More than 1.7 million Toyota RAV4 crossovers have been sold in the U.S. since it first went on sale in 1995. Now entering its fourth generation, the RAV4 ditches its side-hinged tailgate and puts the spare tire under the cargo floor. Toyota moves the hinges to the top of an adjustable tailgate in a radical departure from the RAV4’s traditional look.

The RAV4 described as the “world’s first crossover SUV” when it was introduced nearly two decades ago, is still a solid, two-row, five-passenger hauler that can get you 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with FWD.

“The small SUV market has grown dramatically in the past 12 years,” said Jim Colon, Toyota’s product communication vice president. He told automotive journalists gathered in Phoenix for the launch of the new RAV4 that the small SUV segment has “increased from just 10 models…to about 25 today. As a result of this growth, segment sales have tripled since 2000 and now account for nearly 13 percent of the total light vehicle market.”

And Colon said Toyota believes the growth will continue because consumers see small SUV’s as capable, dependable and economical. Out of the 1.7 million RAV4’s sold since 1995, more than 1.3 million of them are still on the road, Toyota says. That says a lot about the reliability of this crossover.

The new RAV4, described by company officials as “the most visually dynamic RAV4 ever,” is designed to meet the desires of families who need room for five with extra space behind the reclining 60/40 second row split bench. With the second row seats folded down, the RAV4 has cargo space of 73.4 cubic feet. With the seats up there is 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space in back.

The RAV4 is offered in three trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. Pricing for the LE starts at $23,300, and pricing for the Limited starts at $27,010. In the middle, and expected to be the best selling model, the XLE starts at $24,290. All three trims are available in AWD for $1,400 more.

The RAV4 went on sale last month, and thus far, “initial sales are strong,” Colon said, adding the company’s goal is to sell 200,000 this year.

Toyota engineers paid particular attention to aerodynamics in the new RAV4, including “vortex generators” molded into the taillight cases and near the base of the A-pillars. Toyota engineers explained that the small vortex generators disturb the air along the side of the vehicle, in effect creating a wall of wind, thus improving aerodynamics. Under the vehicle, aerodynamic trays also help smooth and control air flow.

All RAV4 models get standard display audio with a 6.1-inch screen and a backup camera. Included are AM/FM/CD, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and AUX mini-jack and six speakers.

The RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 176 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. There is no longer a V6 option. Toyota believes buyers who want the larger engine also likely want the larger Highlander SUV.

The transmission, however, is dramatically improved from the previous 4-speed automatic. Now standard is a smooth shifting 6-speed automatic. With the aerodynamic improvements and the new transmission, FWD RAV4 models get an estimated 24 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. AWD models get 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the road.

The RAV4 also gets Toyota’s Star Safety System, consisting of a class-leading eight airbags, stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes and smart-stop technology in which the brakes override the accelerator. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert systems are also available.

The new 2013 Toyota RAV4 is an

affordable ride for many families on a budget. Dollar for dollar, it’s hard to beat its value.

2013 Toyota RAV4

Engine:

2.5-liter 4-cylinder

Horsepower:

176

Transmission:

6-speed automatic

Test model base price:

$23,300 (LE trim)

EPA mileage rating:

24 mpg city / 31 mpg highway (FWD)

22 mpg city / 29 mpg highway (AWD)