Saturday, January 26, 2013

Behind The Wheel: 2013 Toyota RAV4- The Original Crossover Crosses Over

The restyled fourth generation Toyota RAV4 will begin arriving on our shores at the end of this month. The RAV4, which is credited with creating the compact crossover segment, enters its fourth generation with a totally restyled exterior and interior, as well as a new six speed transmission and other refinements to a largely carried over platform.

 The overall dimensions of the new RAV4 are very similar to the prior one- same wheelbase, total length down two inches, overall height down about an inch and width reduced by .04 of an inch. The three row version is gone and the new generation is offered only as a five passenger vehicle in three trim levels- LE, XLE, and Limited. Both FWD and All Wheel Drive versions are offered.

 The exterior is totally restyled and is generally consistent with the look of current Toyota passenger car offerings. The front end styling is much more aerodynamic and also more carlike than its predecessor- whereas the RAV4 started the Tonka Truck club, it's now much more Camry than Tundra. This means upright truck grilles and high hood lines have given way to curves and improved aerodynamics. The look is pleasing and sophisticated, and again far less truck inspired than before.

 The biggest change on the exterior comes in the rear, where the cargo door has given way to a top hinged rear liftgate and the iconic outside mounted spare has disappeared beneath the rear cargo floor. Score one for to consumer clinics, but the result is a less distinctive design and diminished brand continuity- from the back it could be a Kia or an Audi. That aspect aside, the overall effect of the styling is contemporary and pleasing. It's a handsome member of a crowded class, but it's not a standout.

 Seventeen inch steel wheels are standard, the XLE gets 17 inch alloys and the Limited rolls on twin spoke 18 inch alloys. A great deal of attention has been paid toairflow including tailored corners, smooth edged fascias and even restyled front fender liners in order to maximize efficiency. The overall drag coefficient has been lowered from .334 to .329, which makes the RAV4 quieter as well as more fuel efficient.

 The change inside is much more dramatic. The entire interior has been redesigned and taken upscale- the instrument panel has a baby Lexus feel, the materials are all soft to the touch, the steering column angle has been reduced, and the overall effect is very carlike. The seats themselves are redesigned with a slim front seatback that improves rear knee room, and the rearward adjustment has been increased by .8 inches.

The LE and XLE have cloth trim, but the Limited stands out here with hide-like SofTex trim and a two toning pattern they call "Color Block", which introduces an accent color to the seats, dash and door panels. The effect ranges from subtle to outstanding - the Terra Cotta scheme is an attention getter, the beige and gray much more subtle and there is still a monochromatic black for those allergic to fashion.

 French stitching on the seats and instrument panels are also included on the XLE and Limited models as well as a power moonroof. The redesigned dash continues with Toyota's current theme of spreading out in a horizontal fashion and raising the display screen as high as possible.

 Speaking of the screen, it's a 6.1 inch color display with backup camera, HVAC and audio integrated and is standard on all models. The XLE and Limited offer optionalintegrated Navigation with Sirius/XM radio, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, advanced voice recognition and Text to speech capabilities, as well as Toyota's Entune multimedia system with Bing, iHeart radio,and Pandora. Advanced JBL audio is also available on the Limited.

 Safety has been given attention too, with eight standard airbags - consisting of driver and front passenger, driver's knee and passenger seat cushion, front seat side mounted, and side curtain airbags for the front and rear passengers. If you're getting the impression that a whole lot of attention has been paid to the look and feel of the interior, then you get it. With the recent influx of redesigned compact crossovers on the market, Toyota decided to step up it's interior game.

 The basic platform is retained, with a few changes made. The V-6 offering was dropped, leaving the 2.5 liter four cylinder engine as the sole power plant. It develops 176 HP and 172 lb.-ft. of torque, and is mated to a new six speed automatic transmission with three drive modes- Standard, Sport, and ECO, and a "Flex-Start" locking Torque Converter. The result of these changes is improved fuel economy. The FWD is rated at 24 City/ 31 Highway / 26 combined, and the AWD is rated at 22/ 29/ 25, or only one mile per gallon less than the FWD. That's a 2 mpg improvement for the FWD and one mpg better as an AWD.

With the V6 gone, and no talk of Hybrid or diesel power. It looks like their game plan is extract the maximum efficiency from the 2.5 liter four and not try and address every niche in the marketplace. One chassis statistic worth noting is ground clearance- ground clearance is 6.2 inches, down 1.2 inches from last year. Again we see how much more carlike the RAV4 has become.

 There are no surprises when you turn the key. The RAV4 is smooth, comfortable, and above all, carlike. There are no rough edges remaining. The engine is Toyota smooth, of course, and adequately powerful. The six speed automatic is by far the most entertaining in Sport mode, and there are genuine differences in its behavior when ECO is selected. The seats are supportive and comfortable, the handling is predicable and the ride is smooth. It would be an excellent choice for a cross country adventure.

 I did have the opportunity to take the AWD offroad briefly and it seemed competent, but bear in mind we were in Scottsdale and not Moab and this little cruiser is more suited for climbing the Beverly Hills. It's pretty evident under hard acceleration that it's a four cylinder car, and in those moments you'll click your heels together and wish for a Turbo variant, but otherwise it's quite smooth and effortless. The steering is noteworthy because although I generally hate electronic power steering, the engineers at Toyota have managed to increase feedback into the system (remember when we used to call it road feel?) and the result is an electronic system that isn't a trip down Novocaine Lane.

 To sum it up. the car that created the compact crossover craze has finally crossed over. Think of it as a tall, fuel efficient car that will haul all of the drag bags you can throw at it. It's strongest suits are a luxuriously appointed interior and Toyota reliability. Priced from $24,145 for the base LE to $29,255 for an AWD Limited, it should give the new kids on the block a run for their money.

2013 Toyota RAV4
5 Passenger FWD/ AWD Crossover
Powertrain: 2.5 Liter 4 Cyl. VVT, 6 Speed Automatic Transmission
Fuel Economy- 24/31 FWD, 22/29 AWD
Base Price Range- $24,145 LE/ $29,255 Limited AWD
Suspension F/R- Ind/ Trailing Arm
Wheels 17"/17" Steel (LE), 17'/17" alloy (XLE), 18'/18' alloy (Limited)
Brakes: disc/disc f/r with ABS
Must have features: Upscale interior, standard back up cam, legendary reliability

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Little Red Corvette

The big news out of the Detroit Auto Show on Sunday night was the reveal of the long awaited 2014 Corvette Stingray. Why don't you just go ahead and watch: