Test Drive: Toyota RAV4 Plug In hybrid : The country Prius feels at home in town

The RAV4 (for Recreational Activity Vehicle) was born in 1993. It was a fun and very compact vehicle. (In fact, it was 90 cm shorter than the current version!) Over the years, it grew in size… and  power. It’s the most popular SUV in the world, having sold more than ten million copies so far. Within the Toyota range, it’s the second best seller, behind the Corolla. Last year, almost a million units left the factory. The fifth generation was launched in 2019 and is only available with a petrol engine, or as an hybrid or plug-in hybrid. We just tested the last one for you. (Text: Dimitri Urbain, Photos: Paul-Edouard Urbain)

The RAV4 is an SUV whose size makes it an accomplished wagon. The styling is a bit tortured but more consensual than that of the CH-R.

Toyota popularised hybridisation through various Prius generations. The brand went further and now sells plug-in hybrids as well. This RAV4 can be recharged from a household socket, a full charge taking about 7.5 hours. Using a Wallbox reduces it to about 2.5 hours. On the road, energy is recuperated during braking and then reused during acceleration. The main engine is a four-cylinder petrol lump with a  2,487 cc capacity ! Engine downsizing is not really popular with Japanese manufacturers. On paper, 306 bhp and 227 Nm at 3,200 rpm is quite attractive. Certainly, the accelerations are vigorous and put a grin on your face. We surprised more than one BMW driver…

Sport seats welcome passengers up front. They are comfortable and provide good support when cornering. Upholstery is a mix of fabric and pretty convincing look-alike leather. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable, unlike the passenger’s. The large glass sunroof fitted to our test car was a welcome addition, making the interior brighter. Once opened, it was not noisy and quite pleasant.

However, given its weight (more than 1.9 T!) the engine seems adequate for such a vehicle.  Once the battery is discharged, li is still a heavy vehicle and the engine is a bit slow to pick up. It is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). We didn’t feel it was losing its grip and revving up the engine for no real reason, as with many other CVT-equipped vehicles. It’s comfortable and easy to use, with true family credentials. The interior is spacious and welcoming, well equipped and well finished while the boot is very large.

The RAV4 Plug In Hybrid is a 4X4 made up with an electric motor located on the rear axle. No bulky drive shaft here, which is good interior space. The battery does not reduce boot capacity, which is nice. Its size turns it into an ideal candidate to fit a plug in hybrid system and battery.

I like it

The RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid is not a sporty vehicle but it is quite reassuring on the road. Switching to ‘sport’ mode makes the steering firmer and less mushy. The RAV4 is a 4X4 made in a simple way: an electric motor sits on the rear axle and drives the rear wheels while the combustion engine (combined to an electric one) drives the front wheels. The boot has a capacity of 520 litres and the battery does not reduce its size.

The wheel arches can accommodate 18, 19 or even 20″ wheels without any problem. Shod wiith Dunlop tyres, the RAV4 was comfortable. A little more steering feel would be welcome because even in “sport” mode, you always feel distant and disconnected from the front end.

I don’t like it

The 17″ wheels are a bit lost in the wheel arches. The multimedia screen could be crisper, just like the rear view camera: it would certainly benefit from being moved up. The image is very often completely blurred because the weather is wet, foggy  or it’s raining… The brake pedal feel is surprising… at first nothing happens (it’s the regeneration phase) and then you find yourself with your nose in the windscreen! Dosing pressure is really difficult to master.

The ergonomics are well thought out. Materials quality, like fit and finish, is flawless. The central screen is big enough but its resolution could be better. Navigating among the various menus is fairly intuitive.

Quite clever…

A Toyota, any Toyota, never disappoints with interior finish and adjustments. The leather may be artificial but it looks and feels like the real thing. Nice details abound, such as the rear hatch that opens automatically. On board, there are numerous well laid-out and practical storage spaces. Perceived quality is pretty good, from the thick-foamed dashboard top to the antislip interior door handles.

Under the bonnet, there’s a 2.5 litre DOHC four cylinder engine. Mated to an electric motor, it develops no less than 306 bhp and 227 Nm at 3,200 rpm. It is never too noisy and is up to its task. Just press the right pedal and the RAV4 bounces along. Over our test, fuel consumption remained very reasonable, at around 6.5 l/100 km.

Why I buy it

The RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid makes electric power credible. A 70km range is enough to drive in urban areas. And there’s no range- anxiety to think about. Given its size and weight, the RAV4 is very easy on petrol… Five passengers will travel in great comfort. Its regularly shaped boot will swallow large suitcases, there won’t be any painful choices between dresses and shoes to be made. The interior is rather dark but the panoramic opening glass roof enlarges it visually while making it brighter as well. The seats are comfortable and supportive. The standard equipment list is very long, from the lumbar adjustment to the heated front and rear seats and steering wheel. It’s easy to feel comfortable in the RAV4, even on a frosty morning.

It’s easy to see the battery condition while driving. Educational screens show you how the powertrain works.

Why I don’t buy it

The RAV4 is easy to drive but has an ‘American’ feel to it… you never really feel involved behind the wheel. The same goes for the gearbox :  you really feel disconnected from what is going on under the bonnet and at the front end. This is certainly the biggest fault we can find… Mind you, on a car costing €57,000 it’s hard to swallow there are no passenger seat electric adjustments.

The boot is regularly shaped and is big enough to carry four or five people’s stuff without having to resort to soft bags. Its load sill is not too high. The folding rear seat increases modularity and turns the RAV4 into a commercial vehicle, if needed.

The RAV4 is comfortable and welcoming, but should not be mistaken for a sporty SUV, which it is definitely not. However, it is just the right size to accommodate the electric motors and battery without sacrificing too much space. It is a rolling showcase of Toyota’s technological mastering.

The various on-board cameras and other driver assistance systems make the RAV4 easy to handle and inspire confidence.

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