Driver's Seat: Toyota RAV4 has grown up quite a bit

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2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD: Not-so-cute ute.

Price: $31,869 as tested ($28,410 for the no-options Limited AWD; or $23,300 for a starter FWD).

Marketer's pitch: "Let's get this adventure started."

Conventional wisdom: Grown-up is not always better. Just look at Miley Cyrus.

Reality: Roomy and pretty, but it kind of makes me think Toyota now needs a RAV2 or 3.

Bigger is better: An American addendum to the adage, "You can never be too rich or too thin," could be "Your vehicle can never be too big or too luxurious."

Following that line of reasoning, Toyota offers the new-for-2013 RAV4, which has grown up quite a bit since its debut in the mid-1990s. Toyota officials tell me not much is expected to change for 2014, so you can use this test as a guide for that model year as well.

Getting situated: Some vehicles' seats have a way of welcoming your behind in them. The RAV4 is one of those vehicles. Mr. Driver's Seat's seat fit just so, and his legs and arms and back matched up with the wheel and the pedals perfectly. I'm sure you're thinking, "Well, duh," but I've seen more than one vehicle fail on this account, usually in the crossover/SUV category. (I'm looking at you, Kia Sorento.)

Best face forward: The interior could best be termed "strikingly handsome." The black padded lip across the dash with the tan inset is attractive; even Mrs. Passenger Seat commented on it, and she can be tough to please.

Outside: Toyota gets rid of the old upright RAV4 look and goes for a Venza-like slant. I still can't decide if I like it or not.

Up to speed: Acceleration is good. Getting up to speed is easy on interstates with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. (The optional V-6 is no longer available, but this four was more than capable.)

Shifty: Shifts can be a little abrupt. The six-speed automatic with a +/ - gear selector is new for the model year. It doesn't offer the Zen "one-with-the-road" feel a car guy like myself seeks. Moreover, the shifter is not too well placed for shifting; it left my elbow in an awkward position. But that's OK, because the shifting is not fun.

On the curves: Handling is not bad, but you're not going to feel any real zigging on country lanes.

A good look around: Drivers get a commanding view of the road and the traffic around them. This can be a noticeable flaw in many crossovers, particularly the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Equinox and Kia Sportage.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat comfort is fantastic. And there's plenty of room for carrying cargo. This is the one plus side of having a more grown-up vehicle.

Keeping cool: An added central blower on top of the dashboard allows the hot area between dashboard and windshield to cool quickly without having to run the defrost mode, which often fogs up the windshield for a moment. This nifty new feature especially helped during a long July hot spell.

I've also seen this on a Fiat 500C, but these are the only two vehicles I've noticed have it. It's a great idea that I hope more automakers will pick up.

Whine from the rear: Lack of air vents for the back seat passengers made for a sweaty Sturgis Kid 3.0 on a hot afternoon.

Play some tunes: The Toyota upgraded radio with navigation (a $1,660 option) has a few buttons on the outside, which is always a good idea, yet the buttons are still too few. "Source" is on the touch screen, which then takes you to a screen to pick from CD, XM, FM and other choices. A few more buttons outside the screen would be a big help.

The steering wheel controls do the job much better and are attractive and easy to follow.

My test vehicle had an unfortunate recurring issue where the volume would increase or decrease noticeably for a moment when coming to a stop or pulling out. I'd expect this was a software glitch and only note it in case it becomes a more widespread problem.

Night shift: If you're in the dark searching for the lights, the RAV4 does not seem designed to help. But after I found the switches, they did provide ample light that didn't interfere with driving.

Fuel economy: Mr. Driver's Seat observed about 24 mpg in a highway-heavy mix of driving. That's not too bad for an all-wheel-drive vehicle with plentiful space. But it's quite a bit less than the 27 mpg I observed in a Mazda CX-5 AWD (the winner so far for me in this category).

Where it's built: Cambridge, Ontario.

How it's built: Consumer Reports shows the RAV4 as having many model years with high reliability.

In the end: The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is a definite consideration for small crossover shoppers, although it's not so small anymore. But it's certainly a comfortable and refined choice.


Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at"Wheels," a special advertising supplement, appears inside today's Post-Gazette.


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