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Car Report

Test Drive: 2013 Toyota Rav4

Following up on its successful original trilogy, Toyota has introduced the Rav4 part four.

The car that started the cute ute craze enters its fourth generation bigger than ever and featuring a bold new style that combines sleek and sporty elements with a bit of the chunkiness of the automaker’s real-deal SUVs and the company’s signature chrome mustache grille. The result is a look that’s easily identifiable as a Toyota, but fully in step with modern times.

The interior, in particular, has come a long way from the monochromatic, economy class style of the original. The very contemporary design wouldn't have been out of place in a Lexus a couple of years ago. It has soft, stitched material on a layered dashboard, lots of shiny trim and available two-tone upholstery that’s quite an eye-popper in this class.

Passenger space is impressive all around, and the cargo hold is huge. It's the largest among small CUVs and has a very low liftover height, perfect for those old with backs that are enough to remember when the first Rav4 hit the scene back in 1995. Step in through the doors is ground-hugging, too, and rear legroom is on par with some full size cars.

In keeping with the theme of four, the Rav4 is no longer available with a six-cylinder engine, just a 2.5-liter 178 hp four-cylinder that’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and either front or all-wheel-drive. It delivers good fuel economy for the class, up to 31 miles per gallon for front-wheel-drive cars, but does feel slightly underpowered for what's become such a relatively large vehicle, something that becomes very noticeable on hills. It has a tow rating of 1,500 pounds, but I’ll venture that’s best reserved for pulling jet skis along flat littoral roads rather than snowmobiles up the Rockies.

Regardless of where you go in it the ride is quiet and cushy, if not all that sporty. In fact, it’s got a downright boulevardier feel to it. If anyone doubts Toyota’s commitment to its American audience, a spin around the block in a Rav4 should do the trick. No European-style handling inclinations here. If that’s your thing, the folks from Honda and Mazda will be happy to oblige.

Prices for the Rav4 start at $24,125, with a loaded Limited like my test car topping out at about thirty two grand when equipped with high tech options like a blind spot warning system, rear cross traffic alert and Toyota's Entune infotainment system, which can read incoming text messages and e-mails aloud.

Considering how large the Rav4 has gotten over the years, it’s amazing that Toyota hasn’t slipped something smaller into the lineup underneath it. It’s hard to imagine until you happen across one, but the original really was tiny, about the size of today’s Nissan Juke or Kia Soul. No word if Toyota has something along those lines in the works, but keep your eye on this miniscule yet increasingly popular space.

In the meantime, if you and your family have grown up with the Rav4, this one should still fit just fine.


2013 Toyota Rav4 Limited AWD

Base Price: $29,255

As Tested: $31,914

Type: 5-passenger, all-wheel-drive 5-door CUV

Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder

Power: 178 hp, 172 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 22 city/29 hwy