We drove the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: the beauty of “green” hybrid technology…

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The RAV4 has won many hearts over the years, and now it is coming to us with a rejuvenated drivetrain: indeed, the long awaited hybrid version is coming to our shores. This RAV4 is powered by a 2,5 liter four cylinder and two electric motors. Yet it is quite frugal and refined, and of course (very) low on CO2 emissions. Thanks to state of the art hybrid technology. Just read further.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Proven hybrid solutions

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Toyota has become a master in the art of building and engineering hybrids, having produced millions of it. The technological advantage should not be underestimated, and indeed, one cannot fail to be totally impressed when driving a Toyota (or Lexus) hybrid.

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It is totally smooth, well balanced, and clever. The RAV4 has a 2,5 liter 150 HP DOHC 4-Cylinder w/Dual VVT-I engine, meaning it has state of the art technology like double overhead camshafts, variable valve timing  amongst others. It is mated to a CVT transmission with not less than three electric motors to send the power to all four wheels. Two motors are integrated in the front axle and one is sitting in the back to drive the rear wheels.

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One of the front electric motors actually is the traction motor, the other one is only used as a starter/generator.

Total system power is an impressive 197 HP, and needless to say, the performance figures show it clearly. What to think of a 0 to 100 acceleration in 8,3 seconds, for instance… Top speed is an electronically governed 184 km/h. CO2 emissions are some 115 g/km.

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What is even more important than pure performance is the constant availability of massive pulling power in every driving situation. Indeed, just blip the throttle and the electronic drivetrain management will instantly choose the ideal combination of engine and e-power, putting the transmission also in the ideal gearing to deliver the performance asked. One can follow all this cleverness on the central screen display, and we found it quite fascinating. On the first Prius one could already see this too, now more than a decade ago…

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Being a CVT transmission, one can nevertleless also choose manually six fixed gears… 

This power flow is – and that’s the beauty of it – supersmooth, and the transgression between engine and electric power is virtually imperceptible. When starting from cold, the engine will hum at around 1500 rpm or so, first of all to charge the batteries, and will thus warm up in ideal operating conditions. Only when one is driving briskly, will the engine also be called to duty to propel the car, otherwise, more efficient e-power is used whenever possible.

This brings down consumption markedly during the warm up phase. The hybrid RAV4 will normally also drive away on e-power, only when a certain speed is reached (30 km/h or thereabouts) will the engine cut in.

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When crawling through urban traffic, the system will choose e-power, and city consumption is O,O liters…  

When one is crawling slowly through narrow town streets, the system will select e-power exclusively, shutting the engine down altogether. Clever, because as the speed is low, little battery power is used anyway, and the fuel consumption advantage is massive. It was therefore no trouble at all to achieve average consumption figures around the 6 liter/100 km and lower even in the heaviest of city traffic. And all this with an imposing medium size SUV…

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The RAV4 has also an e-power only mode, with sufficient range available to drive around in emission free city areas, if the need arises.

We left the CVT transmission do its work, but it is good to know that one can also manually choose between 6 fixed gears, useful for example when mountain driving.

As said, the progress in the RAV4 is supersmooth, and this contributes greatly to a “zen” feeling and makes for a very relaxing progress.

The RAV4 Hybrid test car also came with Toyota Safety Sense, which includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Just to make your drive safer and more comforting…

Practical

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The RAV4 is of course a very pleasant SUV in everyday use, with all the knobs and handles in the right place, and infotainment and navigation being intuitive and easy to use. Putting in an address, hooking up the phone or finding a radio station is just a breeze. But there is more.

Like for instance the bird’s eye 360 degree vision for easy parking in narrow spaces.  A word of praise is not lost on the excellent cruise control, which we find by the way in all Toyota and Lexus models, which is an example of superb logical simplicity for many.

Organizing the cabin space and (re)arranging the seats and load space is easy. The RAV4 Hybrid seats five and comes standard with fabric upholstery and reclining second-row seats. Available features – as provided in our test car – include leatherette upholstery with fabric inserts, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and heated front seats.

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The cabin is also well-isolated from noise, as a good amount of sound-deadening materials is thrown in. Cargo space is still quite abundant, and the batteries are not impairing too much the available room. Indeed, it also offers more cargo space than most compact SUVs. The last generation is also 20 cm longer, and now the RAV4 can be considered as a “full size SUV.” Standard luggage space is now well above 500 liters. Our test car had an electronically lifting tailgate, which can easily be adjusted for lower garage ceilings…

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Conclusion

A very able, all-round SUV, with uncanny mechanical perfection, relaxing to drive, delivering  undistilled joy in everyday use. It steers effortlessly, you will always find the right handle or knob to let this RAV4 do exactly what you want.

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You can enjoy the comfort, quietness and last but not least its frugality. Indeed, this RAV4 marries excellent performance with astonishing economy.

A clever, superbly engineered car, which will be your faithful, “green” companion for years to come. Yust try… and buy it!

Hans Knol  ten Bensel

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