Toyota RAV4 PHEV Review
The RAV4 is well known in the UK, arguably changing the motoring landscape back in 1994 by kickstarting the switch from hatchbacks to SUVs. That early model promised we’d all go to the beach, do some surfing, and then fire up a barbecue.
The reality of life is rather more mundane, so the RAV4 has evolved into something more useful; a chunky, effective, family moving SUV with four-wheel drive ruggedness and modern technology abound.
Now it’s got a powerful plug-in hybrid powertrain, ready to bring planet-saving economy to the appealing mix.
Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5
The RAV4 is a well-known quantity, a chunky, roomy SUV that appeals to those wanting an SUV that works better on the road than it does in a field. It combines a reasonable degree of luxury with acres of room inside and some impressively frugal hybrid engines.
Making a plug-in hybrid version seems like a no-brainer, especially with some very beneficial tax rates for company car users, but Toyota has done more than simply add a larger battery pack. The PHEV version joins the range at the very top, with more power, more performance, more equipment and more fuel-saving tech.
Hybrid power generally means efficiency, and the RAV4 is no different. With a large battery pack that you can charge by plugging into a charger (or a mains plug if you really need to), you can cover a day’s motoring without using a drop of petrol.
Having the extra oomph of an electric motor means performance is strong. However, the PHEV version of the RAV4 gets two electric motors, so it’s rocket-ship fast.
But it’s still a family-friendly SUV at heart, so offers impressive space, for both passengers and cargo, as well as lots of equipment. Toyota has added a touch of luxury, too.
Power comes mostly from the 2.5-litre petrol engine slotted under the high bonnet of the RAV4 that produces 182hp. That’s then boosted by the addition of an electric motor that produces an extra 180hp.
If that’s not enough, there’s a second electric motor in the bag that sends 54hp directly to the rear wheels. Ut that all together and, using some wonky maths thanks to the complex way these systems work together, and you’re left with a RAV4 that has 306hp available.
That’s sports car territory, but this is a heavy SUV, so it won't be quick, right? Wrong. Stand on the throttle and it’ll accelerate to 62mph in six seconds dead. That’s only 0.3 seconds behind a Honda Civic Type R.
That’s all very well, but how does it work in the real world, where you're unlikely to try to pin your kids and a dog to the rear window every time you leave for the shops?
Happily, it’s all rather refined. A huge (by hybrid standards) 18.1kWh battery pack means you can cover 46 miles on pure electric power, according to the official figures. Running the RAV4 around the mean streets of Sussex, I didn’t match that figure, but 40 miles seemed perfectly achievable.
The car defaults to running in electric mode and will run on battery power well beyond motorway speeds, but you can switch it to an automatic hybrid mode. In this mode, it brings in the petrol engine when required, boosting performance, but favours the efficiency and quiet running of electric power.
Once the battery has dried up, the car will switch to hybrid mode and operate much like any other hybrid. This means the petrol engine is being used more frequently, while the battery aids now and then.
Honestly, unless you have a specific reason to change things, just let the Toyota sort itself out. Do that and it’s so quiet, refined and relaxed that you can forget about the complex operations going on under the skin. The engine only bursts into life occasionally and is almost imperceptible in operation.
Ride quality is impressive, too, with low speeds urban work being only slightly jittery. Motorway cruising is as smooth as butter. Even with that, the RAV4 feels quite engaging, with sharp, precise steering and well-checked body roll providing plenty of confidence in corners
How long is a piece of string? The fixed costs of running the Toyota RAV4 PHEV are competitive - servicing is every 10,000 miles or once a year, there’s a five-year 100,000-mile warranty, and Toyota reliability is impressive - but your fuel bills will depend entirely on how you use the car.
Most people cover fewer than 25 miles a day so, assuming you plug the car in and charge it each night, you’ll never need to put any expensive petrol in the tank. Of course, electricity isn’t free, but it’ll only cost around £2.70 to fill the battery from empty - something that will take around 2.5 hours from a home chagrin unit, or about seven hours using a regular three-pin plug. Plugging in and charging while you’re out and about can range from cheap (or even free) to relatively expensive.
Stick to electric power and your economy will be near infinite. Even the official fuel economy figure of 282.5mpg is achievable if your usage pattern is just right. However, run out of battery and you’re lugging a heavy car around using just a petrol engine, and the economy then suffers. After spending a day driving around Sussex, mostly with a depleted battery, my economy stood at 70mpg but was heading south.
Officially, the RAV4 PHEV emits just 22g/km of CO2 which, combined with its official 46-mile electric range, means it falls into a very appealing 6% BIK band - something that will get company car drivers very excited.
