How do you update the model that started the whole small car-based SUV craze? If you're Toyota and you're updating the RAV4, you keep the successful basic recipe but tweak the ingredients.
Some of the changes are welcomed, like the elimination of the side-hinged tailgate and the outside-mounted spare tire. The move from a dated four-speed automatic transmission to a six-speed automatic is also a plus. Same goes for the addition of a standard backup camera.
But there's a disappointing change: the optional V6 engine is gone. We loved the blend of smooth, easy power along with fuel economy on par with some four-cylinders. Maybe dropping the V6 was an early gift to Subaru, who will again offer a potent turbocharged four-cylinder in their redesigned Forester. Ford likewise benefits, competing with a three-tier Escape powertrain line up.
Driving the new RAV4 feels rather familiar. With firmer suspension, it feels more tied down yet still compliant. Cornering is relatively nimble with quick turn-in response and an even-keel attitude. The unobtrusive six-speed tranny contributes to swifter
The driver's seat is well shaped, but we wish the XLE had lumbar adjustment. There is a nice trim treatment across the dash on XLEs and Limited, but it's hard to miss the black hard-plastic door latch next to it. The audio system is clear, and we found it easy to use for pairing phones and streaming Bluetooth audio.
We can't wait to see which small SUV tops our scoring: the new RAV4, the redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester, the Honda CR-V, or the Ford Escape, which brings a uniquely substantial and athletic feel to the class, along with its steep price tag.
For more on the RAV4, check out our first drive video below. We'll be buying a RAV4 soon to fully test at the Consumer Reports test track.
Also, check out the RAV4 in our New Car Preview for more info and photos.
All-new 2013 Toyota RAV4, the most significant car of the LA Auto Show?
More from Consumer Reports:
2013 New Car Preview
Best & worst used cars
Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks
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