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First drive: Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid. Image by Toyota GB.

First drive: Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid
Toyota adds plug-in power to its RAV4 hybrid SUV. A genius move, or a flawed plan?


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Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Toyota enhances its part-electric RAV4 family SUV range with a version that goes much, much further in zero-emissions mode alone. This is the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium
Pricing: RAV4 range from 31,090, Plug-In Hybrid from 47,395, Dynamic Premium as tested from 50,895
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol with 134kW front and 40kW rear electric motors plus 18.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: AWD-i all-wheel drive, electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT) automatic
Body style: five-door plug-in hybrid SUV
CO2 emissions: 22g/km (VED Band 1-50 alternative fuel cars: 0 first 12 months, then 465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 282.5mpg, power consumption 24.1kWh/62.5 miles, electric range 46 miles
Top speed: 112mph (hybrid, 84mph limited electric)
0-62mph: 6.0 seconds
Power: petrol 178hp at 5,700rpm, front electric motor 180hp, rear electric motor 54hp, combined system output 306hp
Torque: petrol 221Nm at 3,600-5,200rpm, front electric motor 270Nm, rear electric motor 121Nm, no combined system output maximum quoted
Boot space: 520-1,604 litres

What's this?

You're going to have to stick with us on this one, but this new fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)... and it's also a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV). A PHEVHEV, if you will, and one of a completely new breed, claims Toyota (which doesn't call the latest RAV4 a PHEVHEV, by the way, that's just us being silly). Right, let's try and clarify that. Take, if you will, your common-or-garden PHEV SUV. Not a premium model; let's just pick, oh, we don't know, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. It is, after all, the machine which has popularised the plug-in mid-sized SUV in Europe for a good long while. So, aside from the fact its drivetrain works in a slightly odd way, it's nevertheless the sort of car that tempted people unsure of the blossoming electrification of personal transportation to make an early switch to at least part-electric power.

The problem with earlier Outlander PHEVs was that people were sold on the (now-discredited NEDC) promise of 141mpg. Which sounded fantasy-world stuff and which, sadly, turned out to be fantasy-world stuff, too. Because what many people did with those proto-PHEVs was they didn't plug the Outlander into the mains to charge at night, but instead lazily resorted to letting its 2.0-litre engine - which has now been replaced by a more refined 2.4 - perform the task of replenishing the battery pack. While it was on the move. Having to shift around a 1.8-tonne SUV in the first place. And these people were then aghast when their dashboard instrument cluster did not, in fact, report the sunlit-uplands economy return of 141mpg, but instead showed more like 28mpg. Most, erroneously, thought their PHEVs were quite badly broken in some way.

And this is a problem which has plagued plug-ins ever since. You see, even under WLTP, for all their wonderful promises of 30 miles of electric range this and negligible CO2 emissions that, once you drain a PHEV's electrical resources then whatever combustion engine is being employed under the bonnet is left to do one of two things: it either simply hauls around the 'dead' battery and the electric motors as 200-odd kilos of needless ballast, which means it is (typically, but not exclusively) a modest-sized petrol engine being asked to lug the weight of a small trailer around with it all the time, which does precisely nothing beneficial for fuel consumption; or its owner asks the engine to do all the hauling of the mass of the vehicle, plus recharge the battery. And that's where the economy plummets even further.

Battery tech and more efficient turbo petrol engines are doing their best to mitigate these factors as we move into the 2020s, but the truth remains that if you don't charge a PHEV regularly from the mains and you do lots of long journeys in it, you will not be seeing three-figure mpg numbers at all. So what if there was a solution to that? What if, instead of the PHEV resorting to purely petrol power when it runs out of battery puff, it could still function as a frugal HEV? That's Toyota's thinking with this particular vehicle.

This latest model essentially takes the four-wheel-drive (AWD-i) version of the 2.5-litre Hybrid RAV4, replaces the front 88kW (118hp) electric motor with a larger 134kW (180hp) item, changes the 1.1kWh nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery for a relatively huge 18.1kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) pack and adds a Type 2 charging port on the offside-rear of the vehicle. So far, this just sounds 'pure PHEV', we agree, but the way the RAV4 Plug-In manages these resources is different. In that, it'll use most of its battery reserves to offer up fully 46 miles of pure electric driving, which is a high figure for a PHEV in and of itself. In such circumstances, keep the Toyota SUV in its EV Mode and it will not fire up the petrol engine at all, even if you depress the throttle all the way to the floor, while it can do up to 84mph with nothing coming from its tailpipes.

