2013 Toyota Rav4 Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 16, 2013

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2013 Toyota Rav4 Buying Advice

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is the best SUV for you if you want the all-new and more upscale version of one of America’s most popular compact crossovers.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is the first fully redesigned edition of this SUV since model-year 2006. It goes upscale with sleeker styling, higher-quality cabin materials, and more standard features. But it drops its available V-6 engine and third-row seat. And it trades its trademark side-hinged cargo door for a conventional tailgate. Base prices increase $700-$1,800 over the 2012 RAV4, depending on model. But they remain in the $23,000-$30,000 heart of this fiercely competitive segment. Indeed, the new RAV4 faces redesigned rivals that include the 2013 Ford Escape, 2013 Nissan Rogue, and the sophomore edition of the new-for-2012 Honda CR-V.

Should you buy a 2013 Toyota RAV4 or wait for the 2014 Toyota RAV4? Toyota probably will introduce a gas-electric hybrid version of this fourth-generation RAV, but not until model-year 2015 at the earliest. If you like the way Toyota revamped the RAV4 for model-year 2013, take the plunge. Styling won’t change. And a V-6, third-row seat, or side-hinged cargo door aren’t coming back. So the 2014 RAV4 won’t differ from the 2013. It will, however, cost more.

2013 Toyota Rav4 Changes back to top

Styling: The 2013 RAV4 reprises a three-model lineup, though two of them are renamed. The LE is the new name for the Base version. The XLE replaces the midline Sport designation and will be volume model, at 40 percent of RAV4 sales. The top-of-the-line model retains the Limited name; it and the LE are expected to split the balance of RAV4 sales.  

In any guise, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 looks far sleeker than its 2006-2012 predecessor, although exterior dimensions change little. That leaves it about as large on the outside as most compact-crossover rivals but with slightly more passenger volume and notably more cargo room than most.

In contrast to the outgoing version’s soft, rounded shapes, the 2014 RAV4 has more sharply defined sheetmetal, a lower hoodline, and an arched roof. The shape is more aerodynamic, and culminates in taillamps distinctive for their large size and for lenses with top edges that form prominent horizontal shelves.

Inside, the redesigned dashboard groups controls in a more driver-centric fashion. And the passenger side is scalloped for a feeling of greater spaciousness. In the center is a 6.1-inch screen that displays audio settings and the navigation system that’s available on the XLE and Limited. Dashboard lighting is crisper thanks to what Toyota calls Clear Blue illumination.

It all works splendidly to modernize the RAV’s instrument panel, though the tilted-back angle of 6.1-inch screen makes reading it difficult when it’s hit by sunlight. And the navigation system has a decidedly down-market feel, with muddy graphics on a too-small screen and controls hidden within other menus.     

Cabin materials are of a higher grade than before and rank among the better in this class. Dashboard padding is especially rich, and plastic surfaces have subtle faux carbon-fiber crosshatching that looks sophisticated. Seats and dash panels in the XLE and Limited have French stitching. The Limited is available with rich-looking contrasting color combinations, though leather upholstery is no longer available, replaced by Toyota’s SofTex material, which feels a bit like supple, synthetic hide and is said to be more durable than leather and cooler in summer.  

All 2013 RAV4s come with two front bucket seats and a three-passenger rear bench. XLE and Limited have front seats that would feel at home in a sports sedan. They may in fact feel too firm at first, but long-distance support should benefit and their prominent side bolsters insure secure positioning during cornering. Only the Limited, however, features a lumbar adjustment.

Rear-seat space is a highlight, with copious legroom on a firm, sofa-height bench. A small but welcome touch is a fold-down rear center armrest tall enough to actually support your elbow. The rear seatback again reclines slightly to improve comfort.

Discontinued is the third-row seat, a $900 option that suited only small children but nonetheless made the third-generation RAV a seven-seater in a class that consists almost entirely of five-passenger SUVs. Toyota says only about 5 percent of RAV4 buyers ordered the third-row seat and it’s directing those who want seven-passenger capacity to its Highlander crossover

The rear seat on the 2013 RAV4 is split 60/40. Folding it creates 73.4 cubic feet of cargo volume, roughly half a cubic foot greater than the outgoing model and the tops by far in the class. With the rear seatbacks upright, cargo volume is 38.4 cubic feet, an increase of about one cubic foot and also a class-leading figure.

Every RAV4 since the 1996 original has had a side-hinged cargo door with the spare tire externally mounted. The 2013 edition adopts a conventional liftgate, which is power operated on the Limited model.   

Whether the top-hinged tailgate improves access to the cargo bay is a matter of preference. The side-hinged door had the advantage of opening with less effort, though it could be a burden in tight street parking. And being hinged on the right, it meant the RAV’s luggage space was accessible primarily from the driver’s side. A spare-tire-free cargo door was an option toward the end of the third-generation RAV. This fourth-generation version mounts a space-saver spare beneath the cargo-floor panel. That’s become the norm, but it does eliminate a cue that a crossover took itself at least a little seriously as an off-road machine.

