In the words of Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Div., the RAV4 “has been a significant vehicle for Toyota since its inception in 1994 as the world’s first crossover SUV. We introduced RAV4 to the U.S. market in 1995, and since then, we’ve sold more than 1.7 million, with 80% percent still on the road today.”
Since the introduction, there have been, Fay went on to note, about 45 crossover-SUVs available on the market today. “As a matter of fact, with a few exceptions, like our 4Runner and FJ Cruiser, most compact or midsize SUVs today are crossovers.”
So that’s what the RAV4 started.
The first-generation RAV4 had its run from ‘94 to 2000. The second from 2000 to ’05. The third from ’05 to ’12. And now there’s gen 4.
Yoshikazu Saeki joined Toyota in 1987. His first job was working on the Toyota Land Cruiser. That’s the serious Toyota SUV (even though it is refined enough to be the basis of the Lexus LX570). He joined the Product Planning Dept. in ’91, where he worked on both the Camry and the first-generation Avalon. In ’97 Saeki moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to work at the Toyota Technical Center. There he worked on the Tacoma, Sienna and Avalon, U.S.-focused products. (“It was like getting a graduate degree in American car buyers, learning what mean most to them, especially safety and QDR.”) He moved to the RAV4 engineering team in 2003, when the third-generation model was in planning. And now he is the deputy chief engineer for the fourth-generation RAV4. He worked on the project in Japan.
But that is only part of the story. Because he spent a lot of time in the U.S. during the RAV4 4. He pursued the now-common genchi genbutsu, go-see, approach characteristic of the engineering development of Toyota vehicles. Which meant that Saeki visited people from New York to LA, from Miami to San Francisco. Some 250 people, in all. He wanted to know what they wanted.
“One thing they talked about was more emotion from RAV4’s styling, so we created a design that was aggressive looking and immediately recognizable as new and contemporary,” he said.
“Another important factor was a spacious interior. While they didn’t need a larger vehicle overall, they wanted an interior that fit both their active needs, and desire for a relaxed, comfortable drive.”
The terms used to characterize the 2013 include strength, agility, and dynamism. The SUV is to provide emotional appeal, have striking character, and feature a refined and unforgettable design.
Which pretty much is what can be said about the design of any new vehicle nowadays.
But one departure is that the rear-mounted spare tire is no longer fixtured to the side-swinging tailgate (realize how unwieldy it would be if the covered spare had to be lifted were that door top-hinged). The spare tire is now located under the cargo area and the liftgate is top hinged.
(In addition to which, the Limited model features a power liftgate with a memory function: the owner can set the height that the door opens so as to provide the ability to readily reach up and shut it.)
The front end is more raked and pulled back, providing something of an aggressive look (remember: this is an SUV, not a sports car). It is in keeping, as Bill Fay pointed out, with “Akio Toyoda’s direction for more emotionally engaging products.”
The 2013 model is lower than its predecessor (at 65.4 in. high, -0.9 in.) and has reduced ground clearance (6.3 in., down 1.2 in.). The roofline is tapered and it is resolved in the back with an integrated spoiler. The beltline kicks up at the back.
And then there are the little details, like “vortex generators” near the base of the A-pillars and molded into the rear taillight cases. There are undertrays beneath the vehicle and fender liners used for aero.
This helps reduce the coefficient of drag for the RAV4 4, bringing it to 0.329 from 0.334.
One of the big changes is on the inside. Calty Design Research, the Newport Beach, California-based Toyota studio, contributed to the new look.
Two big differences: (1) The “Color Block” concept. Here there are color and material changes within the vehicle, not only providing visual separation, but textural as well: Jeff Halsey of the University of Toyota, describes it as “separating the comfort from the functional areas.” Soft/hard, grippy/smooth, for example. (2) The instrument panel design. Yes, like all new vehicles, the dash is described as being “driver-centric.” But what’s notable about the design of the RAV4 interior is that whereas there is a tendency for the upper surface of an IP to resemble a set of French curves, this one is more horizontal in layout (there is a sculpted section in front of the passenger so as to provide more space), with the controls laid out in a rational arrangement.
Because this is a vehicle type that has “Utility” as its middle name, the vehicle has increased cargo capacity, with 38.4-ft3 behind the second row and 73.4-ft3 with the second row folded flat, which is said to be the largest in the competitive class. (One thing that is absent in the rear cargo area is a lever to fold the second row seats flat; this must be done from the second row. When asked why this is the case, Saeki said that when he asked people during his cross-country tour, they didn’t express an interest in having that capability.)
Following a pattern set by some other OEMs (e.g., Ford Escape; Honda CR-V—both, incidentally, the leaders in the segment where the RAV4 competes), the RAV4 is available with a four-cylinder engine. There is no six. Bill Fay says that for customers interested in the addition set of cylinders, there is the Highlander SUV.
The engine used is the 2AR-FE 2.5-liter DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder engine with Dual VVT-i, the same engine used in the previous-generation RAV4. It produces, in this tuning, 176 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque @ 4,100 rpm. Unlike the previous generation this version has a six-speed automatic transmission, not a four.
Since “Sport” is its first name, there is an available “Sport” mode (it is standard on AWD models), that adjusts the throttle response, making it more linear and responsive; changes the transmission parameters for faster shifts; and reduces the assist of the electric power steering by 20%. Since Fuel Economy is the name of the game when it comes to reasons to buy SUVs or almost any other vehicle nowadays, there is an ECO mode that regulates the output of the air conditioner and decreases throttle response, both for purposes of fuel efficiency (the car uses 87 octane). The front-drive version provides an estimated 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway; the AWD version is EPA estimated at 22/29 mpg.
The RAV4 AWD has a Dynamic Torque Control system that adjusts torque predicated on sensor inputs describing the speed, steering angle and speed, throttle angle, and yaw rates; it can vary front-to-rear torque distribution from 100:0 to 50:50 through an electromagnetically controlled coupling that’s located in front of the rear differential.
When the vehicle is in Sport mode, the system performs functions like providing up to a 10% torque distribution to the rear wheels when entering a turn, so as to improve the steering response and stability during cornering.
The preponderance of the RAV4s are being built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada in Ontario. It is in good SUV company there, as the Lexus RX350 are produced at TMMC, as well.
As noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is an abiding concern for all vehicle manufacturers, this was addressed for the RAV4 through a variety of measures. Yes, there is a standard acoustic windshield (glass/polyvinyl butyral polymer/glass). Yes, there is an addition of various noise damping materials deployed in the dash panel, on the floor, and sound absorption material in the rear-door area.
But Jeff Halsey says that an important aspect of addressing NVH is an increase in the number of spot welds used in the assembly process, particularly around the doors and C-pillars. In addition to which, they’ve increased the amount of high-strength steels used in the build: roof, rocker sills, floor, engine compartment, door frames. While that contributes to improving safety, it also provides a more solid structure for the RAV4, which means a quieter, more solid vehicle.