Once it feels it cannot go further in EV Mode, though, then the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid switches to operating like its Hybrid stablemates. It will still switch the engine off and drive as an electric car, but now it will only do such things for short periods of time and at lower speeds. Nevertheless, the fact it is still a HEV when it's not a PHEV, if you follow us, means it can post some mighty impressive on-paper figures under WLTP testing: 282.5mpg combined and just 22g/km of CO2 emissions are lower than any other comparable PHEV we can think of. And this RAV4 promises to be more economical once the needle in the little battery gauge in the cluster, which has a large green section for the PHEV driving and a smaller blue section for HEV motoring, has swung into the latter colour.

However, the Plug-In Hybrid posts a number of other 'highs' in terms of the history of the RAV4 line, some of them good and some of them... not so good. In the plus column, with its large front electric motor and the same 40kW (54hp) unit on the rear axle, the PHEV has access to theoretical output maximums of 412hp and 612Nm. It doesn't make quite that much grunt, though, Toyota limiting it to a still-deeply-impressive 306hp (the company never states peak torque for its hybrids, due to the way the petrol and electric engines deliver the stuff at different points of the rev range) - which, in turn, allows the RAV4 PHEV to do 0-62mph in six seconds dead. That's a superb figure in a wider context, because we now switch over to the negatives and the Plug-In Hybrid is heavy. In fact, in its most luxurious Dynamic Premium spec as tested, it's 1,975kg. Two tonnes, basically. That makes it 200 kilos heftier than the AWD-i model of the 'plain' Hybrid, which isn't great news.

But it's not the weight of the RAV4 which will take your breath away. It's the price. Bear in mind that any other model of Toyota's excellent SUV costs between 31,000 and 38,505 for a Black Edition Hybrid AWD-i, and you will be stunned to hear that the Plug-In Hybrid starts at 47,395 for a Dynamic... and rises to the wrong side of 50 grand for the Dynamic Premium we're in, at a quite gobsmacking 50,895. Add a 310 metallic paint to that and you've got a five-figure price tag beginning 'five-one'. Yikes. Toyota counters by saying the PHEV's super-low CO2 figures make it extremely competitive on BIK and PCP deals, so it works out to be not as ferociously expensive to own as it looks on the face of the bare list price, and you get a lot of choice equipment as standard on the Dynamic and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink on the Dynamic Premium. But, crikey, there are some very good alternatives on offer elsewhere which make that asking number look astronomical. The excellent Ford Kuga PHEV employs a mechanically similar drivetrain to the Toyota, albeit it's not as powerful, but it's only around 38,000. A Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 has similar power, performance and electric range to the RAV4, but it's a (tiny) bit cheaper. And once you're talking about 50-grand PHEVs, buyers might consider premium labels to be more alluring than a Toyota, either downsizing for something like the 25e model of the BMW X1, or even upscaling to a Volvo XC60 plug-in, either a T6 or a T8 Polestar Engineered, neither of which is a massive reach, fiscally speaking, from the RAV4's starting point.

There's a tough job on the Toyota's hands, then, of convincing private buyers they should in any way consider this model instead of the thoroughly likeable and markedly proficient Hybrid AWD-i that's at least 9,430 cheaper. Can it achieve greatness through its PHEVHEV make-up? Time to find out.

How does it drive?

Before the dynamics, a few quick words on aesthetics and charging. The fifth-gen RAV4 is a great-looking thing inside and out anyway, and the PHEV builds upon that with a black mesh radiator grille, dark plating under-runs front and rear, metallic bumper finishes and its own design of 19-inch alloys. Inside, there's plush leather with bespoke stitching, while the part-digital instrument cluster and the switchgear on the centre console are both mildly altered to account for the plug-in set-up. Interior space is largely the same as on the Hybrid, due to the placement of the battery pack in the floor of the Toyota, but the boot does sacrifice 60 litres of capacity to stand at a minimum 520 litres. Beyond this, the Japanese firm will provide both Mode 2 and Mode 3 cables as standard, the former allowing a 7.5-hour recharging time on a domestic socket at 10 amps, the latter replenishing the battery in 2.5 hours on a wallbox or public AC charging point at 32 amps, courtesy of an onboard 6.6kW charger.

Right, let's start with the Toyota's very good kinematic points. Considering this is the marque's first plug-in hybrid outside of the Prius line-up, it's beautifully executed. The company has made great efforts anyway in making the 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and its attendant E-CVT much more refined than they were in the disappointing old Mk4 RAV4 Hybrid, and adding a bigger front electric motor and more EV running capabilities to the mix has hardly hurt the RAV4 PHEV's case. Throw in the fact the Plug-In Hybrid has additional acoustic-dampening measures up front, including special noise-reducing glass, a dash insulator, a front-pillar garnish and a wing liner, and you will not criticise this SUV for being loud in the slightest. True, if you rev it right out, you do get a bit of the traditional Toyota 'scream' from the 2.5 and the E-CVT, but it's not unbearable and these instances are rare occurrences in the overall driving experience.

