The fourth generation of what Toyota says was "the world's original small crossover SUV" when it rolled out 16 years ago, was a big event -- a redo of one of the four core products for the world's largest automaker. And it has been seven years since the last redesign, a period in which nearly all its rivals have rolled out flashy new models.
While Toyota describes the model as more exciting in style, most still will find it more conservative than other recent redesigns, such as Ford's Escape, Kia's Sportage and the new Mazda CX-5.
Among highlights is that the RAV4 finally has a traditional liftgate (with power available) and a donut spare under the cargo floor, rather than the side-opening door (and the spare tire still on it in some versions). It was among the last to have such a door and spare tire arrangement.
"The RAV4 almost literally removed a monkey off its back by doing away with the spare tire hanging off its rear. What's left is a sleeker, modern vehicle that competes much better with rivals in a small SUV segment whose market share has nearly doubled in the last ten years. And since small SUVs are often cross-shopped against midsize sedans, Toyota now has a stronger alternative for hesitant Camry shoppers," said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell after the reveal.
But the age of the older model may have shown most in the interior and the new one has gotten substantial upgrades, with much of that work done at Toyota's California design center. The interior looks upgraded and more competitive with the current state of the class, with details such as soft-touch materials on the dash, nicer trim and upgraded lighting.
The engine is the carried-over 2.5-liter four, but now to a modern six-speed automatic rather than the outdated four-speed. The combination will rated, says Toyota, at 31 mpg on the highway, an increase of 2 mpg. with front-drive and 24 in the city. AWD models will be 29/22.
The V-6 option is dropped -- "The mid-size Highlander is available if you want more power," said Toyota U.S. sales head Jim Lentz at the reveal.
The new model gets a new available all-wheel drive system that will be its first with dynamic torque control that automatically shifts from two-wheel drive to four when needed, and also will shift power to the rear wheels to enhance performance in cornering. It also has the ability to lock in power to all four wheels below 25 mph in tough situations, such as sand, mud or snow.
- Sport and Eco modes that adjust throttle and transmission response for more fun or more mpg's.
- The number of trims is cut to three: LE, XLE and Limited.
- Navigation will be available on most models - you won't need to bump up to the top trim to order it.
- All models get a backup camera and 6.1-inch dash screen. Smartphone integration is now standard and Toyota's new Entune communications system is an option.
- Safety upgrades also include eight air bags and blind spot and rear cross-traffic sensors.
- The rear seat is a narrower and has an inch less legroom, but now will recline. Total cargo space is about the same at 73.3 cubic feet, at the top end for the class.
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)