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Rav Your Engine: 2013 Toyota Rav4 Peppier Than I Thought It Would Be

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

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2013 Toyota Rav4 Photo Shoot 011

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

When I got the 2013 Toyota Rav4 for testing purposes, I was not expecting anything remotely approaching “peppy.” Little did I realize how wrong that expectation was.

Looking at the build sheet, there wasn’t much in the powertrain department to make me raise an eyebrow. The Rav4 has the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline-powered engine found in a number of Toyota products, including the Camry and the Scion tC. The Rav4 makes slightly less horsepower than the tC (176 versus 179) but makes the exact same torque figure, at 172 ft-lbs.

But the Rav4 weighs 3,465 lbs to the tC’s 3,082, so with very similar power numbers and a higher-riding chassis, I figured all sporting pretense present in the tC would be long forgotten in the Rav4.

I can now report that’s not the case. Sure, you’re not going to be giving the Rav4 the old Scandinavian Flick or taming that storied track in Germany that a favorite automotive writer of mine refers to as “The Burgerkingring,” but then, you’re unlikely to do those things in the tC, either.

2013 Toyota Rav4 Photo Shoot 012

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

The Rav4′s chassis is tuned as one would expect a crossover marketed to small families to be tuned. It has independent MacPherson struts up front with a stabilizer bar and hydraulic shock absorbers and a double-wishbone rear suspension with stabilizer bar and coil springs, trailing arms, and hydraulic shock absorbers. The combination does an admirable job soaking up pavement imperfections but doesn’t, thanks mostly to its SUV ride height and soft tuning, inspire the utmost confidence in spirited cornering. Take a sweeping on-ramp too fast, and you’ll be greeted by a fair amount of body roll that betrays the Rav4′s higher-than-a-sedan center of gravity, though there’s an Auto Limited Slip Differential that keeps the front wheels from getting too crazy in those situations in addition to a full suite of modern stability and traction control features. The Rav4′s chassis performance is pretty much par for the course in SUVs and crossovers, especially the front-wheel drive variety.

What impressed me immediately upon driving the Rav4 the first couple of days of our test, however, was the snap of the throttle. Perhaps my perception was tempered by the fact I was just getting out of the Toyota Prius C I’d had the week before the Rav4 joined our ranks. The Prius C, like all Prius models, doesn’t have the sharpest throttle response around. That’s perfectly by design, allowing for maximized fuel economy during stop-and-go driving around town, in particular. By comparison, the Rav4′s throttle was downright aggressive. While I mentally adjusted my right foot’s calibration those first couple of days, I found myself giving traffic ahead of me an extra second or two to pull away at traffic lights before I got on the gas.

The Rav4 sends its power to the ground through a six-speed automatic gearbox, and I suspect the low 3.30:1 first gear ratio along with the relatively short 4.07:1 final drive ratio helped provide that feeling of snappiness on initial throttle application from a stop. That’s just as Toyota designed it, as the six-speed unit replaced a previous four-speed slushbox with the goal of improving both around-town performance and highway efficiency, according to the initial 2013 Rav4 press release Toyota issued late last year:

Replacing the previous four-speed automatic will be a six-speed transmission with Sequential Shift.  First and second gear ratios will be optimized for around-town performance.  To keep engine revs lower at highway speeds and enhance fuel mileage, fifth and sixth gears will be overdrives.

Astute readers will know most of my miles tend to be moderate speed highway miles commuting to my day job. So did those two overdrive ratios result in stellar fuel economy? More about that in my next installment.

Disclosure: Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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