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RAV4: Toyotas redesigned small ute is functional
The RAV4 is now a four-cylinder lineup in front- or all-wheel drive with a six-speed automatic transmission. Starting prices range from about $24,000 to $29,000.

The Toyota RAV4 is a founding member of the small-ute group and for 2013 moved into its fourth generation — in 18 years.

The redesign has trendy lines of arcs and curves, more cargo space and a new tailgate. The new model is about the same size as before, but the optional third row of seating has been discontinued in favor of more cargo flexibility. Also helpful is a new liftgate that replaces the clunky side-hinged door integrated with the spare tire. A space-saver spare rides below the cargo floor.

There also is no more V-6 option. All 2013 models use a 176-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic with Eco and Sport modes.

For those who need more power or seats for seven, there is the Highlander crossover.

The RAV4 is sold in three trim levels, front- or all-wheel-drive, with starting prices that range from about $24,000 to $29,000. Pricing includes two years (25,000-miles) of free scheduled maintenance. Fuel economy estimates for front-drive models are 24 mpg city, 31 highway, 22/29 AWD.

The base LE model is fairly basic with such standard features as privacy glass, 17-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, rear spoiler and a 6.1-inch display audio unit with integrated back-up camera. The only options offered are roof rails and a tonneau cover.

The midrange XLE, today’s test car ($26,535), adds alloy wheels, tilt-slide power moonroof, fog lamps, dual zone automatic climate control and front sport seats. The only option package is a Display Audio with Navigation and Entune (infotainment) system, $1,030.

The Limited includes a height-adjustable power liftgate, SofTex seat upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat with memory and heated front seats.

The RAV4 is now handily separated from Toyota’s other sport-utilities as an entry crossover. It is an ideal choice for young families and active people who need a tough interior to stash a bike, boards and gear.

With the 60/40 back seat folded there is about 6 feet of length, 31/2 feet between the fender wells and a square 3-foot aperture at the liftgate to load that gear.

Back seat legroom is good at 37.2 inches, but it’s about an inch less than last year. The floor is flat, helping footroom, and access is easy, with grab handles above all doors. And the seatbacks have a few inches of recline.

The RAV4’s road attitude is limber. The springs seem set for comfort but with firmer shock absorbers, which will give a jolt when fording speed bumps and broken road.

The horsepower is adequate for most tasks, but it pales at speed on Interstate inclines, with some downshifts to keep up the steam. The Sport mode puts some snap in the response, but the engine still seems to be working hard at times. Toyota opted for fuel economy in the power dilemma. I was getting a solid 24.5 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

The styling has a pronounced edge to separate the new model. It’s like a balled-up origami project that smoothes some lines and makes others pop out. The upward arc of the sides at the rear corner squeezes off some over-the-shoulder visibility, but the rearview camera — with guidance lines — is a big help when backing.

There is nothing neither fancy nor frivolous about the RAV4. It is purpose-built for endurance and function. When a family sedan is too formal, the RAV4 is the little wagon that could.