Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

December 8, 2013

Cargazing: RAV4 gets upgrade as popularity grows

During the press launch of the new RAV4 earlier this year, Toyota officials said they forecast sales of their redesigned small utility would surpass the 200,000 mark.

Guess what? If present trends continue, they will not only reach their lofty goal but surpass it. Not bad for the compact SUV segment competing with the likes of Honda’s CRV, KIA’s Sportage, the Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape.

Hedging their bet, Toyota throws in two years or 25,000 miles of scheduled maintenance for the RAV4, making the compact utility more attractive than most of its competition. The coverage is included in the purchase for all three trim levels available — LE, XLE and Limited — with base prices ranging from $22,300 to $27,010, respectively.

Big changes for this fourth generation RAV4 year include a more fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine powering a new six-speed transmission. The previous V6 engine is gone, along with the exterior rear spare tire, a long-time component of the RAV4 look.

During a week of city and interstate travel, the XLE model handled all sorts of driving conditions with ease. The tuned 2.5-liter engine performed like a six cylinder with ample power for passing on interstates, although it was strained going up steep grades.

Fuel consumption was on target with EPA estimates — a rare occurrence with a lot of four-cylinder engines. Sport mode delivers a more spirited driving experience, while Eco mode slows gearing and overall performance for better fuel economy.

Road noise was minimal under power due in part to a new acoustic windshield filled with special materials between two glass panes. A backup camera is standard along with a 6.1-inch touch screen for climate, audio and navigation controls.

I found the navigation system lacking in functionality and audio prompts compared with previous Toyota systems. A reduced screen size and display also hinder its operation.

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