Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Driving the Redesigned RAV4: Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

I read where an auto journalist compared being on the new-car-launch circuit as being in the TV series "The Amazing Race" only without any women. That's about as accurate a description as I've heard. There are a few women; however, the majority of them work for the car companies.

It's a whirlwind schedule that has us on and off planes in different locations on nearly a weekly basis. For A-list media -- this doesn't include me -- these locations are international in scope. The rest of us ping-pong back and forth across North America. Copious amounts of food punctuated by night-time sessions in a bar somewhere also figure prominently in this craziness.

I am wrapping up my third trip to Arizona in five weeks. A trip to Utah and another to Chicago were also part of that five-week mix.

This particular trip was to sample Toyota's fourth generation RAV4. Completely redesigned, it is very different from the previous model inside and out. Available in three trim levels -- LE, XLE and Limited -- it has an all-new six-speed automatic transmission with Eco and Sport modes, as well as Dynamic Torque Control for its all-wheel drive.

Gone is the optional V6. Every 2013 RAV4 will use a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder for its giddy-up. At 8.9 seconds, it is more than a second quicker sprinting from 0-to-60 than the last four-cylinder RAV4.

Although its wheelbase is the same as the previous generation, its overall length is shorter because the spare tire has been moved from the outside of the tailgate to a compartment under the cargo floor. So now the tailgate is a liftgate.

The two-tone interior treatment further enhances the sharp styling. Eight airbags are standard, as is the 6.1-inch touchscreen audio display.

This crossover is fun to drive and pleasingly quiet. Prices begin at $23,300 for the RAV4 LE FWD. This includes a two-year maintenance plan with roadside assistance.

Toyota established three driving loops of varying lengths; none of which challenged the RAV4 in any way. But it was quiet, comfortable and competent.

Toyota put us up at The Boulders just north of Scottsdale. This was my second stay at this resort that requires a pack mule and a guide to navigate. My first was 20 years ago when Ford used The Boulders to host the launch of the 1991 Mercury Capri and something else that I can't even remember.

Any how, Toyota bunked us at The Boulders. It has quite the little fleet of golf carts to transport guests from one area of the resort to another. Good thing, too; I could swear I saw some bleached bones by the tennis courts.

Arranged in pods of six or eight rooms, some rooms were downstairs and others up. Mine was an upstairs unit.

It was spacious and nicely appointed. In one corner facing two leather easy chairs was a real wood-burning fireplace. Everything was provided to get a roaring inferno going. One of Toyota's PR people told me at check-in that he had encountered some problems trying to get his fire going. It wasn't exactly a challenge, but I decided that upon returning to my room after dinner, I'd give it a go.

It was about 11:30 p.m. when a golf cart finally dropped me at the bottom of the steps to my room. After locking my door, I began to undress when the fireplace caught my eye. I immediately walked over, opened the fireplace screen, pushed open the flue, placed a few fire-starting cubes on the grate and added a couple pieces of wood. The resort had thoughtfully also provided a gizmo for lighting this mess.

I got the little cubes going and they eventually got the wood burning as well. Well, who's the fire-building king of this group? I thought to myself.

Perhaps as few as 90 seconds later, the smoke alarm was blaring like the klaxon of a submerging submarine. Not only was my alarm going off, but so were the alarms in every room in my pod.

Glancing down, I realized I was half undressed. There I was naked from the waist down in a room filling with smoke and my life flashing before my eyes.

Running to the closet I grabbed a hotel robe and got it on just as the frantic knocking on my door began. I opened it to find a hotel bellmen/fire fighter ready to save me and my belongings.

Quickly sizing things up, he realized there was no real danger beyond burning, watering eyes. Now more knocking at the door. Another bellman, somewhat more excited than the first, charged into the room. "I got the message someone saw actual flames," he choked out before the smoke got the better of him.

I pointed to the fireplace. "That's about it," I hollered over the incessant bleating of the fire alarm.

"The flue is closed!" he screamed back as he rushed over and opened it.

I guess I should have allowed the bellmen who brought me to my room explain everything as he offered. I had work to do and just wanted to get on with it. I declined the tutorial on how to work the shower and operate the fireplace. Oops.

As one bellman left the room to turn off the alarms sounding throughout the rest of the pod, the other raced around throwing open the doors and engaging the ceiling fan.

After offering me another room -- what, after I just got the fire going in this one? -- they started to leave.

"Wait," I yelled "Can't you turn off the alarm in this room?"

"Nope, can't do it," he yelled back shaking his head. "It has to stop by itself once the smoke clears out of the room."

Great, it's about 35-degrees outside -- and not much warmer inside my room -- and I can't close the doors because the smoke has to clear. Meanwhile, the alarm continued to sound.

Maybe another 15 minutes passed before the alarm finally stopped. I shut the doors, turned off the ceiling fan and threw another log on the fire.

Why, I'm the fire-building king, I thought.


  1. Soon, possibly within a year but certainly within two, there will be a story going around about how a journalist on one of the auto trips set his hotel room on fire. But don't worry. You probably won't be named.

  2. Oh, yeah. And the way the story will be told is that you had to run out of your room naked.

    1. Yeah, but will they sing a song about me?

  3. Here's your song (sing to the tune of Beverly Hillbillies, of course):

    Come listen to a story about man named Russ,
    Who tried to light fire, and caused a great fuss.
    The flue was closed you see and the room filled all with smoke,
    And the next thing you know, ole Russ began to choke.

    Smoke that is, like from a big bonfire, sparks and all.

    Well, the first thing you know, the alarm began to clang,
    and Russ he quickly ran outside, to find help from his gang,
    Then he looked around and to his horror saw,
    He didn't have on pants, and was standing in the raw.

    Nude that is, like no clothes, bareass naked.

    Well, help did arrive in time and the room did not burn down,
    And hotel staff did leave Russ with a really great big frown.
    But as he looked around he said just one more thing,
    I guess I really, really am, the fire-building king.

    King, that is, like one with no clothes. Y'all come back now, y'hear!

  4. Paul, great song that I'm sure they'll be singing in preschools as a cautionary tale, but you've got too much time on your hands.

  5. Yes RAV4 the best Toyota made ever had. What did you think about this car ?

  6. Toyota has developed the RAV4 into a much more sophisticated crossover. Dumping the V6 sharpens its focus without doing any harm. Transforming the tailgate to a liftgate makes it more practical as well. The 2013 is a much better vehicle by nearly every measure.