Toyota, a senior industry sage told me years ago, is like a huge ship which, like that container ship in the Suez recently, takes a while to change direction. At the time, almost all of Toyota’s model range was still rear-drive, a decade after Europe started changing ends, and several years after most of its Japanese rivals had begun to switch. When they eventually came, the Toyota FWDs were great and, in some markets I can think of, propelled an also-ran to the top of sales charts. The giant automaker is in its third decade of hybrids, more recently billed as ‘self charging’, but Toyotas with a power cord are much more rare. There’s a pure ‘lecky Lexus in the price lists now, the pioneering Toyota PHEV, the Prius (first gen had a woefully short range) is now second generation and now, drum roll, comes the very popular RAV4.
Toyota’s UK unit bills the PHEV as the flagship of its hybrid range, the most powerful RAV4 yet, with 302bhp/225kW on tap, and claims best-in-class fuel economy and CO2 emissions (282.5mpg and 22g/km WLTP). All-electric driving is the default, with a 46-mile EV mode driving range (WLTP) on a full battery charge (61 miles in urban use) and speeds up to 84mph, and you get ‘AWD-i intelligent’ all-wheel drive as standard. On the face of it, the RAV4 with extension cord is a dream Roberts Family Car (I may only do 2-3 miles in a week to the grocery click ‘n’ collect) and I indulged in my usual ‘ybrid sport of seeing how little use could be made of the petrol engine; from memory I got it to fire momentarily two or three times at most. Depending on the type of volts refueller you use, the battery can be recharged in 2.5 hours with a 230V/32A home/office wallbox connection. With the 3-pin domestic plug cable included in the press car, hours. I just left it plugged in overnight; the house smart meter light’s change from amber to green told me when the car was done. Owners can use an app to schedule and monitor battery charging remotely and also pre-cool or warm the cabin, a great feature of EV/PHEV HVAC.
But, geez, is plug-in expensive – GBP46,495 to GBP50,895 across three take-or-leave trim levels with factory options confined to fancy paint – plus a few dress-up and towing items I suspect are port of entry fit. To use marketing manager-speak, the ‘price walk up’ from Design through Dynamic adds larger wheels, black roof, wireless phone charger while the top line Dynamic Premium trim adds a panoramic roof, head-up display, power adjusted, leather, cooled seats and premium sound. Such is nice to have but hardly essential and I suspect Toyota’ consumer website diverting browsers to the middle trim suggests they have a good idea which version will sell best. If you’re happy with self charging and fewer frilly bits, an entry level Icon – 2WD – starts at GBP31,095, pre haggle. Plug-ins no longer get a government funded grant.
That maximum output for the full powertrain, including the 2.5-litre petrol engine, of 302bhp/225kW is 38% more than the standard RAV4 Hybrid enabling 0-62mph acceleration in six seconds – 2.1sec faster than the hybrid AWD-i model. There’s 50% more power available at 37mph 60km/h while, in EV mode, performance is comparable to a two-litre petrol model, with 0-62mph acceleration in 10 seconds.
The combustion engine engine is a higher output version of the plain hybrid’s ICE with an improved torque curve. The 2,487cc, four-cylinder, 16-valve DOHC Atkinson cycle powerplant has dual intelligent intake (electrically controlled) and exhaust valve timing and direct/indirect fuel injection with multi-hole injectors. Toyota says the long, 103.4mm stroke and the high 14.0:1 compression ratio help with the higher output and fuel efficiency. Maximum power of 182bhp/136kW is delivered at 6,000rpm (compared to 176bhp/131kW at 5,700rpm). The hybrid system operates an automatic warm-up phase to help protect the petrol engine against excessive wear that might occur if it is called on to make regular cold starts when the vehicle is running at motorway speeds. Power is limited, then progressively increased and the engine icon shows blue in the hybrid energy flow display. There are EV, HV. Auto and Charge driving modes.
The PHEV has a new lithium-ion battery with energy capacity increased to 18.1kWh. It has 96 cells and a rated voltage of 355.2V. An increased current allows for more power. The battery is beneath the floor which helps lower the centre of gravity and there wasn’t any greatly obvious intrusion into the load area though this was yet another car with no spare wheel – just the usual pump and sealant throwing you at the mercy of roadside rescue services if that doesn’t work. Battery cells are cooled by diverting a/c refrigerant.
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Adding a boost converter has increased the current so that more power can be drawn from the high-voltage battery. The DC-DC converter has been made smaller, quieter and more efficient, and has better cooling performance. It is housed beneath the rear seats, taking up less cabin space. The front electric motor produces 134kW (compared to 88kW in the Hybrid); the rear motor’s output is unchanged at 40kW. With increased support from the electric motor, the hybrid engine is able to run at low revs. There’s a 240V/150 watt maximum AC outlet in the boot and, if you don’t have a travel adaptor to convert a Euro plug to a UK 3-pin socket, perhaps the 12V DC ‘cigarette lighter’ socket alongside can help.
Drivetrain NVH measures include a transaxle designed so there is less resonance from the gears. The cogs have polished tooth surfaces for smoother and quieter operation while a damper system reduces shock and rattle on starting, as well as fluctuations in torque in constant speed driving.
Asymmetric split folding rear seatbacks provide loadspace/passenger carrying flexibility and rear USB-A ports, vents, outer seat heat, centre armrest with cup holders, seatback storage pockets and small bottle holders in the doors should keep children temporarily imprisoned in back happy enough (though there was a request for a wifi hotspot a la Volvo/Range Rover). A US-style ‘check rear seat’ warning can be set for journey’s end. PHEV-specific niceties include a battery gauge to supplement the fossil fuel meter and a separate digital EV rangeometer. And, at journey’s end, you can have a trip report including the proportion of EV running plus MPG.
One example of clever tech: the heat pump HVAC which draws thermal energy from outside air to heat the cabin, so running the air conditioning has less impact on the car’s EV driving range. The system includes ‘S-Flow’ control which directs heating and ventilation only to seats which are occupied. Performance is adjusted according to the temperature selected, the ambient temperature, cabin temperature and the amount of sunlight. Power is also saved with an ‘off’ setting for the dehumidifier, disabling the function when it would have no effect on window misting, odours or cabin comfort.
PHEVs remain a good compromise for drivers who want to go EV but avoid the ‘range anxiety’ and public recharging inconveniences which can make long journey planning challenging although new charge points and easier ‘contactless payment’ devices are being added. Use the electric range for the close to home or office running, the ICE engine till you can top up the battery again. The RAV4 PHEV adds one more good model line to a choice that already includes the likes of Volvo’s XC40 and Ford’s Kuga. Will we see many more or will BEVs soon rule the chargepoints?