2013 Toyota RAV4 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 29, 2013

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 excels at mass-market talents like gas mileage and interior room--but for turbocharged fun in a crossover, you'll have to look elsewhere.

The Toyota RAV4 was not only one of the original crop of compact crossovers brought into the world in the mid-1990s; it's been one of the best-selling ones ever since then. But with redesigned versions of the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, it's time for some major change for the RAV4. And for 2013, it has arrived.

While the 2013 Toyota RAV4 has gained some ground in tuning in with what shoppers in this segment want today; it's also lost some features along the way--namely, its available third-row seat and its optional six-cylinder engine.

In short—literally—the Toyota RAV4 leaves room for the larger Highlander, and plants its feet even more firmly in the compact category this time around the subdivision. It also dumps its outdated automatic transmissions, and mixes in more safety and entertainment gear. On the whole, it's more efficient and a little more enthusiastic in its daily chores, with more room than the perky Escape and more alert road manners than the CR-V, though not vice versa.

It's simple to tell whether you're looking at a new RAV4: check out the rear. Older models had a tailgate-mounted spare tire, but this year it's gone, put where all other crossovers have it, under the cargo floor. That plus the gentle migration of the body to a more hatchback-style flow, and to a lower stance, pitch the RAV4 headlong into the lookalike bin filled with the Escape, the Santa Fe, even the subtler Mazda CX-5. The Toyota does a better job than the Escape at putting a carlike face on a taller wagon body, but doesn't win all day like the Mazda at wrapping its rear end seductively in glass and metal. The RAV4's tailgate is its sore thumb: the taillamps are pointy and shelf out, all in the name of meeting safety regulations. There's some discord in the cockpit too--not in the clash of lines and surfaces, but in the plastics that form them. It's rare we like cheaper plastic better, but too many kinds of trim turn us away from the Limited and its synthetic leather, and toward the more durable, less complicated-looking RAV4 LE.

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It's a case of give and take in performance, where the RAV4 gives up its V-6 aspirations for better, more carlike handling. There's only a 176-horsepower four-cylinder under the hood now, but it's saved by a six-speed automatic with a sport-shift mode and a 0-60 mph time in the acceptable range (under 9 seconds). Smoother than it is swift, the drivetrain doesn't get in the way often, but never spurs the urge to drive more as we've felt in the latest Ford Escape. Revamped suspension tuning lets the RAV4 ride lower, and electric power steering has good weighting and centering feel. The choice at hand is whether to stand by the front-drive versions and their slightly lower curb weight, or opt for the upgraded, $1400 all-wheel-drive system, which not only locks the rear wheels in line in foul weather, but delivers some torque back there when the RAV4 tacks into a sweeping corner.  Whatever the choice, avoid the Eco mode button--it's called that because "joy extinguisher" wouldn't fit--and we'd stick with the 17-inch tires on LE and XLE versions for a more absorbent ride.

It's not much larger than before, but passengers will feel better attended to in the 2013 RAV4. On base versions, there's an inexpensive fabric and less supportive seats, but neither's a deal-breaker. The XLE model has more firmly bolstered seats and nicer fabrics we wish were standard across the board. On Limiteds there's a synthetic leather trim that's appealing from a few feet away, but feels shiny, if you'll give us a pass on the synesthesia. No matter where you're sitting, the RAV4 provides more space than the Escape; it's on par with the CR-V, though the back bench is less supportive and its flip/fold mechanism one step shy on slickness. Cargo space is excellent, though in-cabin storage is less than expected, and there's a power tailgate on the Limited.

The RAV4 ups its safety ante with eight airbags as standard equipment, including knee airbags. Also standard across the board: Bluetooth and a rearview camera. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are available on the top trim level. Safety ratings are top-notch for the most part, but they're sullied a bit by a single 'Poor' rating in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test.

