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On-paper, Toyota’s high-riding RAV 4 SUV now offers potential fuel and cost-saving benefits of a hybrid powertrain for the first time. How does it measure up in the real-world? Richard Gooding reports
Once a very small market, the crossover and SUV segment has boomed in recent years. The Toyota RAV4 was arguably one of the first when it was launched in 1994, and that first-generation car spurred on a host of rivals. Offering high-riding and practical style, it was a genuinely different proposition to the similar-sized hatchbacks of the period.
Now in its fourth generation, the RAV4 has become a staple of the SUV segment. Myriad engine and front-wheel or four‑wheel‑drive combinations are available: the model tested here is the Hybrid version, one of the very few alternatively-fuelled models in its class. Launched last year, the RAV4 Hybrid is the first time the Japanese company’s petrol-electric powertrain has been added to Toyota’s 6m-selling SUV.
The latest RAV4 takes on Toyota’s latest styling cues, its pinched front and rear styling most echoing the latest Prius. It’s the sharpest‑looking RAV4 for a couple of generations, our high-specification test car helped by its £795 white pearlescent paint finish, standard roof rails, 18-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass.
Inside, the leather-like finish on the lower parts of the dashboard lend a quality feel, while the 7.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system usefully shows all sort of economy and powertrain information. Upgraded to Toyota’s Touch® 2 with Go navigation system with enhanced multimedia, voice recognition, text to speech and 3D mapping functionality on Excel models, the system still lacks behind the class best in terms of interface and usability, but it is responsive and comprehensive.
Most functions are also displayed in the 4.2-inch colour TFT screen which is nestled in the instrument cluster ahead of the driver.
The RAV4’s full hybrid system combines a Lexus-derived 150bhp 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine with two electric motors (105kW at the front, 50kW at the rear) and Toyota’s ‘E-Four’ four-wheel drive system – front‑wheel drive versions of the RAV4 Hybrid do with just one motor. There’s a 204-cell nickel metal‑hydride battery, too, mounted under the rear seats. Combined system output is 195bhp, with maximum torque of 206Nm/151lb ft is developed from 4,400-4,800rpm.
The most powerful RAV4 ever, Toyota quotes a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds for the RAV4 Hybrid, but in reality, the car rarely feels that quick. Three driving modes – ‘Eco’, ‘EV’ and ‘Sport’ lets you control the way the car is driven, and it’s only when in ‘Sport’, the RAV4 Hybrid gives off a serious feeling of speed. Although at odds with the nature of a economy-minded hybrid, this mode is also recommended for mountainous or challenging terrain driving, in a similar way that the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV uses its ‘Charge’ function to assist the petrol engine.
However, most buyers don’t buy a hybrid for speed, and let the RAV4 do its standard hybrid thing, and it’s an accomplished enough machine. ‘Eco’ mode decides when the electric part of the powertrain is used and is the mode we mostly drove the car in. Toyota states that the hybrid powertrain is engineered to eliminate the need for the petrol engine as much as possible when driving in urban areas. As such, there’s no pure EV mode over 30mph, though, and it can be quite tricky to not let the petrol engine come into play at low speeds.
As with the engine in the Auris, the 2,494cc unit kicks in far too easily, with the CVT automatic gearbox making its presence felt through increased and sustained engine noise. The gearbox’s ‘S’ mode does let you change gears in a similar way to a Tiptronic, and at speed, the RAV4 Hybrid is very, very quiet, and has none of the engine gruffness which usually affects diesel-engined SUVs. At higher speeds the electric motors work in conjunction with the petrol engine, to help save fuel.
A regenerative braking function restores battery charge, but it’s not as severe in a ‘mild hybrid’ like the RAV4 as it is in a plug-in hybrid or pure electric vehicle. Like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the RAV4’s ‘rev counter’ is divided into ‘Charge’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Power’ sections. The brakes are very sharp but the RAV4 Hybrid enjoys a very comfortable ride. The steering is light, too, which is perfect around the urban environments most will see, and it lends the car an agile feel.
Toyota quotes a combined cycle figure of 55.4mpg for the RAV4 Excel Hybrid. Over a week-long test of 343 miles, we achieved a more disappointing average of 39.8mpg over a mixed-route use, and recorded a highest value of 46.5mpg.
At £33,975, the RAV4 Excel Hybrid is the range-topping version of Toyota’s SUV. The range starts with the £24,765 front-wheel drive Active, powered by a 2.0-litre D-4D diesel engine. Business Edition Plus models start at £27,290, while the cheapest hybrid version of the RAV4, the Business Edition Plus Hybrid, starts from £29,080. This does without the four-wheel drive powertrain of the more expensive Excel, but is 3g/km cleaner, no doubt thanks to its simpler drive configuration. The first RAV4
Hybrid model which gets four-wheel drive is the £33,275 Icon. Diesel versions of the Toyota SUV come with six‑speed manual gearboxes, but the hybrid and 2.0-litre petrol models are CVT-automatic only.
Excel models come very well-equipped with automatic LED headlights, wipers and rear‑view mirror, DAB radio, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, keyless entry and push-button start, as well as leather upholstery. Safety is high on the agenda, too, with hill start, traction control and vehicle stability systems fitted as standard.
Our test car also came with the optional £1,060 Toyota Safety Sense package comprising of adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam, lane keep assist, pre‑collision and pedestrian protection, and road sign assist systems. Practicality is aided by a powered tailgate, and even with the hybrid powertrain packaging, only 50 litres of boot space is lost over diesel-powered RAV4s.
For comparison, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV which also features an electric motor allied to a petrol engine, is priced from £34,249 before the £2,500 Government’s Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) is subtracted. While the two differ very slightly in size, the Outlander is also a full plug-in vehicle, whereas the Toyota is what is termed a ‘mild-hybrid’.
With emissions of 118g/km, the RAV4 Excel Hybrid pollutes less than nearly all its fossil‑fuelled rivals, but it’s not as clean as the 41g/km Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. First‑year rate Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) for the Toyota SUV costs £150 under the new VED rates which came into force in April 2017, and attracts a rate of £130 thereafter. Benefit in Kind is 22 per cent for 2017/2018. The slightly cleaner but less well-equipped 115g/km RAV4 Business Edition Plus Hybrid shares the more expensive Excel’s taxation costs.
Toyota has plans to shift around 50 per cent of its UK buyers into hybrids by 2020, and the petrol-electric RAV4 is a worthy addition to the Japanese company’s alternatively-fuelled range. With very few alternatively-fuelled competitors, the RAV4 Hybrid has few peers in its segment.
A high-specification and comprehensive kit list aims to entice buyers, along with Toyota’s standard five-year/100,000-mile pan-European mechanical warranty. The advantages of a more refined petrol‑electric powertrain combined with on-paper economy almost on a par with its diesel siblings may also prove compelling to those who are looking past diesel for both fuel and emissions savings.
While the fourth-generation RAV4 is the first to receive Toyota’s full hybrid powertrain, it’s not the first version of the Japanese SUV to feature electric power.
The RAV4 EV of 1994 previewed technology which would, just a short time later, play a large part in Toyota’s history. Based on the first-generation RAV4, the EV version featured a permanent magnet electric motor in outputs of 45 or 50kW, while a theoretical range of 124 miles was mooted.
Built until 2003 for fleet lease, this zero-emission RAV4 model was only offered for small-scale public sale in California. A 60,000-mile warranty was standard for its NiMh battery pack and from the 1,484 units released, around 500 are still thought be in regular use.
The RAV4 EV provided important engineering lessons for the first‑generation Prius in 1997, and a second version arrived in 2010, with input from a certain Californian company named Tesla.