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Should I buy a new or used Toyota RAV4?

Consumer Reports News: May 03, 2013 09:08 AM

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We've just completed our test of the 2013 Toyota RAV4, and this redesigned small SUV did well. But before you rush to the dealer to buy it, consider whether a used model is a better option.

The most noticeable change in the redesign is the removal of the awkward side-hinged rear gate, replaced by a more convenient top-hinged hatch. The spare tire moved off the rear gate and now resides in a well beneath the cargo floor, formerly occupied by an optional (and snug) third-row seat that few bought and that has now been discontinued. The optional V6 was also dropped, leaving the sole engine choice a 176-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to a new six-speed automatic. Fuel economy averaged 24 mpg overall in our tests—one mpg better than the last-generation four-cylinder.

Interior trim gained attractive touches in some places but skimped elsewhere. We found the cabin noisy and child seats difficult to secure. The lack of lumbar support was a complaint with the previous generation; now the top-level trim has that feature. In the end, the last RAV4 actually scored higher than the new model.

Visit our SUV buying guide for advice on buying an SUV as well as our new and used car buying guides.
New vs. used

2009-Toyota-RAV4.jpgI personally own the previous generation model and am now living with our new RAV4 for a few days. Yes, the standard backup camera is a great addition, as is the nicer radio with Bluetooth capability, but I find the driver's seat less comfortable than my seven-year-old RAV4. I never minded the outside tire and swing rear gate, unless I was parking on a Manhattan street and had to get out a stroller, but I can see it being an issue for some drivers. My kids favor the new model, citing the roomy rear accommodations. The new model also has standard side and curtain air bags. In total, I'm not seeing improvements in the new RAV4 that would cause me to reach for my checkbook.

The previous model is a well-rounded package, combining good all-around performance with a comfortable ride, agile handling, and outstanding reliability. It remains appealing. Sure, buying used sacrifices the backup camera, entertainment upgrades, bumper-to-bumper warranty, improved crashworthiness, and lower new-car finance rates, but it can mean significant savings on a reliable model. As our pricing chart illustrates, the difference on a three-year-old can easily be more than $8,000. With RAV4s at dealerships, there may be a fair number of trade-ins from current owners looking to upgrade—that would help availability and prices.

New model MSRP Invoice price Average price paid
2013 Toyota RAV4 4WD LE $24,700 $24,366 $24,903
2013 Toyota RAV4 4WD XLE $25,690 $25,308 $25,868
Used year/model Mileage Average retail price  
2012 Toyota RAV4 4-cyl. base 4WD 15,000 $20,600  
2011 Toyota RAV4 4-cyl. base 4WD 28,000 $18,825  
2010 Toyota RAV4 4-cyl. base 4WD 51,000 $16,350  
2009 Toyota RAV4 4-cyl. base 4WD 66,000 $14,900  
2008 Toyota RAV4 4-cyl. base 4WD 75,000 $13,450  

Buying new is always alluring, but in this comparison, my money would be on a used car.

Liza Barth

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