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We test Toyota’s prototype RAV-4 Plug-In Hybrid

Some say that the car world is jumping headlong into the electric vehicle fire. So being, unsuspecting motorists may soon have some interesting decisions to make. Among them will be the option of a plug-in hybrid.

This RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid is one of a small test fleet paving the way to the introduction of Toyota’s first plug-in hybrid car in SA. Known as Prime in the US, plug-in is the second phase of Toyota SA’s New Energy Vehicle plan. It follows over 20 years of Prius pioneering a now fast-growing conventional petrol-electric range, and comes ahead of Toyota’s future EV push.


Look twice to tell the Plug-In apart

You have to look twice to tell the difference between this RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid and its combustion, or the existing choice of Hybrid and All-Four AWD Hybrids. The RAV4 Plug-In gets a 136 kW 227 Nm dual VVT-i DOHC 2.5-litre petrol engine paired with an EV battery and two electric motors. One fourth generation Toyota Hybrid motor drives each axle for all wheel drive for an impressive combination of power and efficiency.

Fired by an 18.1 kW lithium-Ion battery sitting under the cabin, the front and rear electric motors add a respective additional 134 kW and 40 kW for an impressive 225 kW total output. Torque is also abundant thanks to an additional 270 and 121 Nm of electrical twist over and above those 227 petrol Newton-metres.

Using the same electric architecture as the ‘conventional’ RAV 4 E-Four hybrid, a CVT transmission blends petrol-electric front wheel drive, aided and abetted by electric only rear drive. The car Intelligently switches between all and front drive depending on conditions. A dedicated Trail Mode increases rear axle torque split for dirt driving.


Plug-In Prius blends petrol and electric

The Toyota charges up to full in between 7 and 9 hours on a regular Mode 2 cable on a 240V home socket. A separate Mode 3 cable allows fast station DC charging in 2.5 hours using a 32A, 6.6 kW charger. EV mode prioritises up to 80 km electric-only driving. A petrol engine Charging Mode will also recharge the battery pack if required. Bye-bye range anxiety!

This allows the RAV4 Plug-In to keep on driving when a conventional EV would have to stop. The Toyota has a HV mode driving range of beyond 800 km. An Auto EV/HV mode allows the system to switch between the two, based on the required acceleration level. The petrol engine only fires up on demand, before returning to electric operation as soon as possible.

There’s a quality feel to the Toyota RAV 4 Plug-In. Its more an EV than a hybrid to drive. The combination of immediate torque and flat, sturdy, and silent electric power delivery and that good old petrol feeling, is a buzz. Acceleration is also impressive in EV mode at zero fuel consumption.


Plug-In eliminates range anxiety, power challenges

EV only range is limited to 80 km. That’s probably further than you and I and most of our friends will ever drive in an average day. And then once the battery drops to a quarter and below minimum EV only levels, it simply switches to HV mode. For traditional Toyota petrol electric Hybrid driving.

So If you fit that 80 km metric, you will hardly ever get to use the petrol in the tank. And if you do, that bigger battery and Toyota’s proven hybrid get up has the potential to travel further than 800 km on a regular tank of gas and charged. And without range anxiety or charging challenges.

A plug-in hybrid gives all the self-charging, petrol engine back-up and range benefits of a traditional hybrid vehicle, with the additional performance and the pure EV driving mode of a full battery electric vehicle. Cost wise, the Toyota also has an advantage considering its European prices.


The sooner Toyota launches it in SA, the better!

Yes, electric driving still has a significant mountain to climb down here at the bottom end of Africa. And that’s why the RAV4 Plug-In would makes so much more sense to us, were we forced to choose.

The Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid offers the power and clean efficiency of a full EV. But without any range anxiety or charging worries. And the sooner Toyota launches it properly in SA, the better! – Michele Lupini

Images & testing: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Toyota RAV4 PHIV (prototype)
Engine: 136 kW 227 Nm 2.5-litre petrol I4
Motors: 134 kW 270 Nm + 40 kW 121 Nm electric
Drive: CVT /Electric AWD
Battery: 18.1 kWh lithium-ion
0-60 km/h: 2.84 sec
0-100 km/h: 5.88 sec
0-120 km/h: 7.86 sec
0-160 km/h: 13.67 sec
400m: 14.2 sec @ 162km/h
80-120 km/h: 3.76 sec
120-160 km/h: 5.37 sec
VMax: km/h
Fuel: 1.0 l/100 km
Energy: 16.6 kWh/100km
CO2: 22 g/km
EV Range: 80 km
Total Range: 800 km
Warranty/Service: N/A
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