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2013 Toyota RAV4

Setting oneself apart from the competition is key to success when the market gets crowded—and the new-for-2013 RAV4 works towards that goal in numerous ways.

One of the most apparent of these on your writer’s recent week-long test related to the highway driving experience.

The cabins of some compact crossovers sound like a category 5 hurricane at or just above the highway speed limit, but not here. Even cruising north of 110 km/h, the RAV4 does an admirable job of keeping offending wind noise out of the cabin —largely thanks to a lengthy list of new-for-2013 wind-tunnel tweaks. You can have a conversation with your passengers while travelling at a good clip, without raising your voice or straining to hear. And, if you’re by yourself, all that quiet makes it easy to relax and unwind a little.

The highway ride is sprung somewhere between comfort and sportiness, and proved neither floaty nor overly stiff. If you’re a fan of highway cruising that’s laid back and comfy but not at the all-out expense of responsiveness, you’ll like how this feels.

A number of upscale touches help to set the RAV4 apart

, too. The centerpiece of these is the dashboard. Nowhere else is the RAV4’s attempt to blend upscale touches and functionality more apparent.

Usually, compact crossover dashboards are grey and plain and look and feels like they’re made of melted-down Tupperware plastic. But here, you get stitched leather, contrasting colors and textures and depth surrounding a slick-looking instrument cluster and a bunch of handy storage. It’s very functional, but also, very nice to look at, and even a bit sporty.

When compact crossover shoppers visit their Toyota dealers for a test-drive, this dashboard will make a great first impression.
LED Work Lights
Automatic lights and climate control, for instance, take care of illumination and comfort for the driver, and full multimedia connectivity, including Bluetooth media streaming, was on board. After dark, a few discreet LED spotlights highlight some of the interesting shapes and designs built into the console and dash, and I even spotted a few controls, switches and interfaces from Toyota’s premium ‘Lexus’ brand in here, too.

The JBL sound system is potent and clean and powerful and includes a trunk-mounted subwoofer so your teenagers can share their favorite tunes with those nearby. A control pad on the steering wheel provides quick access to all infotainment functions, and the leather seats are comfy and heated. The driver’s perch is even motorized and offers memory settings.

On the functionality front, drivers get no fewer than a half-dozen cupholders, cubbies and storage compartments within their driver’s immediate reach. Change? Cell phone? Wallet? Sunglasses? Canadian Tire flyer? Camera? Delicious java? The day’s mail? MP3 player and headphones for the gym? There’s room for all of it tucked tidily out of the way.

Notable is the nearly-flat cargo surface enabled by folding the rear seats, which provided generous space for a living room’s worth of Ikea shelves and my weekend baggage. There’s a clever hammock above the cargo floor for safely securing smaller items, too. And, with the seats in their upright position, there’s adequate room for two full-sized adults in the back.

The tailgate is also motorized— opening and closing at the touch of a button on the keyfob, dashboard, or the tailgate itself. Though this handy touch was largely appreciated, opening the tailgate does result in 3 seconds of safety-beeping before it opens, which it does slowly. If you’re trying to load gear quickly while avoiding a downpour, or letting a bloodsucking cloud of mosquitoes inside of the RAV4, you’re out of luck.

Power comes from a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine. The 176-horsepower output is about mid-pack for the segment, and there’s no longer a V6 available because Toyota says you probably don’t want one. Every model gets a six-speed automatic.

I noted decent ground clearance for the trails, as well as a locking mode for the 4x4 system when more traction is needed. They’ve even fitted a ‘sport’ setting that re-works power distribution between the axles, tightens the steering and dials up transmission performance for a more responsive feel. The heavy and stable steering and eager transmission operation enabled by sport mode add a dose of fun-factor, even if overall performance is far from mind blowing.

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