Toyota's RAV4 was unveiled in 1994. It's evolved in shape and style, but the latest incarnation is powered by futuristic witchcraft, says Ed Coles
Toyota has been at the forefront of hybrid vehicles for a while and is starting to use the technology and green credentials from the Prius over more of its range. The new RAV4 has been given the hybrid touch and, along with all-wheel drive, could be right up our country lane.
The one we’re taking a look at is the Excel AWD edition, a higher-spec version. First off, it looks a bit futuristic. There’s an element of Toyota’s sister company Lexus in the styling, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m a fan of the deep blue paintwork (or Obsidian blue to give its official title).
Though the RAV4 has some bold angles in places, it doesn’t look over the top and has the appearance of a higher-end SUV. I quite like the overall silhouette and it’s set off nicely by the 18in alloys. Admittedly it’s quite different from the original RAV4 but it’s not hard on the eye. The angular theme continues over the bonnet and front bumper. Combined with sleek yet bold headlamps and its big grille, it looks a bit beast-like.
The clearance of the front bumper suggests that it could be a limiting factor for off-piste excursions, but with a minimum clearance of 190mm it should be able to deal with a rut or two. No clearance worries at the back — plenty of room.
Most of the workhorse bits are draped in protective plastic, but there are a few glimpses of the independent suspension and AWD running gear with a few bits of electronic trickery.
One touch of a button reveals a decent-sized boot. Plenty of room for four-legged companions and some kit. There are a couple of dog guards available as optional extras.
Width-wise the boot can snugly accommodate 30in barrels in a slip. Using the Shooting Times standard unit of measurement, my rough guess around seven bags of wheat. The rear seats do fold down, though, which would probably give you room for another six.
Inside there is a combination of old-fashioned combustion of the internal flavour and that new-fangled electricity, or “hybrid electric”. The old-fashioned part is a rather spirited, yet efficient, 2.5L petrol engine.
Without wanting to over-boffin the situation, as well as propelling the front wheels, it also charges the nickel metal battery for the electric motors. As we have an all-wheel drive version, we’re treated to front and rear electric motors. The rear motor drives the rear wheels independently from the front motor and engine.
Electric motors propel the Toyota RAV4 hybrid from standstill to around 20/25mph then the drive is seamlessly passed to the petrol engine.
The front motor puts out an impressive 202Nm of torque and the rear 121Nm — combined with the petrol engine it produces 219 tiny horses, more than enough power. The RAV4 can be driven independently by both the petrol or electric motor. The EV mode pretty much does what it says on the tin, though it is only for low-speed driving.
Bells and whistles
Slipping into the driver’s full leather seat, my first reaction is that it’s a bit smart in here. The seat position is adjustable in every manner and is heated. The interior surroundings are quite pleasant, stylish yet understated. All the usual suspects are on board, from touchscreen NAV, DAB, front and rear parking assistance, cruise control, privacy glass, heated multi-function steering wheel… it all has a certain quality about it.
The instrument cluster on the Toyota RAV4 hybrid has several screens where you can see what’s happening with the drive train — handy to see how eco-friendly your driving is. Safety-wise, as far as airbags are concerned it has got more cushions than Laura Ashley.
Along with that it comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense, which in the company’s words is a pre-collision system that detects cyclists and pedestrians day or night. There are plenty of other driver aids: lane departure, auto high beam, hill start, trailer sway control. But enough of all the creature comforts; what’s she like to drive?
Driving the Toyota RAV4 hybrid is rather pleasant, though the lack of sound when first setting off with electric power takes a while to get used to. It’s not long before the petrol engine kicks in to keep the motor battery topped up. Driving in electric mode is quite smooth and once acclimatised to lack of sound, I quite liked the stealthiness of it. Driving on electric isn’t overly electrifying, but it’s not meant for that; mostly parking and moving in slow town traffic. Driving in full hybrid mode once above 20mph and on the open road, the petrol engine seamlessly kicks in and things do indeed to start getting a little electrifying
Despite looking like and being an SUV, the RAV4 doesn’t feel like one. The independent suspension holds the road confidently and zips along nicely; it’s fun to drive. On a winding country road or equally cruising on the motorway the RAV4 is pleasing. Then I realised I hadn’t put into “sport mode”, which opened the stride of the RAV4 somewhat. All very impressive but, being egged on by the new-found sportiness, according to the all-singing and all-dancing dashboard, my eco credentials weren’t at peak Greta. Time to slip it into “eco mode”.
With the hybrid Toyotas you do have to be smooth on accelerating and braking to get the full eco benefits, but it does encourage you with an eco score for each journey. The RAV4 is ticking a few boxes nicely and the journey to and from any adventure is very pleasing, but how would it perform off the beaten track?
To answer that is, yes, it feels very confident off-road but it is limited by the very much road tyres and slightly low front bumper. That said, the RAV4 deals with ruts, lumps and bumps well and, with a fully charged battery, the quietness of running on electric means you can indeed creep about the place with a confident stealthiness.
If you didn’t take too many liberties with rugged terrain, this version of the Toyota RAV4 could deal with a day in the field, and do it with style.
The Toyota Hilux has been shifting loads for 52 years and its latest incarnation lives up to that workhorse reputation
What you need to know about the Toyota RAV4 hybrid
- Manufacturer: Toyota
- Model: RAV4 hybrid
- 0-62 mph 8.1 seconds
- Top speed 112mph
- Fuel consumption combined 47.8-48.7mpg
- Emissions (g/km) 133g/km
- Towing weight braked 1,650kg
- Insurance group 30a