The compact SUV/crossover segment is likely the fiercest battlefront in the entire automotive industry, the highly-popular segment sees manufacturers competing for new sales and repeat customers. Competition is great for the customer as manufacturers squeeze every dollar out of the sticker price. The 2013 RAV4 is no exception, the vehicle sets a new benchmark for Toyota.

It’s a great, clean-looking small segment SUV that distinguishes itself in a congested market without being polarizing or breaking convention. For 2013, Toyota has replaced the side-hinged rear cargo door with a more standard hatch-style opening. For some this will be a major loss for other a major win, I’m for the standard hatch. Motivation to rid the RAV4 of the side-hinge door probably is due to the fact that Toyota finally decided to relocate the spare wheel to beneath the load floor, instead of hanging on the cargo door. This has the added benefit of improving visibility and you no longer have to opt for the Sport edition to remove the unsightly rear lump.

On the higher trim models the rear hatch even receives power operation, even without power it serves as a decent rain shelter when camping. Inside the hatch is the largest cargo-bay in a RAV4 to date. With rear seats folded down the SUV is quite cavernous.

The interior of the RAV4 is surprisingly well appointed. The choice of materials and finishes propels the inner to a place well beyond the RAV4’s sticker price. The two-tone color scheme is very attractive and adds a level of depth usually missing from cars in this price segment. Even the faux-leather dash was finished very nicely. Overall the cabin feels like a major upgrade over previous models.

I’ll admit, I didn’t expect a whole lot out of the RAV4 on-road. I don’t have a particular bias against the RAV4, I just find crossovers with four-cylinders tend to be noisy, rough and slow. The RAV4 manages to feel livelier than most by pairing it’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder to a new six-speed automatic transmission. The two extra cogs manage to not only make the 176 horsepower four feel more lively, they also allow the vehicle to save a fair bit of gas (22/29 MPG). On the road, the RAV4 proved to be fairly well-adjusted. During a long haul over mountain passes and through rough weather I was able to hear every bit of NPR without turning the radio to 11 and I didn’t feel like I’d just ridden a roller coaster, quite a feat for the small SUV segment.

The RAV4 is not the prettiest, strongest, biggest, smallest, most or least fuel efficient, cheapest or most expensive small crossover you can buy, but it does do everything quite well. Long-term value is likely the shining attribute of all for the RAV4 and puts it at the top of my list for the crossover segment.