2013 Toyota RAV4 review:

New RAV4 suffers death by a thousand squeaks

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Display audio Entune
Entune apps add Web-connected functionality via your smartphone's data connection. Josh Miller/CNET

Speaking of those Entune audio apps, you'll need to have Toyota's Entune app for Android or iOS running on a paired smartphone to access your Pandora or iHeartRadio stations. I can understand requiring the app to pipe destinations, fuel prices, and weather into the dashboard, but needing to use Entune for those third-party audio apps was just a bit annoying. Almost every other automaker to offer Pandora integration does so by hooking directly into the Pandora app's built-in integration API. Toyota's decision to require its own secondary app means that you won't be able to listen to a friend's sweet radio station when giving him or her a lift.

Furthermore, Entune apps and services are free for the first three years of ownership, but I'm not excited about the possibility of paying $5 per month for the privilege of using Pandora via my data plan that I'm already paying for.

The Display Audio system also features voice command that works fairly well. Calls can be initiated quickly and easily once your paired Bluetooth phone has synced its address book. Additionally, you can input addresses in one go, including street name, number, city, and state without being forced to wade through individual prompts. The voice command system's Achilles' heel is that it is slow. For the first minute or so of each trip, pressing the voice button caused a "Voice Command not available" notification to fill the screen, while the software presumably loaded itself. Additionally, it could take the system nearly an entire minute to recognize a spoken address -- not embarrassingly slow, but an eternity when compared with, for example, my Android smartphone's voice search.

I shouldn't overlook the standard audio system that is also added as part of this technology package, because it sounds quite good and gets very loud. The 6-speaker system sacrifices just a hair of bass clarity in exchange for loudness at the upper reaches of its volume range, giving drum kicks and thumps a slight raw sound, but not obnoxiously so. For most genres of music played at moderate volumes, you likely won't even notice the distortion, so I have no qualms about recommending this stereo. I'm sure the available 11-speaker JBL GreenEdge system sounds even better thanks to its inclusion of a subwoofer.

Finally, our full tech suite includes a Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) system that illuminates small amber LEDs in the side mirrors when another vehicle is detected in the blind spots to either side of the RAV4. The same sonar sensors that feed the BSM also serve as a Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA) system when reversing, notifying the driver of vehicles approaching from the sides and preventing you from backing into a T-bone. Both systems are a nice complement to the standard rear camera.

Potent 2.5-liter power train
I've nitpicked the RAV4's tech and interior appointment, but I've got nothing but praise for the power train, the heart of which is Toyota's 2.5-liter, inline four-cylinder engine. Output is stated at 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque by way of of direct injection and variable valve timing technologies.

2.5-liter inline four
Toyota's 2.5-liter engine offers a very good blend of usable power and efficiency. Josh Miller/CNET

This engine features good, meaty low-end torque that gets the RAV4 off of the line quickly. At city speeds and when highway cruising, the RAV4 feels potent and fairly zippy for porky little crossover and I was pleased with its performance. There's not enough steam in the upper reaches of the tachometer for a good 0-60 time, but that's not really the point, is it?

Power leaves the engine via a six-speed ECT-i (Electronically Controlled Automatic Transmission with Intelligence) en route to the front wheels. This gearbox changes cogs so smoothly that you'd swear it was a CVT. Slap the shift lever into the Sport or manual shift programs to hold each gear just a bit longer, for slightly better acceleration.

The RAV4 also features Sport and ECO drivetrain modes that further adjust the throttle mapping of the accelerator pedal to increase responsiveness (Sport) or lighten your lead foot for better efficiency (ECO).

The EPA estimates that, as configured, the 2013 RAV4 will do 24 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, with a combined average of 26 mpg. I used the crossover to haul my belongings to a new apartment and to haul carpoolers back and forth across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in moderate to heavy traffic. With this mix of reasonably loaded city and highway miles, I averaged 22.2 mpg.

In sum
It'll run you $23,300 to get off of the lot with a base LE trim level, but the 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited comes much better equipped for $27,010. We've also added $1,030 to get the Entune and Navigation, $500 more for the the safety features, and $845 for destination fees. That'll bring you to our as-tested price of $29,385.

That's not a bad deal for a well-equipped crossover with a great power train and a thoughtfully designed interior. It compares favorably with Honda's CRV EX-L with navigation, going blow-for-blow where tech, power, and amenities are concerned.

But if the 2013 RAV4 is a good deal, then the 2013 Ford Escape Titanium is a great one. Sure, the MyFord Touch infotainment is a bit buggy, but I found no more frustrating than Toyota's system, and more smartly organized. More importantly, the Ford Escape has a lot more power yet similar fuel efficiency from its 2.0L turbocharged engine; its power liftgate can be opened by wiggling your foot beneath the bumper; and its Active Park Assist system will automatically find a properly sized space and parallel-park the crossover for you. The Escape's leather seats are real leather (not SofTex) and the dashboard doesn't squeak when you go over a bump.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is a fine choice and a good value, but if you're after the best in this class, I think it's worth it to pay a bit more for the Ford.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Toyota RAV4
Trim Limited FWD
Power train 2.5L, inline 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 24 city, 31 highway, 26 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy 22.2 mpg
Navigation optional Entune Display Audio Navigation
Bluetooth phone support standard for hands-free calling and audio
Disc player single-slot CD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection for iPod and mass storage, Bluetooth audio streaming
Other digital audio SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system 6-speaker standard audio
Driver aids standard rearview camera, optional Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert
Base price $27,010
Price as tested $29,385

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