Visual distinctions between the three 2014 RAV4 model grades are modest but noticeable. The XLE and Limited have standard fog lamps and outside mirrors that are body-colored instead of black and have turn-signal indicators.

All 2013 RAVs have a rear spoiler with an LED stop lamp. Each also has a chromed upper grille section, but XLE and Limited get a silver-highlighted lower grille. They also have alloy wheels, 17-inch-diameter on the XLE and 18 on the Limited. The LE comes with 17-inch wheel wheels with plastic wheel covers. Exclusive to the Limited are projector-beam-style headlamps.

Mechanical: The 2013 RAV4 remains a crossover SUV because it uses car-type unitized body-frame construction instead of a truck-like design in which the body is bolted to a separate frame. The RAV4 again slots into Toyota’s lineup as its third and smallest crossover, beneath the more station-wagon-like five-passenger Toyota Venza and below the minivan-flavored seven-seat Toyota Highlander.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 does signal a shift in powertrain strategy by employing only a four-cylinder engine, and by advancing to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The third-generation RAV4 was among the few in its competitive set to offer a V-6 in addition to a four-cylinder engine. With a robust 269 horsepower, the 3.5-lier V-6 transformed the RAV4 into the hot rod of the class. But Toyota says fewer than 20 percent of RAV4 buyers ordered the V-6. It will direct shoppers who want that engine to the Highlander.

In any event, brute force has given way to high-tech. Performance leaders in this class now use four-cylinder engines of around 2.0-liters equipped with turbochargers and other advances such as direct fuel injection. They generate 240-260 horsepower and because they weigh less than a V-6, deliver similar performance with less fuel consumption.    

The 2013 RAV4 concedes the hot-rod crown to rivals such as the turbocharged Escape and Hyundai Tucson. It concentrates instead on maximum fuel economy by returning a four-cylinder as its sole engine. It’s the same 2.5-liter that was the third-generation RAV4’s base engine. It isn’t turbocharged and lacks such advanced features as efficiency-enhancing direct fuel injection.

Output is unchanged and basically matches that of the competition’s entry-level four-cylinder engines:179 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the muscle behind acceleration).

Toyota does bring the 2013 RAV4 into the modern era by adopting an automatic transmission with six speeds. The greater the number gears, the better the opportunity to maximize engine efficiency and fuel economy. Top RAV4 rivals use a six-speed automatic. Toyota saddled the third-generation RAV4 with a four-speed automatic in four-cylinder models and a five-speed automatic in V-6s.

The 2014 RAV4’s six-speed automatic has a center-console shift lever that can be toggled for manual-type gear control. Toyota also adds a dashboard buttons for Sport and Eco mode. Sport mode decreases power steering assistance, sharpens throttle response, and modifies transmission shifts to maintain higher engine rpm.  Eco mode is designed to save gas by softening throttle response, recalibrating shift points, and dialing back on air conditioning.   

Toyota says the 2013 RAV4 does 0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds, some 1.3 seconds faster than its four-cylinder 2012 counterpart. But that still isn’t particularly quick, and the 2013 RAV4 does not feel particularly lively in anything more demanding than around-town cruising. Part of the problem is weight: it’s actually slightly heavier than its 2012 counterpart. And thanks to a generous level of standard equipment it’s among the heavier compact crossovers, at up to 3,435 pounds with front-wheel drive and up to 3,600 pounds with all-wheel drive.

But the 2.5-liter just isn’t strong enough to deliver seamless acceleration. It requires deep throttle inputs when you need more than a gentle getaway and it relies on frequent transmission downshifts to summon passing or merging power. This aged engine sounds strained and raspy in these high-rpm situations.

As per compact-crossover practice, the 2013 RAV4 reprises a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). The latter is a new system making its Toyota debut on the 2013 RAV4. The automaker calls Dynamic Torque Control AWD and makes it available on all RAV4 trim levels. Toyota expects about 65 percent of RAV4 buyers to continue to order AWD.  

To save fuel, AWD RAV4s still run in front-wheel drive if sensors aren’t detecting any wheel slip. And a loss of traction activates an electromagnetic coupling that reapportions torque, up to 50/50 front/rear, until grip is restored.

But unlike RAV4’s previous AWD system, Dynamic Torque Control is designed to improve handling on-road and off by redistributing torque based on parameters other than just wheel slip. It can distribute power to the rear wheels when sensors detect steering input or cornering forces. And it adds a driver-selected Sport mode that triggers more dynamic power redistribution.

