"That creaking coming from the dashboard is annoying," said my passenger during a spin in the 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited. "It makes me feel like it's poorly made."
The constant squeak coming from a champagne-colored accent panel had been bothering me too, but I hadn't said anything about it. I was largely enjoying the RAV4, impressed by its driving characteristics.
"Maybe it's just cold right now. Maybe it's just a one-off thing," I defended. "Could be any of a dozen reasons. Cars are quirky like that."
"Yeah, dude," my passenger seemed to agree, "I guess so, but this isn't a car; it's a Toyota."
I immediately knew what he meant. I was raised in a Toyota family and have come to expect a high level of fit, finish, and reliability from the brand's vehicles. The Camry, Corolla, and RAV4 may not be the most exciting cars to drive, but hundreds of thousands of miles of experience have taught me that they're well built. A squeaking dashboard on a brand-new RAV4 worried me. By the end of the week, the squeaking and creaking was all that I could hear.
Interior and amenities
Despite that infernal dashboard panel, the rest of the RAV4's interior seemed well sorted out. The cabin was a comfortable place to be, with a seating position that offered a commanding view of the road ahead and, thanks to an open greenhouse, around the vehicle. Despite the squeaking, I'm sure that this is a vehicle that will stand the test of time.
Our RAV4 was a top-tier Limited model that goes beyond the entry LE trim with interior enhancements such as dual-zone climate controls, autodimming rearview mirror, heated front bucket seats, and SofTex trim for all seats and door trim -- SofTex being a nice and modern way of saying leatherette. Our two-tone black and terra-cotta interior color scheme maybe wouldn't be my first choice, but the contrasting colors did add a bit of visual interest to the cabin. Styling, as they say, is subjective.
Meanwhile, the exterior styling distinguishes the Limited from the lesser with color-keyed heated, powered outside mirrors with turn signal indicators; a silver-trimmed lower grille opening; enlarged, 18-inch alloy wheels; roof rails; and fog lamps.
I'm a fan of the new RAV4's profile, which arches up from the windshield to maximize front-row headroom (even when equipped with the optional sunroof), but drops dramatically toward the rear of the vehicle, which helps the crossover avoid the "bubble butt" that most of the class is plagued with. A standard integrated spoiler completes the sporty look. I am a bit sad to see the RAV4's characteristic rear-mounted spare tire and side-hinged rear gate go, but the new design permits a traditional liftgate, which requires less space when opening.
In the case of our Limited model, that liftgate is motorized, raising and lowering at the touch of a button. The motorized hatch's opening angle is adjustable, so drivers who park in low-ceilinged garages need not worry about dinging their paint. The system also features jam protection, which stops and reverses the motion when the liftgate is obstructed. Other convenience features at this trim level include an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with memory function, Smart Key keyless entry and start system, and automatic headlamps.
Dashboard tech powered by Entune
Once you've settled on the 2013 RAV4 Limited, there are only two more option choices available. One is a power train option (which we'll get back to shortly). The other is to choose your cabin tech options package. Three packages are available, adding Entune with Navigation, JBL premium audio, and a selection of active safety options at each tier.
The Display Audio system is standard and features a small 6.1-inch color touch screen on the center stack, which serves as the driver's interaction point with the infotainment options and with the rearview camera that is also added with this package. I found the screen to be a bit low-resolution and highly subject to glare, which at times made viewing it difficult.
Our optional Entune upgrade adds Entune (naturally), navigation, and the ability to interface with a smartphone running the Entune app to bring features such as Bing destination search and Pandora and iHeartRadio streaming to the dashboard, placing these features under a menu called Apps. What's odd is that navigation is also tucked in this Apps menu.
This navigation option isn't an app, it's a traditional navigation system with locally stored maps, address entry, and destination search. It doesn't require the Entune app to function like the rest of the features under the App menu, but by placing navigation there, Toyota makes viewing the map a three-tap affair, rather than a single button press as in most other infotainment systems.
The Display Audio system redeems itself with a good array of available audio sources, including Bluetooth A2DP, CD with MP3 playback, USB for iPod and MP3 mass storage, SiriusXM satellite radio, AM/FM terrestrial radio with HD Radio decoding, 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, and the aforementioned Entune audio-streaming apps.
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.
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.
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.
|Model||2013 Toyota RAV4|
|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|
|Price as tested||$29,385|