Toyota kicked off the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show Wednesday morning with the world debut of the all-new 2013 RAV4, the first redesign of the hot-selling small SUV in seven years.
When it goes on sale in January, the RAV4 will face stiff competition from recently redesigned competitors including Honda's CR-V, Ford's Escape and Mazda's CX-5.
This fourth-generation RAV4 seats five and is about the same size as its predecessor, though with slightly more cargo room. The engine also changes little, with a 2.5-liter four cylinder making three fewer horsepower, for a total of 176. Torque remains at 172 pound-feet. The biggest mechanical upgrade is a six-speed automatic transmission.
The optional V-6 engine will no longer be available, so buyers will have to live with the four-cylinder's towing limit of 1,500 pounds.
Fuel economy improves mildly on the 2013 RAV4, with front-wheel-drive models rated at 24 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. The all-wheel-drive model gets 22 mpg and 29 mpg, respectively.
The intelligent all-wheel-drive system, offering three driver-selected modes, marks a first for a Toyota product. Auto mode, the most fuel efficient, sends most of the power to the RAV4's front wheels, only engaging the rear axle when necessary.
Full coverage: 2012 L.A. Auto Show
Lock mode, essentially full-time four-wheel-drive, works only under 25 mph. Toyota says this mode will help drivers dig out of mud or sand.
The Sport mode can rout up to 50 percent of the vehicle's power to the rear wheels. The system also works with the stability control to detect when the RAV4 is moving through a turn, delivering torque where necessary for better cornering.
All RAV4 models will also come with both Sport and Eco modes for the drivetrain. Sport mode quickens shifts and throttle response and tightens the electric power steering, but at the expense of fuel economy.
The RAV4 will be available in three trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. All models will come with a backup camera, six-inch touchscreen audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, 60/40 split rear seats that recline and fold, eight airbags, anti-lock disc brakes, traction control and stability control.
The XLE gets a power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, fog lights and heated mirrors. The Limited adds items like a power driver's seat, heated front seats, and options like a blind-spot monitoring system and premium stereo.
On the outside, the RAV4 sports a sleeker face that moves away from the previous generation's more rugged design. The rear profile is noticeably more angled. The rear hatch now swings up as opposed to the previous side-hinge setup, and on Limited models the liftgate is now power-operated.
No word yet on pricing, but don't expect the base price to jump much from the outgoing model's $23,460.