Rav Your Engines: The Feature From the Old Rav4 That the New Rav4 Should Have Kept

Sections: Chassis

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2013 Toyota Rav4 Photo Shoot 031

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation for Toyota’s choice to ditch the side-opening rear door traditionally found on its Rav4 for a more conventional overhead-hinged liftgate. Perhaps chassis rigidity is improved or Toyota just saves a lot of money by forgoing heavier side hinges. I don’t know. What I do know is I wish the 2013 Rav4 we tested had the traditional side-opener.

The side-opening rearmost door was a signature element of the Rav4’s design that, along with the spare tire mounted on that door, Toyota has decided does not need to be carried over to the newly redesigned 2013 model.

Let me be up-front about this: I’ve been a fan of side-opening hatches since my wife decided nearly three years ago a Nissan cube was the right car for us. Despite the cube’s relatively low roofline, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve bumped my head on it — and most of those came while trying to install my son’s carseat in the back row, not while loading or unloading cargo from the cargo hold.

Here’s the thing I typically don’t like about top-hinged hatch doors on a vehicle: In order to get enough leverage to pull them open far enough that the gas shocks take over and finish the job, you’ve usually got to be standing pretty close to the liftgate itself when you pull the handle. Then, when it starts to open on its own, you do one of three things:

1. Let the hatch swing up and deliver a Balboaesque uppercut to the chin.

2. Do a momentary (like, three to five seconds) limbo practice session as you lean back to prevent (1) from happening.

3. Take a couple of quick steps backward trying to avoid (1) only to be greeted by the parking berm, which catches your heel and sends you falling onto your tush.

As I do with most top-opening hatches found on modern SUVs, I found myself mostly practicing (2) from the above list during my test of the 2013 Toyota Rav4. Which is all fine and good until you try to do it while carrying a 40-pound bag of kitty litter on your shoulder. Then it becomes a one-way ticket to Slipped Discville.

Thankfully, I was not in such a hurry that I could not put down my bag of kitty litter before commencing the Liftgate Limbo. But during that whole rigamarole, I kept thinking how much easier this all would be if the Rav4’s rear cargo door remained side-hinged, like a common refrigerator or, heck, the vehicle’s other four doors. I know because I’ve done the same maneuver — sans stopping to set the bag of kitty litter on the ground — dozens if not hundreds of times in our cube by now.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually kind of like where the Rav4’s design has gone in 2013. And let the record show that I’m glad the rear cargo door-mounted spare tire is now located under the load floor just like 95% of other vehicles in the segment. I also get that the top-hinged door has its advantages — partially sheltering you from a rainstorm while you move groceries from the cart to the cargo area, say. But ergonomically, I much preferred the side-opening cargo door of previous Rav4s.

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  • Brett Solomon

    This is some awesome writing and a great argument. My only counter on why I could not purchase the old Rav 4 (and it was an option but I got an Escape instead) is parallel parking in NYC. The spots are so tight that you can’t get into the cargo hold on a side-opener. But I LOVED the liftgate or window only option on the Escape. That way a long object could dangle out the back without having the whole mechanism up in the air. And I cracked the front windows just in case CO entry could be a problem.

    • Lyndon Johnson

      Opening the hatch in parallel parking situations is, indeed, a concern for some folks. But here in ruralia, parallel parking is seldom required.

      It also bears mentioning how much shorter our Nissan cube is, lengthwise, than a small SUV like the Rav4. Even when I’ve had to access the hatch with other cars parked behind me, there was no trouble getting the door open mostly because I could park in the space in such a way that the door had plenty of room to swing open.

      Anyway, good point there. We country boys don’t get out to NYC much, lol.