensive use of soft touch materials across the board is a welcome change; even the dash panel is finished in soft-touch material.

The Clear Blue gauge and control illumination at night is nice. You have a lot of spaces and pockets to put you stuff inside. Front seats are wide and much more comfortable than before.

The seat-heating controls are a little bit too far, but the biggest disappointment here is the 6.1 inch navigation unit. You see, when you have an idea about where you are and where you want to get is something, but when you have to fully rely on your navigation unit, you can quickly understand how good or bad a navi really is. A back-up camera is standard.

Besides that, the remote keyless entry and keyless start, the voice recognition, text-to-speech and blind spot monitor, everything works perfectly as it should.

Back seats are adjustable (up to 2.6 cm forward and back). The RAV4’s rear seats also recline which is great. Leg room now rivals many mid-sizers.

Cargo Space
Best in class figures here; with the second row folded the new RAV4 offers 73.4 cubic feet of space (2067 liters). Even with the seats in place there’s a reasonable 38.4 cu-ft available (1076 liters).

Direct competitors
Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Qashqai

Like / Dislike
Plus for: Gentle crusing, room in the rear seating is particularly generous, and for the 4×4 differential lock
Minus for: The navigation unit is probably out biggest disappointment

Tested vehicle
2013 Toyota RAV4 Lounge – 5 door 2.2 D-CAT diesel – 150hp – 6 speed automatic.
Price: from eur 36.400