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RAV makeover earns an enthusiastic rave

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

PHOENIX — In describing what makes the redesigned 2013 Toyota RAV4 different from the model that preceded it, Toyota officials use the Japanese term “waku doki” — which they say means a “heart-pumping, adrenaline experience.”

I am not sure that the RAV4 qualifies for such a sentiment, unless French stitching on an instrument panel sets your heart pounding (I'm betting that it probably doesn't). But it's that level of detail that separates the 2013 RAV4 from its predecessors.

Of course, the detail you're most likely to notice is its new wardrobe. This fourth-generation crossover sport utility vehicle is the first RAV4 that's good-looking, reflecting Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda's wish for more emotionally engaging products.

The 2013 model is the first RAV4 that makes little pretense about its off-road abilities, eschewing its faux-truck styling for a sophisticated rendition of what passes for a modern-day station wagon. It's still distinctive up front — less so out back, where you'll find that the spare tire is no longer mounted on the door.

And I would encourage you to look at where it's stashed —inside, under the cargo floor.

Why? Because alongside the spare is a place for stowing the rear tonneau cargo cover when it's not in use. A small touch, perhaps, but it gives you the sense that every detail was considered.

You can see it elsewhere in the interior.

Look at the pillar between the front and rear doors. There, you'll find part of it has been scooped away to allow for extra elbow space. Next, look at the long horizontal vent at the center of the instrument panel. It blows air to the rear, over the heads of front-seat occupants. This keeps rear-seat occupants comfortable while costing Toyota less than running vents through the center console.

Why should you be concerned about Toyota saving money? Because it allows for a significantly upgraded cabin, where leather and leatherette trim soften the plastic and metallic surfaces. Interior ambience is noticeably improved, especially on upper trim levels.

Controls are placed high and are very intuitive to use.

Speaking of trim levels, there are three: base LE, mid-level XLE and line-topping Limited. The differences come down to how much standard equipment you want.

All RAV4s have a manual tilt/telescope steering column, steering wheel controls for audio and hands-free phone. In addition, you'll find a 6.1-inch touch screen, a backup camera, AM/FM/CD audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and auxiliary jacks, six speakers, power windows, locks and mirrors, and keyless entry.

If you want a power moonroof, integrated fog lights, leather seats, French stitching or the optional navigation system, you'll have to step up to the XLE.

Larry Printz is automotive editor for The Virginian-Pilot.

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