Toyota RAV4 PHEV review

We try the first-ever plug-in RAV4

Toyota creates its first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle outside of the Prius line with this new RAV4 model. But is it the version to go for, first and foremost, in the SUV range?

What's this?

A Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid, with the key words there being ‘Plug-In’. There’s already a RAV4 Hybrid, which uses a 2.5-litre petrol engine plus electric augmentation, and comes in either two-wheel-drive form with 218hp or as a four-wheel-drive variant with 222hp. It’s the latter of these two that forms the basis of the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid.

In essence, the front 88kW (118hp) electric motor of the non-plug-in hybrid is replaced with a larger 134kW (180hp) unit on the Plug-In version, while the 1.1kWh nickel metal-hydride battery is uprated to a far larger 18.1kWh pack, which is also lithium-ion in its make-up. A Type 2 charging port and 6.6kW onboard charger complete the alterations to the Plug-In Hybrid model, and it only loses 60 litres of boot space due to the location of the battery pack.

Toyota says that this vehicle will do up to 75km on electric power alone before it needs to resort to its petrol engine, while it can travel at up to 135km/h in zero-emissions mode. On the flip side, its powertrain delivers 306hp, which means the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid is seriously fast for this class of SUV: it’ll run 0-100km/h in six seconds exactly, according to Toyota. And charging times are also quick – it’ll take 2.5 hours to recharge the RAV4’s battery pack on an AC 7kW connection (wallbox or public charging point) and 7.5 hours on a three-pin domestic socket.

How is it to drive?

Toyota’s done a marvellous job of making the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid an incredibly refined vehicle to travel in, as there’s extra sound-deadening included all around the front of the car and the passenger compartment. This helps with its zero-emissions driving, as it’s a remarkably comfortable and quiet SUV around town. It doesn’t lose much of its composure as it gets out onto open roads or motorways, either and, as long as there’s enough battery power and you’re in EV Mode, the RAV4 will not switch its engine on no matter what you do with the throttle pedal.

Where it slightly falls down is in terms of its handling and performance. No family SUV, never mind one with a plug-in-hybrid drivetrain, is particularly designed to be scintillating in the corners, but the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid is built on Toyota’s excellent ‘TNGA’ chassis. However, to cram in two electric motors and a larger battery pack, the RAV4 has piled on the pounds and is as near as makes no difference a two-tonne vehicle in all specifications.

This means it doesn’t feel happy being thrown into bends, while there’s more body lean than you’d find on the ‘regular’ RAV4 Hybrid. Its weight is always felt on the brakes and when enacting rapid direction changes. Also, with an extra 200kg to carry about when compared to the Hybrid AWD-i, the Plug-In Hybrid’s power advantage of almost 80hp isn’t as keenly felt as you might imagine. Plant the throttle in any of the modes where the petrol engine will fire up and the RAV4 merely feels acceptably brisk, rather than notably rapid.

Still, it managed to return 54.5mpg (5.2 litres/100km) on a hilly, 50km route driven in cold conditions, once it had decided it could no longer run in EV mode for extended periods of time. For a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with ‘no’ charge left in its battery pack, that’s very impressive stuff from the Toyota RAV4.

When is it coming to Ireland?

Toyota still hasn’t confirmed prices for the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid. The cheapest AWD-i-equipped RAV4 Hybrid model retails at €46,185 as a Sol, so it’s likely the plug-in model will be more again due to its relative mechanical complexity and high-performance status. That said, its low CO2 figures should help with taxes.

Any juicy technology?

What’s particularly clever about the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid is that its onboard systems always reserve enough power in the 18.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack to ensure it can constantly run as a hybrid. This is represented by a simple energy gauge in the instrument cluster, which has a large green zone for the times when the Toyota can run in pure electric mode for longer periods of time and at higher speeds, and a smaller blue zone for its hybrid running. This also means the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid is much more economical when its battery is ‘exhausted’ when compared to other plug-in hybrids, which is why it can return impressive WLTP-ratified figures of up to 282.5mpg (1.0 litre/100km) with just 22g/km of CO2 emissions. rating: 4/5

A technically proficient addition to the Toyota RAV4 range, the Plug-In Hybrid model offers seriously tempting characteristics – but only for the right type of user. Frankly, as good as it is, we reckon most private buyers will be better off sticking with the Hybrid AWD-i instead – and much of the Plug-In Hybrid’s success here or otherwise will depend entirely on how much it will cost once prices are confirmed.

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