Motoramic

2013 Toyota RAV4 joins the lift-hatch crowd

Aki Sugawara
Motoramic

There's little stopping the sales juggernaut that is the Honda CR-V, which moved over 20,000 units last month. And although the new Ford Escape is nipping at the heels of the top-selling compact SUV from second place, sales of the aging Toyota RAV4 have stagnated over the years, selling about half as many units. Toyota hopes to make a comeback in 2013 with the all-new RAV4, unveiled at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Most shocking—at least for the diehard RAV4 fans—is the rear gate no longer swings sideways, but lifts up like its import counterparts; the spare tire gets tucked underneath the rear cargo area. That also means no third-row seating, but it also has 73.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats stowed, the most in its class.

Looking like a mash-up between the Toyota Camry and a Mitsubishi Outlander, it's visually trimmer and less forgettable than previous models, featuring an integrated spoiler and aerodynamic fender creases. But the busy interior may garner more jeers than cheers, with strong, horizontal dash lines that never quite match up with the door panels. What's especially eye-grabbing is the asymmetrical center console, with the metallic plastic trim only adorning one side. Although Toyota boasts stitched panels and soft-touch materials, in person the ambiance still isn't as refined as a Mazda CX-5.

Then again, the Honda CR-V never won beauty pageants, and ultimately how the RAV4 drives will decide for many. With four-cylinder models accounting for most RAV4s, the 2013 will do without a V-6 option, with just one engine choice making 176 hp. That's nine less than the CR-V, but the engine's paired with a six-speed automatic, which contributes to 24/31 city/highway mileage rating (the CX-5 by comparison makes 25/31).

Toyota hasn't announced prices, but given the competitive market segment, expect prices to start around $23,000 when it goes on sale at the beginning of next year.

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