DETROIT: The Toyota RAV4 is getting a makeover that could help it retake the crossover crown.
The RAV4 was the first crossover when it went on sale in 1995, and it became a hit with families who wanted the roominess of an SUV with the tighter handling of a car. But as dozens of imitators entered the market offering more power, styling or technology for the price, the pioneering RAV4 was gradually overtaken.
The current version is now the fourth best-selling crossover in the U.S., behind the more recently redesigned Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox. The RAV4 was last redesigned in 2006.
Now, Toyota hopes its revamped 2013 RAV4 can reclaim the top sales spot. The crossover has a sharper, more muscular look than the boxier outgoing model. It also has a redesigned interior and better fuel economy. It debuts Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show and will go on sale early next year.
Here are some more details about the fourth-generation RAV4.
UNDER THE HOOD: Toyota will carry over the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine from the current RAV4. It gets 176 horsepower, down from 179 in the current model because Toyota had to meet more stringent emissions standards. It will be paired with a new six-speed transmission, which replaces the four-speed on the current model. The new transmission helps it achieve an estimated 24 miles per gallon (9.8 liters per 100 kilometers) in the city and 31 (7.5) on the highway, up from 22 and 28. Toyota will no longer offer a V6 engine.
INSIDE: The main difference here is that Toyota will no longer offer an optional third-row seat, which had expanded the RAV4's capacity to seven. But second-row passengers will have more leg room thanks to thinner front seats. The cargo area is also longer and deeper than the previous model. When the second row is folded down, the RAV4 boasts 73.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is more than the CR-V or Escape. A backup camera is now standard on every trim level, as it is on the CR-V.
OUTSIDE: The design is more sculpted and dramatic than the current RAV4, with a sloping hood and more prominent front and rear fenders. Toyota is introducing a roof-hinged liftgate on the new RAV4, a break from its previous side-hinged rear doors. The company says the new liftgate will make the vehicle easier to load from a curb. The new RAV4 will also be the first Toyota to have a system that automatically shifts from front wheel drive to all wheel drive when the vehicle is accelerating or when it detects wheel slippage.
PRICE: Not yet released, but expect it to be in the $22,500 to $23,000 range in this hotly contested and crowded segment of the market.
CHEERS: It's a long overdue makeover for a major player in the market and will most certainly increase sales. Toyota has sold more than 1.7 million RAV4s over the last 17 years.
JEERS: The CR-V and Escape still offer more horsepower and gee-whiz features, like the automatic liftgate on the Escape that opens with a wave of a driver's foot. The Chevrolet Equinox gets better highway fuel economy. The RAV4 will still have a tough time competing.