Toyota's RAV4 has been essentially untouched for the better part of a decade, rolling around with the same basic interior and exterior design and technology. The original SUV crossover, the RAV4 was in need of some serious re-tuning. So that's exactly what Toyota did. With the exception of its underpinnings, the 2013 RAV4 Limited AWD (starting at $28,410, $31,415 as tested) is an entirely new vehicle. And with the addition of Toyota's Entune app suite, a 6.1-inch in-dash infotainment system and powerful seven-speaker JBL sound system, this is the most teched-out RAV4 ever. So how different is Toyota's reimagined crossover? We took to the streets and highways of New York to find out.
It's been seven long years since Toyota's RAV4 received a proper redesign, so for 2013 the automaker went all out, giving the SUV crossover a more agile look than its predecessor. Gone is the bulbous snout and ho-hum styling of last generation's RAV4; the 2013 model gets a swooping angular front end and smaller grill. Halogen headlamps and projector low beams create a more sophisticated look that was further enhanced by our RAV4 Limited's standard fog lights.
In addition to a sleeker roofline, the 2013 RAV4 sports more athletic body panels, complete with a character line that starts gracefully at the front fender and swells to form a large overhang just above the tail lights. Our top-of-the-line tester came with handsome 18-inch alloy wheels that nicely complemented the RAV4's exaggerated fender flares.
MORE: Best Apps 2013
The biggest change to the RAV4 for 2013 is the inclusion of a proper tailgate that opens from the bottom and swings up, rather than the side-opening tailgate found on previous iterations. Of course, that means the door-mounted spare tire -- which went out of vogue so many years ago --has finally been moved inside to just below the RAV4's cargo area.
The RAV4's interior also gets a nice overhaul, doing away with the more utilitarian dashboard found in the previous generation in favor of what Toyota refers to as a more driver-centric asymmetrical layout. The result is a far more refined interior. Our test vehicle's two-tone Terracotta Softex treatment, exclusive to the RAV4 Limited, left us wishing Toyota's designers had exhibited a bit more restraint.
Toyota has completely removed the RAV4's third-row seating option, which hurts for families who want to haul all the little ones, but helps improve overall rear passenger comfort and cargo space. It's now 74.4 cubic feet versus 73 cubic feet in the 2012 model. Still, for all the RAV4's improved styling, it doesn't quite have the sex appeal to top competitors like Mazda's CX-5 or Ford's Escape.
The RAV4 XLE and Limited models get Toyota's optional $2,160 Display Audio with Navigation, Entune and JBL package. This includes a 6.1-inch touch-screen display, GPS navigation, Toyota's app-based Entune system, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and JBL speakers.
Surrounding the display are six large, easily visible buttons that allow you to control the system's audio sources and settings, access your connected smartphone, check your car's settings and select your Entune apps.
Above the display is a CD drawer, to the left of which is the volume and power button. To the far right of that is a radio tuner knob, but it's so far out of the way that it made our arm feel like it was coming out of its socket.
Below the display is the RAV4's dual-zone climate control setup, which can either be controlled separately by the driver and passenger or synced. An Auto button lets you set a temperature and gives the vehicle control of when to raise or lower the fan speed. Below the dash, positioned just in front of the gear selector in the center console, are a powered USB port and an AUX jack.
On the left side of the steering wheel are buttons for raising and lowering the volume and a d-pad for navigating the infotainment system. Below the d-pad is a Mode button that lets you choose between different audio source settings, including Bluetooth, satellite radio and terrestrial radio, as well as a Back button. Over on the right side of the wheel is another d-pad that allows you to make hands-free phone calls and cycle through fuel efficiency information and your vehicle's mileage in the small digital display below the speedometer.
Toyota's Entune system includes a host of popular apps such as Pandora, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, iHeartRadio and Bing. The Fuel Guide, Weather, Sports and Stocks apps each provide users with a fairly robust amount of information for their respective categories. Fuel Guide supplies gasoline prices for your surrounding area, while Sports offers current sports scores and standings, and Stocks gives updated prices. The Sports and Stocks features can also be conveniently customized to display your favorite sports teams and most-watched stocks. The Weather app displays the current weather conditions, the five-day forecast and a live, color weather radar.
We like that all of these features are bundled in Toyota's Entune app, so you only have to download one piece of software from the iTunes or Google Play store. To access the apps via the RAV4's touch screen, pair your smartphone with the infotainment system via Bluetooth and open the Entune app on your handset. When the app is paired with your vehicle it will lock out your phone's display, preventing your from fiddling with your handset while driving.
The Bing app was surprisingly useful, as it allowed us to search for nearby points of interest and pull up directions for them on the RAV4's display. This function uses your smartphone's GPS to find nearby locations, so you'll have to watch your battery life. You can also search for specific locations via a search bar, or look for certain types of locations such as restaurants, shopping malls, gas stations, etc.
We used the app to search for JFK Airport in New York. After a brief pause, the app calculated directions to the airport with ease. The Bing app can also provide you with a phone number for a specific destination if it is available. The Pandora, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable and iHeartRadio apps each offer user experiences that are relatively similar to their smartphone counterparts, and are compatible with the vehicle's voice controls.
