In recent years, the Toyota RAV4 has been transformed from a bland and anemic compact SUV to a sporty, capable and fun to drive crossover. It has bulked up and grown in length. Although not exactly stylish or loaded with personality, the RAV4 is pleasant looking and well proportioned.
More importantly, in the context of electric vehicles, the RAV4 EV variant of the vehicle is currently the only all-electric crossover available anywhere in the United States—although it is only on sale in Los Angeles Area, Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego, select Central California cities and the San Francisco Bay Area.
As the only battery-powered SUV on the market—that is, until the much more expensive Tesla Model X arrives—the RAV4 EV's middle-of-the-road looks will serve well (and certainly not alienate) car buyers looking for a competent utility vehicle that runs purely on electrons.
The heart and soul of the RAV4 EV is an electric drivetrain from Tesla Motors, the California startup known for pushing the envelope on electric vehicle power. By virtue of its collaboration with Tesla, Toyota transformed its sedate Toyota utility wagon into a high-riding two-ton beast.
In Sport Mode, the electric RAV goes from 0-60 in about seven seconds, and zooms to a maximum speed of 100 mph. The Sport mode provides 154 horsepower. Its 273 pound-feet of torque, which often produces tire chirp at launch, is cut to a calmer 218 pound-feet when operating in Normal mode. While the Sport Mode is great for a burst of highway passing power, when launching from stop and stomping your foot on the accelerator, the vehicle's body rises and dips and the steering shakes left and right. When pushed to its limits, the Tesla system overpowers the capabilities of the Toyota vehicle platform.
The RAV4 EV’s brakes were brought over from Toyota’s Prius hybrid. The feel of that mushy brake system does not earn high marks from those who like to drive. Unfortunately, Toyota did not use the one-pedal strategy—a very strong pull when you lift your foot off the accelerator, and no vehicle creep forward from a standstill—found in the most robust EVs on the market, such as the Tesla Model S and the BMW i3.
These are relatively small nuances. What more importantly distinguishes this vehicle from the EV pack is the impressive acceleration of the Tesla drivetrain, available in the RAV4 EV for a fraction of the cost of a Tesla. One stomp on the accelerator reveals its impressive capabilities, and might alone convince you to make the RAV4 EV your next vehicle.
The all-electric RAV4 received an EPA rated range of 103 miles—well below what owners are experiencing in real-world conditions. The EPA pegged efficiency at 78 city miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe); 74 highway MPGe; and 76 combined MPGe.
In one of our road tests, after 48 miles on the road, the dashboard indicated an estimated 98 miles of remaining range. In other words, after a trip of nearly 50 miles, there was almost 100 miles of electricity left in the battery—more than is available from the Nissan LEAF after a full charge. That’s because the Tesla-made battery pack in the RAV4 EV has a capacity of 41.8 kilowatt hours, while the LEAF’s is 24 kilowatt hours.
On another day, when restraining use of Sport mode and not using the air conditioner, we easily managed nearly 130 miles of range on a single charge. Even when stomping the accelerator as hard as we liked, screeching away from stoplights, the RAV4 EV delivered more than 100 miles of range— a feat that few other electric cars can achieve.
The bigger battery provides longer range, but the bonus here was that driving with gusto had relatively little effect on overall range.
The Tesla powertrain system utilized in the RAV4 not only delivers brisker acceleration, the onboard charger is also faster. It is rated at 10 kilowatts—compared to the 6.6-kW charger used on nearly every other EV.
If you have a 240-volt home charging station (and electrical service) supplied at 30 amps or less, the capability will not help you. But if you are able to provide 40 amps of juice, you should be able to add about 30 to 35 miles of range in an hour of charging—rather than about 20 to 25 miles. That can come in handy.
The potential ability to charge faster gave Toyota engineers justification to not install a DC quick-charge port. So don’t expect to use any of the growing number of public quick chargers. From our prospective, these quick chargers are seldom used anyhow, so this is not much of a sacrifice, especially considering the large 41.8-kilowatt hour battery that provides 125-plus miles of range.
The RAV4 EV is not a pokey little electric car. Most drivers will find it easy to get quite comfortable. Passengers, even tall ones in the back seat, have plenty of room. You can't say that about most of the plug-in cars on today's market.
The RAV4 seats five and comes standard with adjustable driver and front-passenger seats and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. Options include a power-adjustable driver seat with lumbar support and memory settings, heated front seats with faux-leather trim and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob. The interior materials rely on hard plastic, but the overall feel and build quality is high.
Cargo space is excellent, with no compromise in the cabin to make room for the battery pack. The 2014 Toyota RAV4 has 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 73.4 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded. That’s more than what you will find in most other affordable compact SUVs.