By Toyota’s standards, the interior of the RAV4 is positively exciting. The material quality is top-notch, and some neat design touches lift the interior.
Chief amongst those is one simple detail; the large rotary knobs for temperature control are wrapped in a tyre-tread-like rubber, offering a tactile sensation. The same rubber is found across other touchpoints inside the car, continuing the theme nicely.
It’s a little dark inside, even with the panoramic roof on this Dynamic Premium model, but some false aluminium (faluminium?) highlights add some interest to the cabin. The rear feels more confided, thanks to a huge c-pillar and tinted privacy windows, but there’s plenty of space.
A large 9.0-inch infotainment screen stands proud on top of the dashboard. It’s not exactly neatly integrated into the cabin design, but it’s at a good level, easily readable and, thanks to some physical shortcut buttons and rotary dials, really easy to use.
Ultimately, it’s not the best system, as the graphics are a little dated and the layout can make things unclear. Likewise, the navigation system, while accurate, doesn’t make it easy to pick out details at a glance thanks to a default zoom level being way too far out. Pinching the screen to manually zoom doesn’t help as it stops the map following your location.
Happily, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available to use, meaning you can use your own, familiar, apps to get you around.
Squeezing in a large battery pack and an extra electric motor means something had to give, and that’s the boot - the PHEV’s 520-litre capacity is 60 litres down on the regular model, but still a sizable space. It’s 70 litres bigger than the boot you’ll find in the BMW X3 PHEV, for example.
Fold the rear seats down, pack the car up to the roof, and you’ll be able to fit 1,604 litres of cargo in there. The floor doesn’t fold quite flat, but it’s not enough of an angle to cause any issues.
There’s lots of room for everyone, with the front seats being particularly accommodating. There’s plenty of width, and wide, comfortable seats, so there won’t be any rubbing of elbows going on.
Those in the rear fare well, too, as the RAV4 is a surprisingly large car. With o seven-seat option, Toyota has opted to provide lots of rear legroom, although there’s not quite as much as you will find in a Honda CR-V.
Safety starts with the way the RAV4 drives. Despite being a high-riding SUV, the car feels remarkably stable thanks to that heavy battery pack being placed low and central in the car.
Toyota has fitted a huge list of equipment to keep you on the tarmac and away from any dangers, including automatic emergency braking with day and night time detection of pedestrians. Lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition and plenty of other systems are all fitted as standard, too.
Euro NCAP has run the regular RAV4 through its crash testing programme, where the vehicle scored a maximum five-star rating.
Short of making just one trim level, Toyota couldn’t have made picking your RAV4 PHEV any easier. There are just two models to choose from, both mechanically identical.
The Dynamic model would be considered a top-spec model if it wasn’t for the Dynamic Premium rim level. If you can think of it, the ‘entry-level’ model probably already has it, while the Premium option adds heated and ventilated leather seats, a nine-speaker JBL audio system, a head-up display, and a panoramic glass sunroof.
Beyond that, options are rather limited with just a handful of packs adding things like mud flaps or some chrome strips. However, tough-looking side steps add to the SUV appeal and can be yours for £499.
The two-tone paintwork is always black on top, but you do get to choose the main body colour. Three metallic colours are available at no cost, but it’s £310 to choose either s smart pearlescent red or a bright pearlescent white.
If you’ve decided the RAV4 is the right car for you, it might also be worth looking at a Suzuki. It’s Across model is a RAV4 in all but name, built in the same factory and using the same hardware. Only trim differences set it apart, as well as a lower asking price - although this may not translate to lower leasing costs.
A Land Rover might be a surprising alternative, but the Discovery Sport is a similar size, offers a strong plug-in option with impressive performance, and brings a real premium ambience to the market. However, while it’s got a decent battery range, fuel economy, once the battery has been drained, is poor.
The BMW X3 PHEV adds driving engagement to the eco-friendly mix and has the high-quality premium cabin you would expect from the brand. However, while it’s fun to drive, the petrol engine is noisy and, oddly, the electric motor lacks a little power.
There’s a feeling of solidity to the RAV4 that’s quite beguiling, with only the Toyota badge on the steering wheel a reminder that you’re not driving something from one of the perceived premium manufacturers.
That quality might partly explain the eye-popping asking price; this test model (with no options) comes in at £50,895, but there are huge benefits for company car users that will ease that pain. And, if as expected, residual values are strong, then monthly payments should be very competitive.
Still, that puts it into the ballpark of some seriously competent competitors. None of them can match the RAV4 driving manners though, and nobody gets close to its electric range and hybrid refinement. RAV4 for the win, then.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Toyota RAV4
**Correct as of 09/02/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,425.46 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.