In a market with very few electric vehicles, and already a leader in hybrid vehicle development, Toyota opted to skip the idea of making an all new hatchback or sedan to compete against the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt or Ford Focus EV. Instead, it resurrected the RAV4 EV which had a previous run from 1997 to 2003. More than resurrecting a well-liked vehicle, which still has about 750 units on the road, this second-gen model is designed to deliver the best packaging for EV components, while relieving range anxiety and providing a product that delivers zero emissions.
|1. The RAV4 EV utilizes an electric drive system and battery pack created by Tesla Motors. 2. In normal mode the RAV4 EV offers 92 miles of range or 113 miles in an extended mode. 3. 0-60 is rated in as little as 7.0 seconds, 11 seconds faster than the original RAV4 EV. 4. A full charge takes roughly 5-6 hours. 5. Fully-loaded and priced from $49,800 it goes on sale in late summer in four California markets with incentives of up to $10,000.|
FROM BIG IDEA TO BIG DEAL
Conversations between senior management at Toyota started in May 2010 to bring back the electric version of the RAV4 EV, with the mandate to improve range and add versatility giving consumers a new kind of SUV. Engineers wanted to produce an EV that had no compromises or sacrifices for the typical crossover buyer. With intentions to get the this vehicle to market immediately, the new RAV4 was developed in less than 20 months by a key group of engineers from both Toyota Motor Corporation and Tesla Motors in North America.
The catalyst behind the collaboration between Tesla and Toyota was Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda. The outcome of the collaboration is a Tesla designed and produced battery and electric powertrain, giving the all new RAV4 EV the longest EPA estimated driving range rating of any non-luxury EV at 93 miles in normal mode and113 miles in an extended range mode.
For home charging, Toyota has partnered with charging system industry leader Leviton. The full-charge time for the new RAV4 EV is five to six hours using a 240V charger, one of the notable down-sides of the vehicle, at roughly double that of the competition.
PERFORMING LIKE NO OTHER
The drive feel of this new SUV will change any preconceived notions of poor performance and unpredictable power.
Using a Toyota AC induction motor and a Tesla front wheel single shift drivetrain, the new RAV4 EV makes 115 kW which is an estimated 154 horsepower along with a 218 lb-ft of torque in Normal Mode and 273 lb-ft and Sport Mode. Buyers will instantly discover a surprising amount of power and an accelerator feel unlike any other EV. Acceleration is better than expected, especially in the Sport Mode and is perhaps the single largest improvement over the first-gen model, which averaged about 18 seconds to 60 mph.
Similar to a Power mode that you would find in many Toyota green vehicles, the Sport mode animates the RAV4 EV with a more aggressive accelerator pedal feel, higher maximum speed and power as well as adjusting the positive torque output. 0-60 can happen in 8.6 seconds in Normal Mode, or in as little as 7.0 seconds in Sport Mode with maximum speeds of 85 mph (normal mode) and 100 mph (sport mode).
Helping add to the engaging feel of the RAV4 EV is a B-mode on the shifter. Like a low gear on a conventional automatic to help slow the car on hills, B-mode delivers more aggressive regenerative braking. When combined with Sport mode the crossover is overall more responsive, while also helping to improve mileage.
In adjusting climate control to match driving styles, three different options for the climate controls have been designed: Normal, Eco Lo and Eco Hi. The normal option acts as conventional vehicle with no limits on the blower, compressor or heater usage, yet has the most impact on the EV range. The Eco Lo setting is recommended for a balance in cabin comfort and better range. It also reduces the blower level, compressor and electric heater operations to reduce power consumption. Finally, in the Eco Hi scenario, it sacrifices comfort for driving range reducing blower, compressor and heater levels which affords up to 40% in power savings.
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In terms of style, the RAV4 EV resembles what is already on the market with a hint of futurism. In fact, it’s a better looking SUV than the current gas counterpart. With stylized and aerodynamic tweaks like new EV blue accent badges, a new front fascia, LED projector headlamps with manual headlight leveling system, vertical daytime LED running lights and combination taillights that also help reduce energy usage. Helping improve aerodynamic efficiency and give the RAV4 EV the lowest drag coefficient of any SUV on the market is a new grille, slimmer heated power side-mirrors, a rear spoiler and a flatter underbody that maximizes airflow. Absent, however, is a tow hook, as the RAV4 EV is not designed to pull.
Shedding that piece also helps keep the weight gain in the transformation to an EV to a minimum. In addition, amenities like a moonroof and roof-rack have intentionally been omitted to reduce vehicle weight. Also assigned to the new EV is an emergency tire puncture repair kit as a substitute for a spare tire meaning gone is the iconic rear panel spare.
With all that’s new, a great deal has been carried over from the regular RAV4, including the wheels and cabin styling. As a bonus, cargo space remains unchanged at 73 cu-ft total, as the battery is located in the floorboard.
THE INSIDE TAKE
Since there is only one trim option for this new EV, what you see is what you get. Again, it’s familiar as a RAV4, though seems more upscale thanks to the necessary EV additions.
Getting in and out is easy with keyless access and a push button start. The seats get a new fabric and are heated while the door panels and the steering wheel remain the same.
The real changes come courtesy of the dashboard, the centre stack and the nimble shifter which is identical to that in Toyota’s hybrid champion, the Prius. Toyota has eliminated most of the current analogue controls and indicators. Still equipped with three circular clusters, adjacent to the central cluster speedometer are LCD screens relaying operating, navigation, and audio information, just to name a few. As a bonus the center cluster ring illuminates two separate colors based on driving options: sky blue in Normal Mode and racing red in Sport Mode.
Redesigned for the EV is the button-less center console incorporating hands-free capabilities and a touch screen display with a back up camera. Inspired by capacitive touch technologies such as the iPhone, the new 8-inch Intellitouch system incorporates travel information, navigation, music options and lifestyle apps such as Open Table, Pandora, Bing and more. The touch screen can even be used while a driver or passenger is wearing gloves. The in-car apps also correspond with Toyota’s connective mobile Entune app converging EV applications for either iPhone or Android smartphones. Entune allows owners to have remote control of their vehicle from setting the charge timing to locating it in a crowded parking lot.
Priced at $49,800 minus government incentives (which can total $10,000) the RAV4 is certainly pricier than other EVs on the market, though it also offers something they don’t. While every other automaker chose the compact car route, Toyota is pioneering the electric crossover segment.
And though it has cool styling, solid tech features and superior mileage that reduces range anxiety the big question on most people’s minds will undoubtedly be longevity. Toyota engineers have conveyed that they are committed to this vehicle. Over the next three years, Toyota expects to sell 2,600 units of the RAV4 EV within four regions of California at select dealers in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles/Orange County and San Diego.
If things go well the plan is to increase production and expand to other markets, and after our drive and considering Toyota’s already strong customer base with the environmentally friendly crowd, we expect they will.