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Toyota RAV4 EV demonstrates the potential for an electric SUV

Consumer Reports News: October 05, 2012 11:08 AM


A smooth-running Toyota RAV4 that does not consume gasoline is now at dealerships, and we recently borrowed one to sample at our test track. And so far, we're seeing real appeal in an electric sport-ute.

The RAV4 EV is derived from the current small SUV. Although the highly rated RAV4 will be replaced by a completely redesigned RAV next spring, this electric version will be sold over three years. Toyota plans to build just 2,600 examples only.

The electric bits come from electric-carmaker Tesla, including a sizable 41.8-kWh lithium-ion battery, and they are matched with a motor driving the front wheels good for 154 hp. Toyota says the RAV4 EV has been EPA rated with a 103-mile range, but a company representative said drivers should expect a real-world range of typically around 115 miles--well beyond current electric cars in our experience. Charge times are claimed to be as little as 5 hours from a 240V power supply and as much as 52 hours from a standard 120V outlet. That may not sound impressive but considering the battery size it is, and that's thanks to a 10-kW on-board charger.

To maximize efficiency, aerodynamic aids include smaller outside mirrors, a smoother front fascia, larger rear spoiler, and underbody panels to improve airflow. Toyota says that no interior passenger or cargo room is lost to the electrical components, although the rear-mounted spare on conventional models is gone to save weight; it is replaced with a can of aerosol sealant.

Based on our initial experience behind the wheel, the overall driving experience is much like a conventional RAV4 despite the 400-pound plus weight penalty over a V6 model. Initial thrust is punchy, with quiet, continuous power. There is little driveline whine or other odd noises. Ride and handling are pretty close to the conventional RAV. Brakes are smooth and linear, with none of the jerkiness or grabby feel sometimes experienced with regenerative braking systems.

In Sport mode we even experienced some torque steer under hard acceleration, which can make the electric RAV feel darty on broken or uneven pavement. Toyota claims a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 6.8 seconds in Sport mode, just one tenth of a second slower than our last, rather sprightly V6 RAV4. In the less power-hungry Normal mode, the RAV4 EV can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds--similar to a four-cylinder Camry.

EV buyers get their choice of one trim level and zero options, with cloth seats and interior appointments on a par with base conventional models. The exception is the dashboard, which gets an 8.1-inch touch screen containing EV usage and charge info. It also includes audio controls, backup camera, a navigation system that shows charging stations in its search options, and the Toyota Entune telematics system. An Eco coach rates your acceleration and braking usage on scale of 100 to encourage more energy-efficient driving. Conventional knobs for climate controls have also been given the ax, being replaced with touch-sensitive capacitive controls.

We have reservations about the loss of conventional knobs and buttons because of increased risk of driver distraction. However, Toyota says the controls are an experiment, and that their EV customers are early adopter techno types who won't find them objectionable.

The RAV4 EV is priced at a heady $49,800, but it is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, plus the state of California will kick in another $2,500 credit. The current plan limits sales to the Golden State only, but Toyota says they will re-evaluate offering it in other regions in a year.

One reason for the hesitancy to expand availability may be that California-based Tesla will be handling all warranty claims and service on the battery, which carries an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty. The rest of the EV is covered by the same 3-year/36,000-mile basic and 60-month/60,000-mile powertrain warranty of other RAV models.

We'll be living with the RAV4 EV and putting it through its paces at our test track over the next few days, and we'll report back soon with what we find.

Jim Travers

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