Core cars Toyota RAV4 and Honda Civic receive revamps

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      Most car manufacturers have what they like to call their “core” models—that is, cars that sell in the greatest volumes and are most closely linked to the company’s fate and identity. Examples include the Honda Accord and Civic; the Toyota Camry, Corolla, and RAV4; the Nissan Altima; the BMW 3 series; the Volkswagen Golf; and so on.

      And you don’t get much closer to the core than the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda Civic. These two sell in big numbers and in their respective categories tend to set the benchmark against which all others are judged. The Civic has been Canada’s best-selling vehicle, period, for decades, while the RAV4 has been a segment leader in the compact-SUV market almost since its introduction. Interestingly, both of these are manufactured in Ontario—the Civic in Alliston and the RAV4 in Woodstock.

      So when these two are given a revamp, plenty of thought goes into the process, and changes tend to take the form of refinements rather than a massive overhaul. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

      Civic first.

      Although it received a makeover last year, the revised Civic got a lukewarm reception, especially from the motoring press. It’s still a best-selling car, certainly, but there was disappointment in the halfhearted restyling job, the fact that the fuel-injection system hadn’t been updated, and the car’s “de-contenting” in terms of interior trim and standard equipment level.

      That said, sales of the Civic are still up across Canada, and one of its biggest rivals, the Hyundai Elantra, lags far behind in terms of units moved out of the show rooms.

      For 2013, however, the Civic gets a “refresh”. According to Hayato Mori, Honda Canada’s manager of product planning, it will be more “youthful” in appearance, with new front- and rear-end treatments, new wheels, and new tail lamps.

      It will also be easier to drive, thanks to a tweaked steering ratio and rejigged suspension. Female buyers are a big chunk of Civic customers, and the company is extremely mindful of that. Interestingly, the most requested feature in new cars these days is heated seats, which are standard issue in models coming from Kia and Hyundai, for example. Aside from the base DX, these are now standard equipment on all 2013 Civics, which is nice, but Honda still isn’t getting the message. Given the country we live in, these should be standard issue, period.

      Elsewhere, soundproofing has been enhanced through the use of a laminated windshield, redesigned front-suspension components, and thicker glass, carpets, and door insulation. A loud ride—especially on the highway—has long been one of the Civic’s shortcomings, and hopefully these new measures will do something to address that.

      Still available as a four-door sedan or a two-door coupe, the 2013 Civic utilizes the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder as its base engine—no need to change that, as it’s arguably the most refined and usable under-two-litre engine on the market. And if you want an extra bump in performance, there’s a 201-horsepower, 2.4-litre option on the sporty Si model. This engine is also used in the Honda Accord.

      Despite its recent travails, the Civic is still Canada’s favourite car, and given the pricing structure Honda has adopted, it will likely remain that way. At a shade under $15,000 to start ($14,990), it’s definitely competitive, and a well-equipped LX, which is the most popular model, rings in at $17,740 before taxes and extras.

      The RAV4, meanwhile, was unveiled at this year’s L.A. Auto Show, and the big news here is no more V-6. Responding, perhaps, to environmental concerns, Toyota will be offering a 176-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine as the only choice with the new RAV4. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and you can choose from front- or all-wheel drive.

      There will be three trim levels for the new RAV4, all with a back-up camera as standard equipment. Toyota’s compact SUV will also be on the receiving end of a complete interior revamp, and there will be two driving modes: Sport and Eco. While trailer-towing capacity will be down, fuel economy will be up, and potential buyers may be happy to see that the new version will have the spare tire mounted under the rear floor and not bolted onto the back of the tailgate. This seemingly insignificant feature has put off a lot of buyers over the years.

      Interestingly, one of the new RAV4’s rivals could turn out to be the Toyota Camry. Buyers in this segment of the market often look at both compact SUVs and midsize sedans, and the 2013 RAV4’s newfound fuel economy, plus its redesign, could pull traditional Camry buyers into the fold.

      At the time of this writing, Toyota hadn’t announced a pricing structure for the new RAV4, but it’s bound to be close to that of the 2012 version.


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      Dec 12, 2012 at 1:28pm

      Based on my discussions with Toyota sales reps, the abandonment of the 6-cyl option is probably due to the fact that it was greatly over-powered for the size/weight of the vehicle. I took one out for a test drive and was a bit freaked out by the acceleration.

      As for the relocation of the spare (from rear door to "under floor") ... what a terribly bad idea. One of the big advantages of the RAV4 was the ample storage space in the rear cargo area - thanks to the absence of a spare. Whose bright idea was this change - a soccer mom?