Among other features, the base RAV4 LE also comes with power locks, windows, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and an AM/FM/CD player controlled through a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen. The XLE adds dual-zone automatic climate control; a sunroof; and fog lights, to which the Limited adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Major options on the RAV4 include navigation on the XLE and Limited, with Entune app connectivity and satellite radio; and on the Limited, a JBL audio system with 576 watts of power and 11 speakers.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 carries a base price of $24,145 on the LE model. We'd choose it, or the $25,135 XLE, with or without all-wheel drive, and leave the Limited for the few who have to pay $27,855 for a power driver seat and those 18-inch wheels. Knowing the RAV4's core audience, the decider could well end up being satellite radio and navigation: they're unavailable on the LE, an option on the XLE. Choose well--or at least, choose your smartphone substitute well.

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2013 Toyota RAV4

Styling

Like the Escape? The Santa Fe Sport? The new RAV4 touches the same styling bases, and it's mostly a good deal.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 has shuffled its powertrain and seating, but change doesn't just come from within. The RAV4's appealing new body is the latest in a string of new Toyotas (like the Avalon sedan) that have taken some interesting styling turns.

This time, the RAV4 drops the last trace of any SUV realness it once had--the tailgate-mounted spare tire--and fairs in a new set of cues that aren't shy about borrowing from Toyota's best-looking crossover, the Venza. The RAV4 has a real underbite, and the nose has the same sharp corners and taut fender lines. The usual kick to the rear roof pillar rests on a muscular shoulder so pronounced, it could have come from a Volvo. It's not entirely a win--pointy taillamps sit high like the ones on a Scion xD--but it's a long way down the runway from the amorphous, anodyne first-gen RAV4.

The cockpit flips through some classic 1980s Toyota catalogs. The gauges have a Tercel-like simplicity, and the gimbaled vents are pure, early MR2. Look right, and the big LCD screen and pushbutton start on high-end models are plainly trimmed--not flanked by wide planks of silver-painted plastic. Top models even sport two-tone, stitched and padded upholstery across the midline, in what looks like the most tasteful cabin in the segment in photos, but renders a little differently in person, where the actual materials are more obviously a lower-cost way to dress up the design.

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2013 Toyota RAV4

Performance

Without a more powerful option at hand, the four-cylinder RAV4 slugs it out with the un-nymph-like CR-V while other turbo crossovers scoot away with top honors.

The 2013 RAV4 loses its six-cylinder option and straight-line performance is just adequate, but it handles better than before, and its all-wheel-drive system makes a play for drivers who don't just need all-weather traction.

A 2.5-liter four with 176 horsepower is now the only engine offered on the RAV4. The former 3.5-liter, 269-hp V-6 option's been omitted this time, probably to give Toyota more logical room between the RAV4 and the larger Venza. Toyota pegs its 0-60 mph talents at 8.9 seconds, about two seconds quicker than before--primarily because there's now a six-speed automatic standard, geared low in first and second for urban driving and geared high in fifth and sixth for overdrive.

The four-cylinder itself is smooth enough--and helped along by better acoustic damping inside the car--but the transmission's programming really, really wants you to get into the overdrive gears quickly, where it can lock up its torque converter for maximum efficiency. The RAV4 squirts off the line from a full stop--and then flicks quickly to third and fourth even in urban driving, dropping into a low-rpm lull just as soon as it can. It's a little better in Sport mode, where the transmission smooths those quicker shifts by blipping the throttle. You'll learn to ignore Eco mode, which puts so much lag into downshifts, we left it off for most of our driving day.

Gas mileage is estimated at 24/31 mpg on front-drive models, and 22/29 mpg on all-wheel-drive models. Last year's four-cylinder topped out at 22/28 mpg, for comparison.

Front-wheel drive is the RAV4's native configuration. The optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) system uses electronic control to send power rearward when slippage in front is detected, and offers a true 50/50 fixed power split at up to 25 mph in 4WD Lock mode. It's an evolution of the system on the old version, with a new electromagnetic coupling that sends torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected, and in Sport mode, does so when cornering to improve handling. For foul weather, the Lock feature gives predictable levels of traction, but in Sport mode, the system shifts 10 to 50 percent of its torque to the rear to tighten corners. It's not a tremendous effect, and there's nothing so exotic as torque vectoring, but adds to the RAV4's more composed feel.

