Toyota introduced the fourth-generation RAV4 without much fanfare. That modesty belies the RAV4's importance as the model that successfully created the blueprint in the 1990s for small car-based SUVs and continues to lead the charge today.
Toyota's 2.5-liter four-cylinder will be the sole engine delivering 176 horsepower, a touch less than found in the outgoing model. Gone is the optional V6 engine. (This is a shame, as the 2012 RAV4 V6 could nearly match the four-cylinder in fuel economy, while delivering 90 more horsepower.) The automatic transmission is now a six-speed unit instead of the old four-speed box.
A rearview camera is now standard, an almost essential item for any SUV. Credit actually goes to Honda for being the first in the segment to make it standard on the latest CR-V.
The outgoing RAV4 grew in size to accommodate an optional third-row seat. As a result, it lost some of its handling agility that characterized the first and second generations. Like the exterior-mounted spare tire, the third-row seat option is gone. Hopefully these changes help return the RAV4's agility and fun-to-drive nature that made the original version so special. We will find out soon enough when we buy our own RAV4 in January.
See our complete 2012 LA Auto Show coverage.
More from Consumer Reports:
2013 New Car Preview
Best & worst used cars
Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on Yahoo!. Copyright © 2007-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.