The long list of standard features includes: a six-speaker stereo with a touch-screen display, a backup camera, Bluetooth and a USB port. Optional upgrades include dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, navigation, a premium audio system blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, a power liftgate, which is a nice touch.
Safety scores from federal agencies are not available specifically for the electric version of the RAV4. Yet, the overall RAV platform performs well on these tests.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety granted the RAV4 a designation of "Good" for the following tests: Moderate Overlap Front; Side Impact; Rear Crash Protection; and Roof Strength. Good is the IIHS’s highest rating. However, the RAV4 received a "Poor" score for its "Small Overlap Front” test.
Safety testing from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration yielded respectable, but not the absolute best, ratings. While the RAV4 received five stars for Side Crash, it only received four stars for Frontal Crash and Rollover—and an overall rating of four out of five stars.
This Toyota corporate video explains the ways the company addressed safety concerns specifically related to the all-electric version of the RAV4.
The vehicle comes with the numerous safety features, including driver airbag, passenger airbag, side head airbag, rear head air bags, side air bag, 4-wheel ABS, 4-wheel disc brakes, brake assist, electronic stability control, daytime running lights, child safety locks, and traction control.
The official starting MSRP for the RAV4 EV is $49,800, before incentives. (Toyota adds $860 in destination fees.) That's a hefty price, even after considering the vehicle's qualifications for $7,500 federal tax credit, and a $2,500 rebate in California's clean vehicle program. Those perks bring the price down to about $40,000. However, the EV is equipped with about the same level of amenities as the gasoline-powered RAV4 Limited V-6 model, which costs around $31,300.
On the other hand, Toyota continues to offer an attractive lease price of just $299 a month (incorporating incentives) in a 36-month, 36,000-mile lease. That's a winning price. Dealerships are also being generous with their incentives. Although be warned: There have been reports about RAV4 EV deals not being as good as advertised at some locations. Shop around between participating dealerships.
As an added perk, all electric vehicles qualify for California's High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane white sticker program.
Comparisons of Similar Cars
Until Tesla starts selling its Model X SUV, or Mitsubishi finally delivers on a crossover plug-in hybrid (which has been delayed due to technical glitches), the Toyota RAV4 EV is in a category of its own: the electric SUV.
Only 2,600 units of the RAV4 EV will be made, with production wrapping up at the end of 2014. So, unless Toyota extends its production plans, the RAV4 EV will be on its way out, just as these other potential SUVs plug-in vehicles start arriving.
Actually, it's not fair to compare the electric RAV with the Model X, because the prices, features, quality, and overall design are radically different. Tesla makes luxury vehicles, while Toyota cars and trucks our mainstream products designed for the middle of the market.
Perhaps the only way to compare the RAV4 EV with other available electric cars on the market is to consider Toyota’s lackluster commitment to volume EV production and high-quality service for battery-powered cars, compared to the long-term dedication exhibited by companies such as Nissan and Tesla. Any buyer of the RAV4 will need to focus on the quality of the vehicle itself, rather then the broader context of how its maker and its dealerships support the ownership process or not.
If interested in purchasing or leasing the RAV4 EV, Toyota's dedicated EV site lists dealerships that are offering the electric crossover:
A href="http://www.toyota.com/rav4ev/" target="blank">http://www.toyota.com/rav4ev/
Again, there are reports about dealerships and sales staff not being knowledgeable or interested in selling the RAV4 EV. “Unfortunately, both Toyota and Tesla treat the car as their ugly stepchild,” said Mike Bornstein of Bakersfield, Calif., who bought his RAV4 in October 2012. He loves the car, but not the ownership experience. “Salesmen literally try to convince you not to buy it.”
Also, remember that there will only be 2,600 RAV4 EVs produced. As we move through 2014, availability will continue to dwindle.
The RAV4 EV has had a number of technical problems, some of which are still unresolved. Owners have complained about needing to leave their car at the dealership for repairs for long periods of time. Some have needed to replace the motor assembly, the heater, the DC-to-DC converter, and charger timer.
On the MyRAV4EV.com forum, there have been complaints that firmware updates require a special Tesla-supplied cable, and only the appointed dealers have them. Multiple owners have encountered (in addition to the scarcity of that Tesla cable) an issue with the gateway electronic control unit, another Tesla-supplied part that's reportedly been slow to ship.
Some owners of the 2012 RAV4 EV have complained of a "Check EV System" warning after attempting to charge their vehicle at a public charging station. If this warning appears, the vehicle does not charge.
Yet, mostly every RAV4 EV owner has escaped these issues, instead mounting mile after mile of dependable electric-powered miles.