Sport mode also adds more weight to the RAV4's electric power steering. Toyota's become more adept at tuning its systems, and in the RAV4 there's good on-center tracking and stability and less resistance to returning to center--and in Sport mode, less assist, for a heavier feel if you want it.

Most versions have the kind of ride quality you'd expect from a compact crossover, but the 17-inch tires standard on LE and XLE models do a better job of providing comfort; the 18-inchers on the Limited serve up more tire thump, tire noise, and a slightly rougher ride. The RAV4's front-strut and rear control-arm suspension doesn't have as much travel as, say, the bigger Chevy Equinox or Hyundai Santa Fe, and it shows when the RAV4 goes for limited excursions on gravel roads, where uneven surfaces are the rule, not the exception. There's just 6.3 inches of ground clearance beneath, after all--what, you were expecting an SUV?

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2013 Toyota RAV4

Comfort & Quality

There's great space inside the two-row RAV4 and shapely front seats on some models--but the back bench falls flat, and interior trim has some issues.

The new RAV4 isn't significantly larger than before, but redesigned seats carve out a little more rear-seat leg room, Toyota says.

By the numbers, the new RAV4 is almost identical to the outgoing version. It's 179.9 inches long overall, and rides on a 104.7-inch wheelbase, and sits 72.6 inches wide and 65.4 inches high. Compared to the likes of the Escape and CR-V, it's very close to the Honda in footprint, while the Escape is shorter outside, and longer between the wheels.

On all versions of the new RAV4, the driver seat has six-way adjustments. Above the base trim level, the RAV4 gets a more sculpted seat with better fabric--and if there were a way to put these seats in the base RAV4, we'd take it. They proved comfortable for a few hours of mixed driving, and the texture and weave looked more durable than the plainer, lighter-colored weave in the base vehicle. The driving position is agreeably carlike, but the standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel doesn't extend as far as it could--it's one way of ensuring good crash performance, but as with the Avalon sedan, it leaves us reaching a bit for a good grip.

On the most expensive versions, the driver seat gets power adjustment and memory functions and lumbar adjustment; the front passengers get heated seats; and all seats are upholstered in synthetic leather. The SofTex synthetic doesn't do nearly as good a job at convincing us as the man-made stuff in a VW Passat, but the front seats still offer the right support.

In outright room and ease of entry, the RAV4's back seat is on par with the Honda CR-V. The seats recline, and fold forward with the flip of a lever--and the doors are cut tall and wide, so it's easy for taller passengers to slide in (the RAV4 sits about an inch lower than before, and seats are positioned lower inside the vehicle as well). The catch: the back seat's bottom cushions are board-flat, without much tilt, and spec out better than they feel.

Missing from all of this? The RAV4's former third-row seat. It's been dropped from this iteration, so the bigger three-row Highlander can have more room to breathe. it won't be missed much, since it was so small to begin with.

The back seat splits and folds on all versions to open up the RAV4's cargo bin from 38.4 cubic feet to 73.4 cubic feet. That cargo space is more easily accessed than before, since the new model no longer has a tailgate-mounted spare and a side-hinged rear door. It's now a conventional top-hinged door, and the spare's sunk under the cargo floor. A power liftgate is standard on the Limited, and it can be programmed for a specific opening height--up high for taller drivers, down low for the petites.

The RAV4's cabin is a mishmash of textures and grains. We counted at least seven different finishes inside the top Limited edition, including its SofTex vinyl upholstery, which has a sheen that doesn't give the impression up close that it delivers in photos. Side by side, the more durable-looking, rubberized dash trim in the base LE might be a better choice--it'll never rip, at least. That Limited cabin isn't a downfall, exactly, but its half-dozen plastic trims and textures don't pair well with the handful of empty blanks on the console for switches that don't exist.

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2013 Toyota RAV4

Safety

The RAV4 has a mixed bag of crash-test results, but Bluetooth and a rearview camera are now standard.

At the surface, the safety ratings for the 2013 Toyota RAV4 look in the top tier among crossovers. But this is one of the cases where a little research is a good thing, as one of the latest, discerning crash tests reveals that the RAV4 might not have quite the same occupant protection level as some other top-performing models in this class, like the Subaru Forester.

