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Toyota RAV4 EV 2013: Quick Spin

Toyota overcomes its own recalcitrance on EVs to serve up one of the best yet

Toyota RAV4 EV

Quick Spin
Los Angeles, USA

What we liked:
>>Big muscles
>>Decent range by EV standards
>>No compromise to donor vehicle space and practicality

Not so much:
>>Big money
>>Feather-touch controls
>>They don’t really want to build it

Remarkably, it took Toyota just 22 months to take its RAV4 EV from a blank sheet of paper to the finished product you see here. And despite the haste, it’s come up with one of the better engineered and more compelling expressions of 21st century electric car values.

This might seem odd, given the years the Japanese giant has spent extolling the advantages of the Hybrid Synergy Drive technology it uses in its Priuses over battery electric power. But there’s a reason for it.

Toyota would have preferred not to build this car. It’s doing so only in the name of compliance with California’s ever tightening zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which is pushing the US auto industry towards a 15 per cent ZEV quotient among new car sales by 2025.

This isn’t the first RAV4 EV, either. The electric compact SUV actually pre-dates the Prius, with the first iteration rolled out in 1997. Developed and built it in Japan, it was Toyota’s first response after California passed the mandate in 1991. About 1500 examples were made, for lease and later purchase in California only, between 1997 and 2003.

By the time the new RAV4 was launched in mid-late 2012, almost 500 of the originals were reportedly still on the roads, many with 150,000 miles (240,000km) and more on the clock without an overhaul.

On its debut in mid-late 2012, this second effort at a commercially available EV faced one immediately evident problem: built on the third-generation RAV platform, it arrived just in time for Toyota to announce the new, improved fourth-generation RAV. And at twice the price – a $50,610 sticker (plus on-roads) in a place you can get a very well spec’ed petrol RAV for not much over $30,000. Mind you, that’s before federal and state EV rebates cut in, bringing the car down closer to a still hefty $40K.

No matter. While the old one bore little visual differentiation from its donor car on the outside and this one retains basic RAV exterior lines, Toyota has put a lot more work into pitching this car as standalone product. On the outside, they’ve given it a front bumper, grille, side mirrors and added a rear spoiler. The underbelly has been smoothed as well. All this gives the EV not just a distinctive look, but a drag coefficient of 0.30Cd, a figure Toyota claims as the best in the SUV segment.

This RAV4 EV came to pass very differently to its predecessor. This time, Toyota looked to Silicon Valley EV whiz Tesla for a drivetrain. That’s got a lot to do with what makes it one of the better examples of the breed.

It shares a number of components with Tesla’s Model S, but brings the entire drivetrain up front – the single 115kW electric motor, inverter, power management unit and the single-speed transmission driving the front wheels all sit under the bonnet.

True to the Tesla formula, the RAV has its battery sitting like a concrete slab beneath the cabin. At 41.8kWh, it’s big in every way – by comparison, Nissan uses a 24kWh battery in its LEAF. Physically, that translates into a bulky 1876mm x 1454mm x 270mm, yet the EV loses nothing of the donor car’s cargo space, which extends up to 2067 litres with the rear seats down.

At 383kg, the battery takes the car’s kerb weight to 1829kg – a 168kg premium on the now defunct RAV4 V6 petrol.

What’s it like to drive?

Climbing in reveals a donor-car cockpit with heavy modification; gone is the stock analogue instrument cluster; in its place is a TFT screen with a large digital speedo flanked by charge and energy meters to the left, ancillaries to the right.


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