Underwhelmed, that was how the new Toyota RAV4 left me.
Oh it looks fine, pretty much like every other compact ute out these days, and with all the features and electronic options and doodads you’d want. But given Toyota’s history, I was surprised by how lackluster it felt and it had fit and finish issues.
First, there was a small hole in the console. Was a button missing? And what would it have been for?
Second, there was an obvious and annoying squeak in the dash and it squeaked no matter what speed you were going, or how rough the road. The ute had only about 2,800 miles on it when I received it. I’d expect that squeak on my wife’s 12-year-old Camry because it has 100,000+ miles on the odometer. Actually, I think her car’s interior is quieter, which leads me to point three. The RAV4 interior is noisy, very echoey sounding.
Fourth, well, the 2.5-liter, I4 engine simply feels down on power. Maybe it’s the gearing, but acceleration is flat and dull. The engine is rated at 176 horsepower, but acceleration is lackluster. There’s an ECO button to give it better gas mileage and even less oomph, or a Sport button to give it more torque. That helps, but you still must mash the gas pedal to get that power, and at that point the power train whines and moans like it’s being tortured.
The good news, the 6-speed automatic transmission’s shifts are fairly smooth, and in Sport mode you can get up to highway speeds fairly quickly, it’ll just be noisy. Several passengers asked if it was “always” this noisy. Well, only when you want some power.
In theory the RAV4 isn’t bulky. It weighs 3,600 lbs., not unusual for an all-wheel-drive compact ute. It rides on a modest 104.7-inch wheelbase, but I’ve noticed it takes about 106 inches or so to smooth out a vehicle’s ride. This one has a relatively bumpy, truck-like ride. Pot holes are not so much a problem as slight bumps or raised pavement, or the occasional railroad track. Those deliver a bit of a jolt to passengers.
Handling is OK, but there is a bit of play in the wheel, what you’d expect in a modest sized sport-ute. Steering wheel feel is moderate and braking is fine, plus traction and stability control are standard. You also get all-wheel-drive with this model, the Limited.
The tested Shoreline Blue Pearl (blue-gray) RAV4 was comfortable inside and the dash was well laid out. Being the Limited model this one came with black leather seats and leather inserts on the dash and doors. One might expect that to somewhat dampen the interior noise, but that was not the case.
Still, the interior is well styled with white stitching in the dash and seats’ leather and the dash includes buff pewter colored trim that carries that over into the doors and around the main gauges. There’s fake carbon fiber on the doors and on the console too.
The gauges, including the radio screen, feature a blue background light that’s easy on the eyes at night, and everything is easy to see and use. That’s because, wisely, the Toyota interior designers go with large buttons for the climate control and around the radio screen. There also is a radio volume and tuning knob to facilitate easy tuning while driving.
A manual tilt/telescope steering wheel also has buttons on the hub for the trip computer, phone and radio. The ute features push-button start too.
Seats are well contoured and comfortable with the driver’s seat being powered and including two memory settings on the door. The front passenger’s seat is manual. Both have two-level heating, the buttons being at the bottom of the center stack and tucked under its face, which sticks out from the dash.
There is room in back for two adults if the front seat folks are not 6-footers that push the seats all the way back. That second row folds flat too via a lever on the seats side facing the rear doors and the Limited has a power hatch. With the seats down cargo space grows to 38 cubic feet.
RAV4’s console has two cupholders, one near the front that’s easy for the driver to use, but the second is right at the driver’s elbow. Often I put my sunglasses in the second cupholder, but couldn’t here for fear of breaking them, or knocking them to the floor. The center armrest and storage bin also has a chintzy feeling plastic lid.
Overhead are sun visors that feature slides to keep out the sun, but the visors are thin and flimsy. Sun lovers will like the standard sunroof here though.
Gas mileage? This AWD equipped Limited is rated at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. I got 23.8 mpg in about 60% highway driving. The trip computer said I was getting 26.9 mpg.Pricing can make a lower level RAV4 attractive. A base LE front-drive model starts at $23,300 and moving to AWD bumps that to $24,700. There are six trim levels and the tested Limited AWD starts at $28,410, but this one added a mega-stereo and navigation package with backup camera for $1,030. It also added carpeted floor mats for $225 (shouldn’t these be standard on all vehicles by now?). Total was $30,510, including $845 for delivery.
The small ute market is packed with worthy competitors, shop around and test drive anything you’re considering. As with the stock market, don’t go solely on past performance.
FAST Stats: 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD
Hits: Power rear hatch and fold flat rear seats, well contoured front seats with 2-level heat, backup camera, blue gauge lighting and well laid out dash and controls. This model has AWD and added a backup camera for safety.
Misses: Low on power (even in Sport mode), power train moans on heavy acceleration, serious rattle in dash at all speeds, bumpy truck-like ride, noisy interior and a small hole in the console. Overall feel is less than usual Toyota quality.
Made in: Woodstock, Ont.
Engine: 2.5-liter, I4, Dual VVT-i, 176 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,600 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Cargo: 38 cu.ft.
Base Price: $28,410
Dealer’s Price: $26,563
Display audio w/navigation, Entune (6.1-in. touch-screen display w/backup camera, AM/FM CD player w/MP3 6 speakers & Sirius XM HD radio w/iTunes tagging, auxiliary audio jack, USB port w/iPod connectivity, vehicle information w/customizable settings, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, advanced voice recognition and music streaming via Bluetooth), $1,030
Carpet floor mats/cargo mat, $225
Test vehicle: $30,510
Sources: Toyota, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Courtesy of Toyota