2013 Toyota RAV-4 Limited AWD first drive review: The next generation, spice added

202013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

It’s a given that Toyota buyers do so for quality and reliability. The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is one way how Toyota hopes to change that. Not, of course, by reducing Toyota’s reputation for being reliable and having a good retained value, but by adding spice and pizzazz.

To wit: By 2012, the third generation RAV4 had become rather ordinary  in a herd of compact crossover SUV models increasingly slick, enough so that including “SUV” in their class designation has become no longer accurate.

Indeed, Toyota slicked up the fourth generation of RAV4, just going on the market now as a 2013 model. Instead of a fairly mundane and aesthetically safe styling, Toyota designers beveled the corners and applied headlight clusters that extend halfway back on the front fenders towards the windshield. The grille is angled back from a Mercedes-like proboscis while a matte charcoal panel sweeps up from under the front.

interior of the test 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited

The interior of the test 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited is finished in gray with Adobe accents.

The profile is sleeker, too, tapering rearward from a high point over the driver’s head at an angle three clicks from a fastback. The charcoal panel up front continues over the wheel arches and along the rocker panels to buff up the 2013 Toyota RAV4’s image and is used for the rear bumper as well. Like the headlights, the taillights taper towards the center of the liftgate and up along and even atop the rear fenders.

And that’s “liftgate,” with power operation standard on the Limited model. The outgoing RAV4 had a door hinged on the right side with the spare tire mounted on it. Not only was it inconvenient—trying opening it with someone parked closely behind, and then take something to the curb on the right side—it also put weight up high at the rear, not the best for handling. And it’s hardly sleek, more like a giant wart on the RAV4’s behind.

The centerstack of the 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited 6.1-inch touch-sceen multi-information distplay.

Centerstack of the 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited

The roof rack is standard—often an option on competitors—and so is the rear spoiler—and ditto for it.

Last year’s interior was serviceable but, at least compare to that of the 2013 RAV4, mundane. Which is another way of saying the new RAV4 is stylish, with an organic look right out of Infiniti’s playbook. The theme is horizontal, the center stack no longer stacked but mounted and laid on a rounded shelf. In the LE model—which Toyota insists is not a “base” model, more about which later—this is made of a rubbery plastic with molded stitching, like the last-forever softballs you played with in gym. The top-of-the-line Limited makes up for it with a leather-like stitched material that, except that it’s not leather, is out of Lexus’ handbook.

Last year’s two-tone interior trim was called “two-tone.” Now it’s “color block.” Whatever, the Adobe and gray of our first-drive 2013 Toyota RAV4 was particularly striking, accenting the larger bolstering of the seats. It’s not leather, but rather an artificial material called “Softex” that might have well been the real thing.

The bigger bolsters are standard on all RAV4 trim levels, thought the fabric of the LE trim level ($23,000) looks particularly, well, base level. The extensive use of soft touch materials across the board is a welcome change.

2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited back seat

The back seat of the 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited back seat is surprisingly room, in part by eliminating the third row seat.

Rear seating room is particularly generous, unlike some other models in this class, with lots of knee room and space under the front seats. The rear seat has belts for three but middle seat has a “riding the hump” contour suitable for short drives only.

The third row seat was eliminated for the 2013 RV4. Only four percent of 2012 RAV4s had the extra seat, so Toyota decided it wasn’t worth the extra expense. And for Toyota crossover buyers who want a third row seat, there’s always the Highlander (for six grand more. But what’s money?).

The rear seatback folds to increase cargo capacity, and in the RAV4, unlike even some much larger SUV models, the cargo floor has an all-but-flat floor, at least flat enough for all practical purposes.

The spare, moved from outside, is now under the floor, offset slightly for a small storage compartment, good enough for stowing a copy of War and Peace.