The Toyota RAV4 has felt distinctly dated in recent years, but this all-new version promises more space, more equipment and more performance for less money.
Prices start at £22,595 for the 2.0-litre diesel model, which means the new RAV4 not only undercuts its predecessor, but also entry diesel versions of key rivals, including the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5.
The 2.0 D-4D is front-wheel drive and has a six-speed manual gearbox, while the other models in the range are four-wheel drive; there's a 2.2-litre diesel that's available with manual and automatic transmissions, and a 1.9-litre petrol that gets a CVT auto as standard.
What's the 2013 Toyota RAV4 like to drive?
We started in the 2.0-litre diesel, and while it’s nowhere near as powerful as entry-level diesel versions of the CR-V and CX-5, it picks up eagerly enough from low revs and is reasonably flexible.
Where it falls down a bit is refinement, because the engine transmits vibration into the cabin and starts to sound gruff if you push it beyond 3000rpm. In fact, it doesn't really like to rev at all; it's out of puff before you hit 4000rpm.
This is also a problem if you go for the 2.2-litre diesel. To make matters worse, this engine is noisier than the 2.0, and it forces you to chop up and down the gears more often because it's flatter at the bottom of the rev range.
Whichever model you choose, you'll notice wind noise from around the door mirrors when you're on the motorway. However, this is less of an issue because it’s never loud enough to interfere with in-car conversations.
Our test drive was in Spain, where the roads are generally much smoother than those in the UK. Even so, the RAV4 did shimmy around a bit.
The Toyota isn't as agile as a CX-5, either, and the stability control tends to step in before you feel the benefits of the four-wheel drive model’s cornering control system; this feature gradually increases the amount of torque going to the rear wheels in an effort to keep the car balanced through bends.
Then again, even in the two-wheel-drive car, the handling only becomes really untidy when you make a couple of sharp direction changes in quick succession.
What's the 2013 Toyota RAV4 like inside?
The latest RAV4 is one of the biggest cars in its class, so there's plenty of space inside. Four six-footers will be perfectly comfortable, and although the narrow central rear seat means life isn't as good for a fifth, those in the back get even more legroom than they do in the CR-V and CX-5.
Boot space is also impressive, and the rear seats fold down almost flat. Meanwhile, a conventional tailgate makes it much easier to load the boot in tight spaces than it was with the old model’s side-hinged door.
Sadly, the RAV4 isn't especially classy inside; the cabin plastics are hard to the touch, while the clock could have been lifted from a 1980s Toyota Corolla.
The touch-screen infotainment system (standard on mid-spec Icon models and above) also leaves a little to be desired because the display is hard to read in bright conditions.
In addition, you have to look at the main screen to see directions given by the optional sat-nav system; there's no secondary display among the instrument dials.
The other readouts and controls are simple enough, and forward visibility is excellent, thanks to spindly windscreen pillars. Unfortunately, the rearmost side windows are small and the rear pillars thick, which restricts over-the-shoulder vision.
Entry-level Active cars come with air-conditioning, alloy wheels and electric front and rear windows, but we'd upgrade to the mid-level Icon trim, which adds a reversing camera, Bluetooth, cruise control, a DAB radio and dual-zone climate control.
True, the Icon model does carry a £1700 premium but, if you buy it using Toyota's Access Toyota finance scheme, it will cost you just £20 a month more than the Active.
Should I buy one?
The new RAV4 is a practical, five-seat SUV, but so is a Mazda CX-5, and entry-level versions of that car come with so much kit there's no need to venture any further up the range.
So, while the RAV4 is available for less, the version you'll actually want will cost you more than an equivalent CX-5.
Given that the Mazda also handles better and comes with an engine that’s both stronger and more fuel-efficient, we reckon it’s the better buy.
What Car? says...
Specification 2.0 Valvematic CVT AWD
Engine size 1.9-litre petrol
Price from £25,595
Torque 144lb ft
0-62mph 9.9 seconds
Top speed 115mph
Fuel economy 38.7mpg
CO2 emissions 167g/km
Specification 2.0 D-4D 2WD
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £22,595
Torque 228lb ft
0-62mph 9.9 seconds
Top speed 112mph
Fuel economy 57.7mpg
CO2 emissions 127g/km
Specification 2.2 D-4D AWD
Engine size 2.2-litre diesel
Price from £26,495
Torque 251lb ft
0-62mph 9.6 seconds
Top speed 118mph
Fuel economy 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions 149g/km
By Steve Huntingford
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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