It also rolls along magnificently, providing a cultured and hushed ride in towns while conducting itself equally elegantly on A-roads and motorways. The additional weight of the plug-in gear does not seem to negatively affect the RAV4's comportment, although its suspension does seem to make more of a deal of larger compressions than it ought to. That's probably more to do with the fact the PHEV runs on large 19-inch alloys, really.

And the drivetrain is muscular enough, although this is the point where things start to unravel a bit. There's no doubt the RAV4 PHEV feels quicker than the Hybrid models, but equally it doesn't feel 306hp-strong. The 3008 Hybrid4 is a bit rawer than the Toyota in certain departments, yet it's subjectively the quicker of the two vehicles. So if you're expecting the Plug-In Hybrid to be some sort of GR Toyota in disguise with its robust on-paper stats, you might be a trifle disappointed with the way it actually performs.

Then there's the RAV4's handling. Sitting on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) chassis, a platform which has revitalised the company's products in recent years, we were expecting a bit more crispness from the PHEV. Sadly, though, it would appear that weight gain has blunted the RAV4 quite a lot. There's plenty of body roll, it sometimes feels quite hard to stop it when it's moving at pace (despite the fact the two-stage brakes are perfectly well-calibrated), and understeer doesn't take too long to appear. Sure, family SUVs with eco-focused drivetrains are not supposed to be hot hatchbacks, so we weren't after a seminal handling showing from the RAV4 PHEV. But it cannot be avoided that there are alternatives which drive in a sweeter fashion than this. And, perhaps more pertinently, the regular Hybrid models of the Toyota are also more enjoyable.

Let's end on a plus point, though, and it's a good one. The energy management of the Toyota's system is indeed exceptional and the decision to make it operate as a HEV after being a PHEV - or, more accurately, to ensure that the set-up always keeps more than the bare minimum reserves in the battery pack to allow for continuous HEV operation - reaps real benefits. Our test route was a looping, technical trek through the South Downs, conducted on a miserably cold and wet day in the teeth of Storm Christoph. Therefore, conditions not entirely conducive to great economy from any part-electric vehicle, seeing as we had the heated seats toasting away, the climate control set at 23.5 degrees C, and the lights and wipers going ten to the dozen. Yet the RAV4 did exactly what Toyota promised, using its full EV reserves to get us the first 30 miles of the route (it might have done 40-miles-plus, but we didn't exactly drive it cautiously during this opening sector). We then used the petrol engine to recharge the battery to half-full for a few miles, which saw economy dip to the mid-30s mpg, but once we switched the RAV4 into its Auto EV/HV setting, it used up what electric power was remaining and then operated as a HEV with the needle of the battery gauge firmly in the 'blue'. And it gave back a relatively stellar 54.5mpg across 30 miles of up-and-down, start-stop A-roads, which wended through many of the picturesque villages and towns of the bucolic county of West Sussex. That's a level of economy we think no other PHEV SUV we've ever tried could manage, once it had 'exhausted' its usable battery supply, so major kudos to Toyota for that.


It's the usual PHEV lament with the Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid: IF you can use it as the manufacturer intended, with lots of plug-in charging phases, then it certainly offers something extra on top of the Hybrid AWD-i variant. It has also proven that, once it stops operating like a PHEV, it can return significantly superior average fuel economy to most other plug-in hybrid SUVs in the marketplace, while its incredibly impressive published eco-stats mean it is the obvious choice for fleet buyers who can take full advantage of all the financial tax benefits it offers.

But, for private buyers or Toyota enthusiasts, the RAV4 PHEV is simply way too expensive for what it is. Quick but not breathtakingly fast, decent in the corners but not startlingly talented, apart from its increased EV driving range then the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid doesn't really do anything markedly extra to what the regular Hybrid RAV4 models can. In fact, it's the very fact the Mk5 RAV4 is such an excellent SUV to begin with that leaves us unimpressed with the newcomer. At 40,000 or thereabouts, we might be able to recommend it more. As it is, stick with a Hybrid AWD-i if you want the Toyota, out of all the midsized SUVs available.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 26 Jan 2020    - Toyota road tests
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- RAV4 images

2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Dynamic Premium. Image by Toyota GB.


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