The all-new Toyota RAV4 received safety ratings of "Good" across the board from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in that agency's carry-over tests–for frontal, side, and rear impact, along with roof strength; but in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test, which simulates the offset frontal collision with a tree or pole, the RAV4 doesn't do nearly as well—with 'Poor' results that indicate a higher likelihood of injury. To contrast, the Forester achieves the top 'Good' rating in that new test.

In NHTSA's tests, the RAV4 received four out of five stars for frontal impacts, five stars for side impacts, and four out of five stars for rollovers. The overall NHTSA score was four out of five stars.

Otherwise, the RAV4 ups its safety ante with eight airbags as standard equipment, including knee airbags. Also standard across the board: Bluetooth and a rearview camera. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are available on the top trim level.

All-wheel drive is an option on any trim level for $1400.

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2013 Toyota RAV4

Features

The basic RAV4 LE doesn't skimp on fun features, but if you want Entune and GPS, you'll have to spend up to the XLE or Limited.

There's more standard equipment on this year's Toyota RAV4, and without major powertrain differences, the base $24,145 LE model can be the only RAV4 you need.

It comes with power locks, windows, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and an AM/FM/CD player with a USB port, all controlled through a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen. Without an option for satellite radio or navigation, the RAV4 LE will depend on your smartphone--and a good mounting bracket--for directions and entertainment, but that's an easily acceptable solution for many drivers.

All RAV4s also offer Bluetooth and a rearview camera as standard equipment.

The $25,135 XLE adds dual-zone automatic climate control; a sunroof; and fog lights.

The $27,855 Limited adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a SofTex synthetic-leather material on its seats and even on a trim panel extending across the dash. It also gets a power driver seat, heated front seats, a power tailgate that can be programmed at different opening heights, and pushbutton start.

Major options on the RAV4 include navigation on the XLE and Limited, with Entune app connectivity and satellite radio; and on the Limited, a JBL audio system with 576 watts of power and 11 speakers. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are available on the top trim level. All-wheel drive is an option on any model, for $1,400.

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2013 Toyota RAV4

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage has improved with this year's Toyota RAV4; it's on par with the CR-V at 31 mpg highway.

By Toyota's estimates, the 2013 RAV4 crossover will earn significantly better gas mileage than older models.

In part, that's because the four-cylinder models have upgraded their outdated four- and five-speed automatics for six-speed units. The RAV4's engine is essentially unchanged from the 2012 version, and the vehicle itself is nearly the size of the one it replaces.

The estimates for fuel economy come in at 24 miles per gallon city, and 31 mpg on the highway cycle with front-wheel-drive models. Adding all-wheel drive lowers the gas mileage to 22/29 mpg. These numbers are preliminary, and haven't yet been published by the EPA. We'll update any information from the agency as it is made available.

As it stands, the numbers are roughly equal to those of the Honda CR-V, but fall somewhat behind those affirmed by Ford for its 2013 Escape in its most efficient versions.

Last year's four-cylinder RAV4 topped out at 22/28 mpg, for comparison; the V-6 version is no longer available.

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April 28, 2015
2013 Toyota RAV4 FWD 4-Door Limited (SE)

BEST CAR, JUST LOVE TO DRIVE IT

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I LOVE ALL THE FEATURES OF THE CAR. I USED TO DRIVE A TRUCK AND SUBURAN, I MISS BEING ABLE TO SEE OVER ALL THE CARS BUT THE MIRRORS AND AND THE BACK UP CAMERA ARE GREAT. THE BEST PASSENGER SEAT I HAVE EVER HAD... + More »
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April 14, 2015
For 2013 Toyota RAV4

Very disappointed with this my third RAV4

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The 2013 edition of the RAV4 finally removed the irritation of the right side hinged tail door. It now comes with a upswing rear tail gate which is good but no longer provides a full sized spare tire. I cannot... + More »
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April 13, 2015
For 2013 Toyota RAV4

Very Pleased with the Rav4

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Like the design,its peppy for my wife and I. No complaints with 20,000 miles.The only nock there is poor visibility in the rear.Yes its got a back up camera,but the Forester seems to have solved the issue.
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