In Sport mode, torque transfer to the rear begins the moment the steering wheel is turned. And if the RAV4 begins to noseplow through a corner, the system will send up to 50 percent of the power to the rear to stabilize control. Compared with the previous RAV4 AWD system, this new hardware is lighter in weight.

Like virtually all compact crossovers, no RAV4 was ever designed for severe off-roading. Indeed, this fourth-generation model loses about an inch of ground clearance, dropping to a below-class-average 6.3 inches. But the fourth-generation model at least maintains a feature relatively rare in this class -- AWD Lock -- for maximum traction off pavement. Activated by a dashboard button, it locks torque distribution in a fixed, 50/50 ratio at speeds up to about 25 mph.  Above this speed, the system automatically reverts to standard AWD mode.

Front-wheel-drive RAV4’s get their own traction enhancement in the form of an Automatic Limited Slip Differential. Though a pulsed application of the individual front brakes it allows a measure of controlled drive-wheel spin to help “dig” out of difficult conditions, like a sandy patch on an unpaved road or a snow-covered driveway.  

Toyota hasn’t quite met its goal of transforming the 2013 RAV4 into a dynamic handler. It takes corners with decent balance but quick, tight turns still produce moderate noseplow. Like virtually every modern car and SUV, the 2013 RAV4 adopts power-steering assist controlled electrically rather than by a less fuel-efficient hydraulic pump. The RAV’s steering response and feel is fine at slow-to-moderate speeds, but as road speed increases it reacts too quickly to slight inputs, which results in darting lateral movement.   

The ride is stable and float-free at any speed, but the 2013 RAV4 allows sharply rutted pavement and prominent expansion joints to register with enough force to feel a bit jarring. And rapid acceleration from a stop or from slow speeds triggers torque steer – a tugging at the steering – in both front- and all-wheel-drive versions.      

Features: Toyota tends to take a slow approach to gee-whiz doodads – the RAV4 didn’t even get a USB iPod interface until model-year 2012, long after the feature was available on top rivals. And the 2013 RAV4 does not challenge the Escape, for example, by offering a tailgate that opens when you wiggle your foot beneath it or the ability to automatically parallel park itself. It does, however, have a thoughtfully expanded list of standard and optional features that should meet the expectations of most shoppers.

Notable is the newly standard backup camera that displays on the dashboard screen. And every 2013 RAV4 has USB linking as well as Bluetooth hands-free connectivity to cell phones and music streaming. Cruise control and a manual tilt/telescope steering column are included, as well.

XLE and Limited come with a sunroof and dual-zone automatic climate control. Standard features exclusive to the Limited include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and keyless entry with pushbutton ignition.

The Limited is also the only 2013 RAV4 available with a feature new to this crossover: a blind-spot monitor with rear-cross-traffic alert. This system uses flashing icons in the outside mirrors to warn of unseen vehicles in adjacent lanes. Its radar sensors can also detect traffic approaching from the sides when backing from a parking space and flash the icons and emit an audible warning.   

All RAV models use the dashboard screen to display an array of information including distance to empty, average fuel economy; instant fuel economy, selected transmission gear, and tire pressure.

The standard audio system has a CD player and six speakers and includes SiriusXM satellite radio with a complementary 90-day trial subscription. Available on XLE and Limited is Toyota’s Display Audio with Navigation and Entune system. Its navigation component responds to voice commands.

Entune teams with an onboard smartphone for access to a collection of popular mobile applications and data services such as Bing, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and MovieTickets.com. It comes with three years complimentary access to apps and services, after which an access charge applies (except for Pandora). Customers can download Entune updates to gain access to new apps and services as well as keep the original suite of service current.

Available on the Limited in conjunction with the navigation-Entune setup is a JBL premium audio system with 11 speakers, including a subwoofer, and an eight-channel, 576-watt amplifier.

2013 Toyota Rav4 Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2013 Toyota RAV4 is $24,134-$29,255. That compares with a base-price of $23,460-$27,530 for four-cylinder 2012 RAV4s.

(Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee. Toyota’s fee for the 2013 RAV4 is $845, up from $810 for 2012. Toyotas in certain Gulf and Southeastern states are delivered by independent suppliers and may carry different destination fees.)

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 LE is priced at $24,145 with front-wheel drive and at $25,545 with AWD. Its only factory options are roof cargo rails, at $150, and a cargo-area tonneau cover, at $90.

Base price for the 2013 RAV4 XLE is $25,135 with front-drive and $26,535 with AWD. Its only option is Display Audio with Navigation and Entune, at $1,030.

The 2013 RAV4 Limited is priced at $27,855 with front-drive and $29,255 with AWD. Its only options are the $1,030 navigation-Entune system, the JBL upgrade, at $1,660, and the blind-spot and cross-traffic-alert system, at $500.

2013 Toyota Rav4 Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2013 Toyota RAV4 are higher than for 2012 RAV4s with the same four-cylinder engine, thanks primarily to the efficiency of the six-speed automatic transmission versus that of the four-speed automatic.

The 2013 RAV4 is rated 24/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 22/29/25 with AWD.  

That places the 2013 RAV among the most fuel-efficient compact crossovers of similar power. Note that the EPA ratings are not calculated with Eco mode activated. Toyota says Eco mode will save RAV4 drivers gas in real-world driving.  

For comparison the four-cylinder 2012 RAV4’s ratings were 22/28/24 mpg with front-drive and 21/27/24 with AWD. (With the V-6, the 2012 RAV4 rated 19/27/22 mpg with front-drive and 19/26/21 with AWD.)

2013 Toyota Rav4 Release Date back to top

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 hit showrooms in January 2013.

What's next for the 2013 Toyota Rav4 back to top

The 2013 model introduces a RAV4 design generation that can be expected to last until model-year 2019, with a midcycle freshening of styling and features around model-year 2017.

We would have preferred that Toyota sacrifice a mile or two per gallon in EPA ratings by equipping the 2013 RAV4 not with the old 2.5-liter four-cylinder but with the 2.7-liter four available in its other crossovers. The 2.7 performs surprisingly well not only in the heavier Venza and Highlander but in the larger-still Toyota Sienna minivan, where it’s rated at 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque.

Whether such a move would be part of a midcycle freshening for this generation RAV is uncertain. And while Toyota doesn’t have a turbocharged four-cylinder engine in its North American portfolio and doesn’t seem in a rush to develop one.

Do expect a gas-electric hybrid RAV4. Toyota has said that by 2020 it’ll offer a gas-electric version of each vehicle it sells. That would include the RAV4, though not necessarily during the fourth-generation cycle.  

RAV4, by the way, stands for “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive,” according to Toyota. The automaker takes some liberty in referring to the vehicle’s AWD system as “4-wheel drive.” Our definition of four-wheel drive is a system that normally operates in rear-wheel drive and requires some driver action, such as the flip of a floor lever or the twist of a dashboard knob, to share power with the front wheels. The Toyota 4Runner, for example, has true four-wheel drive.

The RAV4 nameplate originated in model-year 1996, on one of the very first crossover SUVs. Each succeeding RAV4 generation grew in size and weight, a trend stemmed with the redesigned fourth-generation model.

2013 Toyota Rav4 Competition back to top

Ford Escape: Good riddance to Ford’s aged U.S.-engineered Escape. Its model-year 2013 replacement is an all-new SUV based on the world-class design of the Ford Kuga crossover sold in Europe. The 2013 Escape is more car-like in appearance and more refined than the outgoing model. And it sets new class standards for handling. Add Euro-tinged styling and cutting-edge tech, and the 2013 Escape shapes up as a formidable competitor. It bows with three powertrain choices, all based on four-cylinder engines: a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter with 168 horsepower and a combined city/highway rating of 24 mpg with front-wheel drive, a 1.6-liter version of Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost series with 173 horsepower and combined ratings of 26 mpg with front-drive and 25 with AWD, and a 2.0-liter EcoBoost with 237 horsepower and combined ratings of 25 and 24 mpg, respectively. Escape demerits include one of the tightest rear seats in the class, and the glitch-prone MyFord Touch infotainment-control system available on some models. Base-price range is $23,295-$32,945.     

Honda CR-V: A class benchmark for sales and design efficiency returns for model-year 2013 as a follow-up to the redesigned 2012 version. The 2013 CR-V continues with a notably spacious and modern-looking body, pleasing cabin décor, and a value story with which every rival must contend. The only engine remains a smooth 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. Honda should have updated the sole transmission from a five-speed automatic to one with six speeds, but it didn’t. So acceleration isn’t a selling point. But fuel-economy ratings are good, at 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 22/30/25 with AWD. So are good driving manners and a reputation for dependability and resale value rivaled only by that of Toyota. Base-price range for the 2013 Honda CR-V is $23,525-$31,025.

Nissan Rogue: This five-seat crossover has quietly climbed into fourth place in compact-SUV sales (behind Escape, CR-V, and RAV4) on the strength of appealing packaging and aggressive pricing. Rogue bowed for model-year 2008 and will get its first full redesign for model-year 2014. Meantime, the 2013 model continues as a roomy but unexciting wagon with fine ride and handling but an acceleration-challenged powertrain. Its only engine, a four-cylinder with 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, works hard but is handicapped by a continuously variable automatic transmission that drains around-town throttle response. Fuel economy is respectable at 25 mpg combined with front-drive and 24 with AWD. And the base-price-range of $23,110-$30,750 is competitive. Discounts on close-out 2013 Rogues will be plentiful, but we’d wait for the all-new 2014 model.

2013 Toyota Rav4 Next Steps