I mentioned the 2013 Toyota Rav4 surprised me with its pep around town. I also mentioned part of the reason for that pep was a six-speed automatic transmission new to the Rav4, which features a couple of short cogs and a couple of overdrives to improve around-town giddyup and highway fuel economy, respectively. So the question remains: How did we do on fuel economy?
After a weeklong test that saw mostly highway commutes with a few short jaunts in city traffic, we came out just shy of the Rav4′s EPA combined fuel economy estimate of 26 MPG at 25.4 MPG. All things considered, that’s not bad for a tall, boxy-ish crossover that hauled my family and all the groceries we could throw at it during the course of the test week.
To achieve that mileage figure required no special tricks in terms of my driving style, though I did spend 95% of the week with the Rav4′s ECO light illuminated on the dash. There’s a Sport mode for those who feel so inclined — I, for the record, did not.
I’ll be honest: An end-of-week 25 MPG didn’t blow me away. I was hoping to be closer to the Rav4′s EPA highway estimate of 31 MPG. But it is what it is, and I doubt I would have done much better in any of the Rav4′s direct competition. The base 2.5-liter four cylinder-powered Ford Escape is rated by the EPA at 22 MPG city, 31 MPG highway, 25 MPG combined. The Chevrolet Equinox in 2.4-liter four-cylinder trim is rated one MPG higher than the Rav4 on the highway — 32 — but two MPG lower on city streets at 22, bringing its combined fuel economy rating to the same 26 MPG as the Rav4 earns. The Rav4′s chief Japanese competitor, meanwhile, is the Honda CR-V that gets one MPG less in the city — 23 — and matches it on the highway to earn the same 26 MPG combined score as the Rav4. All of the above are two-wheel drive examples, since that’s what our Rav4 was.
It’s not that Toyota hasn’t done its due diligence in trying to obtain better fuel economy scores than those in the segment — it’s just that there’s only so much fuel efficiency you can hope to achieve while punching a large, still-pretty-boxy crossover SUV-shaped hole through the air at 70 MPH with passing power to spare. There were little touches everywhere intended to improve the Rav4′s aerodynamics — the biggest of course being the all-new body design. But smaller measures were taken, too, right down to tiny vortex generators built into the body panels — I noticed them on the mirror caps — and underbody trays designed to smooth the flow of air around the vehicle.
I can’t help but wonder what the result of those same tricks would be if the Rav4 were the same size it used to be when introduced in 1994. Back then, Rav4s were 163.4 inches long if you opted for the five-door (remember three-door, 147.2-inch-long Rav4s?) and 66.7 inches wide, with an overall height of 65 inches. The 2013 Rav4 measures 179.9 inches long by 72.6 inches wide and 65.4 inches tall. The first-generation Rav4 didn’t have to punch nearly so big a hole in the air as the new one does. Kinda makes me want to buy an old Rav4 (even a three-door!) and do some aerodynamic mods to it.
Disclosure: Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.