When Toyota first ventured into the ‘cute-ute’ market, the RAV4 was small, agile, maneuverable, and cute. It had a sassy style about it that appealed to many who didn’t need a vehicle with authentic off-road credentials. It was classed as a truck, and those early models didn’t even have a proper rear bumper.
Fast forward to today, and RAV4 is a key vehicle in the Toyota line-up. Built right here in Ontario, Toyota has grown the RAV4 along with its market. It’s much larger than the original and has a multiplicity of features of which that first model couldn’t even dream. But it has stayed true to its roots as a smaller sport utility that provides the security of all-wheel drive when the on-road going gets tough.
Toyota has dropped the V6 version of the RAV4, similar to the way many manufacturers are downsizing engines to reduce weight and improve fuel economy. RAV4 trades its 179 horsepower four cylinder engine found in the 2012 version for a 176 horsepower iteration of essentially the same motor. Torque remains the same at 172 foot-pounds. Coupled with a new 6-speed automatic (up from a 4-speed in 2012), fuel economy increases with RAV4’s slightly smaller exterior dimensions. Think of it as downsizing in the same neighbourhood.
RAV4 comes essentially in three flavours: LE and XLE offering front and all-wheel drive, and the range topping Limited in AWD only. The swinging refrigerator rear door is gone, replaced with a conventional liftback hatch. Eight air bags will help keep occupants safe, and a range of technology features including Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Alert, Blind Spot Monitor, Automatic High Beam System and a Back-up Camera will please the technophiles.
I can’t imagine many customers will choose the base LE. The interior is filled with vast swathes of light and dark-toned plastic and despair. Faux carbon fibre trim tries to sport-up the interior with mixed results. The door armrests can almost be called padded. The LE will make it easy for sales consultants to walk prospective buyers up the model food chain to the XLE and Limited models, where things become much easier on the eyes. The two-tone plastic gives way to two-tone soft touch padded ‘SofTex’ (read – man-made cow) on the dash and contrasting colours for the seats. This is a far more successful look than the base vehicle’s cloth interior. Compare the photos of the interior of the ‘white/black’ versus the ‘Terra Cotta’ interior featuring SofTex. We’re seeing a gradual retreat from the use of leather seating surfaces in mainstream vehicles. Mercedes-Benz has featured M-B Tex in their vehicles for years, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between real leather and the synthetic version.
Toyota continues to put their cruise controls on a stalk, giving the steering wheel over to audio and telephone voice controls. The centre padded dash slightly obscures the sight-line to the seat heater and sport mode buttons, but these aren’t used often, and the audio and primary heating controls are rightly placed high on the dash, minimizing driver distraction.
The cargo area is spacious. The rear seats fold virtually flat to accommodate large loads. Convenient tie-down loops can be used to further secure cargo.
On the outside, a character line helps break up the upper window light and lower door area. The chin fascia gives RAV4 an uplifted, aggressive look. The RAV4’s rear roofline tapers down, but doesn’t seem to affect cargo space or headroom, and the slope lessens the ‘two box’ cubic look of sport utilities. Wheel fender mouldings and large plastic rocker panels also lighten RAV4’s profile.
Let’s have a look how RAV4 does against CR-V. First, we’ll look at what’s common between the vehicles:
The emphasis on safety is obvious. Notice how many standard safety features are found on each vehicle. A glaring omission is the lack of active front head restraints as common between the two vehicles. These head restraints are built to pivot to cushion a person’s head snapping backwards in a rear collision. Studies show that these head restraints can reduce the severity of injury by 30% or more. Now, let’s look at the differences between these two vehicles.
Even with a $555 MSRP disadvantage, RAV4 more than overcomes the pricing difference with a whopping $2,787 in additional features over CR-V. Visible value is everywhere in RAV4: 6-speed automatic transmission (vs 5), manual mode shift feature (vs none), power driver’s seat (vs manual seat), intelligent key system (vs conventional keyless remote), sunvisor extensions and a power rear liftgate (vs manual), and more. One interesting RAV4 feature is the front passenger seat cushion air bag. It inflates to keep the front passenger from sliding forward and to help position the passenger properly in the event of a frontal collision. Let’s hope it’s never needed. RAV4 does include the anti-whiplash head restraints. CR-V is equipped with front seats that have specific spring range settings in the seat cushion and seat back. Speaking from the point of view of someone that survived a very nasty hit from the rear in a vehicle equipped with active head restraints, you’d be hard pressed to find me driving a vehicle without them. I haven’t seen any data yet on how the CR-V’s seats perform in a rear collision.
And, the rest of the story.
In addition to being a little bit larger all around than CR-V, yet having a smaller footprint than last year’s RAV4, Toyota has repackaged RAV4 into a bigger on the inside, smaller on the outside vehicle. With a clear value advantage, Honda loyalists will be hard pressed to ignore the feature-packed RAV4 when it’s time to retire their CR-Vs.