While we like the Entune system's app offerings and functionality, we found the interface to be a bit cramped. Many of the buttons, specifically on the apps page, are very small, meaning you'll have difficulty tapping them while on the move. If you're an iPhone user, you'll have to connect your handset to the RAV4's infotainment system via USB. There's also the matter of the service's $9 monthly fee, though that kicks in after your three-year trial period has expired.
MORE: 12 Best Music Apps
Maps and Navigation
Navigation on the new RAV4 is handled by Entune's Map app. While parked, you can choose to manually enter destination information into multiple text boxes or scan through your recent searches. We preferred to perform our searches using the voice control function, as it took less time to perform. While the text box-style search is easy to understand, it's fairly clunky. We would much rather prefer if we could simply type our destination in a single line, as you would a standard Google search.
Once the Map app finds your destination, it will provide you with a guided route, as well as voice commands telling you which route to take. You can choose between viewing 2D or 3D maps, whether you want to take the fastest or shortest route and if you want to avoid toll roads. We also like the slick lane-guidance feature. For the most part, the navigation system worked well, though at one point it did send us on a rather circuitous route around Manhattan.
Audio in the RAV4 comes courtesy of a seven-way JBL speaker setup, complete with subwoofer. Toyota also includes HD Radio and a 90-day trial of SiriusXM Satellite radio. While listening to Kanye West's album "Yeezus," the Toyota's speakers rumbled with each bass hit. Even with the bass set to 50 percent, the audio was absolutely thunderous. Despite that, we could still easily make out the album's highs and treble.
Toyota's vehicles are known for their safety features, and the 2013 RAV4 Limited is no different. Our test unit came with a backup camera, rear cross-traffic alert and Blind Spot Monitor. The backup camera automatically begins streaming video to the RAV4's 6.1-inch display whenever you put the vehicle in reverse.
An on-screen grid helps you visualize where you're heading in relation to objects around you, while a single red line at the bottom of the display lets you know when you're too close to something. We especially appreciated the rear cross-traffic alert feature, which warns you if another vehicle is approaching while you back up.
The RAV4's Blind Spot Monitor, a $500 option, was very helpful during highway driving. Sensors located in the vehicle's rear quarter panels detect when another car is in your blind spot, and activates an amber warning light in the side view mirror that corresponds to the side of your car the other vehicle is closest to. If the system detects a vehicle and you flip on your turn signal, the amber warning light will begin flashing to let you know it's not safe to change lanes just yet.
Of course, when you're driving in a crowded city like New York, the blind spot monitor can become annoying. Thankfully, you can disable this option by simply pressing the BSM button on the left side of the RAV4's steering column.
Our 2013 RAV4 Limited AWD, like all 2013 models, came equipped with a punchy 2.5-liter 175-horsepower 4-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. You get three different driving modes: Standard mode is your normal cruising setting, while Eco Mode reduces engine responsiveness a tad and causes the transmission to shift sooner. Sport Mode is the opposite, improving engine responsiveness and making the transmission hold gears longer. The difference between the standard mode and Sport mode is negligible, though the switch between Eco mode and Sport mode is very noticeable, almost like tapping a turbo button in a video game.
If you're feeling a little saucy, you can move the gear selector over to S and flip through the gears by moving the shifter up or down, giving you a taste of a manual transmission without the work, though it's not a fun as a true manual. Over the course of a week, we recorded an average fuel economy of about 28 miles per gallon with the RAV4. That number came from a mix of highway and city driving, as well as using both Sport and Eco modes. Despite driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic and through crowded city streets, our gas mileage came in higher than the EPA's estimate of 25 mpg.
Overall, our driving experience with the RAV4 was favorable, though not stellar. Road noise and wind were imperceptible, but the crashing sound that resulted from our running over potholes and cobblestone streets was obnoxious. Despite that, the RAV4 handled well. Steering response was quick, allowing for easy maneuvering around tight corners and the occasional double-parked taxi. When pushed, steering resistance built predictably, reminding us of this crossover's limits.
Pricing and Configurations
A base 2013 RAV4 LE starts at just $23,300 but can be bumped up to $25,695 with the addition of AWD and roof rails. The XLE comes in at $25,690, but when equipped with the $1,030 Display Audio with Navigation and Entune package, jumps to $27,565. A RAV4 Limited starts at $28,410 and tops out at $31,810 when equipped with the $2,160 Display Audio with Navigation, Entune and JBL package. Tack on an extra $500 if you want the Blind Spot Monitoring system.
With its rev-happy engine, increased cargo space and more modern looks, the 2013 RAV4 Limited AWD is a solid SUV crossover. The addition of the Entune app system and its myriad safety features serve to further enhance this vehicle's capabilities and techno-prowess. We do, however, wish the touch screen were a bit larger to make for a better reading and user experience. Toyota could also stand to make the radio tuner a tad closer to the driver. Beyond those complaints, though, we were thoroughly satisfied with the RAV4. It's a stylish people mover that is as capable and as technologically advanced as anything Toyota has put on the road.