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ChrisHenryOC

Toyota RAV4 EV - Extended Test Drive

Rating: 35 votes, 5.00 average.

This blog entry appeared in its original form here.


I recently cancelled my Model S reservation (with sadness), and began a nearly Quixotic quest to find the EV that's right for me and my family. (You can read more about my cancellation in this thread if you're interested.) As part of this quest I started looking at the available fully EV options out there as well as the Chevy Volt. I'm not considering the Prius PHV as the range is an embarrassing 11 miles in EV mode, and the product seems to have only been launched in order to allow owners to get single-occupancy carpool stickers (at least in CA). The primary contenders were the Leaf, the Volt, and the Focus Electric.


RAV4 EV, under the hood.
The current Leaf is out for me due to the charger size and the lack of liquid cooling on the battery. It was however the leading contender after I had test driven the three due to the relatively roomy inside. I'm not as concerned with handling (2008 Prius driver = lowered standards), and the controls interface was pretty intuitive (for me). Was thinking that I would wait for the MY2013 to see if Nissan improves the charger and battery. Rumors are strong that the charger will have increased capacity and there are rumblings that the battery may get some much needed attention as well, although that could purely be wishful thinking on the part of future owners.

The Chevy Volt was essentially ruled out because it would be tough for me to do my 42 mile daily commute in pure EV mode without needing to use the ICE to extend the range. Also, the controls interface is just plain ugly and I found it unintuitive, and would certainly not enjoy trying to train another driver (my spouse, for example) on how to use all of the buttons.

The Focus Electric has probably the best controls interface, but the tiny interior rules it out as my 8 year old son isn't going to get any smaller. It's also very peppy and has good range. I was truly sad to eliminate this one from the list.

The problem with all of the above is that they are all impressions based on Internet reading and limited test drive time. I decided that I would try and find rentals, if possible, to do more of an extended test drive. After nearly two weeks of trying to find a rental in SoCal, I was starting to get frustrated. The rental options are pretty limited, if available. I found one place in Hollywood that would rent a Volt to me for $140/day plus taxes, etc. and the Nissan dealer would rent me a Leaf for $100/day. My cheap bone was aching while considering these options and on a whim, I called the Toyota dealer near my house to see if they had any RAV4's available for test drives. I'm still not sure how I made that connection, but that's what happened.

The agent replied that they didn't have any for test drives yet, but have one available for rent if I'd like to do that. The rate he quoted over the phone was $35/day for the rental (they ended up charging me $55/day). Oh hells yeah! Sign me up. I arranged to pick it up the following Wednesday morning and drove it until Friday evening when I sadly dropped it off at the dealer.

I did have a nice start to the adventure the first morning. About 2 minutes after I pulled out from the dealership, I saw a guy driving the first Gen RAV4EV in front of me on Harbor Blvd in Costa Mesa. He waved and I gave him a thumbs up. A nice start indeed. Old school and new school coming together.

Overall, it drives like a small SUV, with no funkiness, other than a willingness to accelerate quickly whenever desired. The ride is a little rougher than I'm used to in my Prius, but I definitely liked sitting higher and having the exta headroom. In Sport mode it accelerates like most EVs and generates that EV grin. Not to the same level as a Model S, but still a nice happy grin.

My biggest complaint at first was about the way the rental vehicle doesn't come with the 110V charger. The rep at the dealer said that this was because of two reasons: the charger is a thousand dollar item that they don't want to replace, and that they are worried someone will plug into crummy wiring at home and burn their house down. The first reason seems more plausible, and the second is frustrating because I think it shows ignorance about charging, breaker boxes, etc. Do Toyota's lawyers think we've all got 1970's fuse boxes with copper pennies stuck in them? (not that you can find either these days)

I had hoped to use level 2 charging stations near my house and the use the 110 to trickle charge over night to take advantage of at-rest time. However, now I've got to sit at a charging station while the car "fills up". Oh we'll, cost of doing business and being an early adopter I guess.


Rear cargo area with the seats folded down
Some additional impressions:
  • There is absolutely no loss of cargo space or passenger space with the EV version of this car. The Volt, Leaf, and Focus Electric all take away space in order to facilitate the EV components. That reduction is most noticeable in the Volt and Focus Electric. The Rav4, like the Tesla Model S, has quite a bit of storage and passenger space. Of course, there's not Frunk, but that's a small price to pay.
  • As I noted above, the rental did not come with any sort of charger. Not having any sort of charging options with the rental at home do heighten range anxiety. Of course, the ultra-slow rate of charge on 110v (the Toyota web site quotes 44 hours for a full charge at 12A/120v) could also create range anxiety in unfamiliar users. That said, if the 41kWh battery is charged in 44 hours and gets ~100 range, the 110v would charge at about 2.2 miles per charging hour, providing about 22 miles on an overnight 10 hour charge. It's not much, but it would decrease the amount of time a person would spend waiting at public charging stations for the vehicle to charge.
  • With the A/C on Eco Low mode, the mileage estimate on a full (not range-extended) charge drops from 92 miles to 72 miles. I'm thinking that the EPA testing had the climate control turned off. Still, 72-75 miles of range in a given day with the climate control turned on is easily within my parameters.
  • On the last day of the rental, I figured out that the Eco-Low and Eco-High climate control settings were opposite of what I was thinking. Turns out that Eco-High uses the least amount of energy, and Eco-Low cools faster and uses more energy. I guess the nomenclature they were going for was the Low and High describe "how Eco" the setting is rather than the energy usage.
  • The center-console controls are taking some getting used to. The little "home" button below the display is right where I tend to rest my thumb while looking for buttons on the touch screen and I keep accidentally hitting the home button.
  • The "B" driving mode engages the regenerative braking a lot like the Model S does. It also provides more aggressive regen during braking than in standard mode. I find myself switching frequently back and forth between regular and "B" mode depending on the driving situation. The gear shifter is right below where my right-hand hangs from the center arm rest and is easily manipulated during driving. The only thing I've had to get used to is the location has changed from my 2008 Prius, and I keep reaching for the center dash to change gears and bumped the seat heater button accidentally a couple of times.
  • Turns out the seat heaters are very effective and heat up quickly.
  • I was not able to do any testing of the Entune applications or the EV specific features available for the Prius Plug-In and the Rav4 EV. You need to have the Entune app installed on your smartphone (free, and easy to get) as well as an Entune account (free, but needs a VIN to associate with the account). I felt it would be rude to pair the rental vehicle up with an account I might create, so I didn't try that.
  • The radio tuning happens entirely using the touchscreen. When on the radio screen, you have to open another popup window to tune or change volume. Pretty clunky. I've been driving since the mid-80's and I really like analog knobs for tuning and volume control. They are always in the same place, and I can reach for them without needing to look. It's also much faster to spin the volume know down than to press the volume button on the steering wheel, or find the volume setting in the touchscreen. The tuning issue and general usability are things that could be fixed with a software update, but I'm not going to hold my breath
  • The cloth interior is a problem. It's a very light color that goes nicely with the rest of the interior. However, for my purposes, it's a challenge because, well, I have a son. He makes messes. As an example, he got a replica jersey of the Argentina national soccer (football) team with light blue and white stripes for Christmas last year. It was permanently stained in less than 24 hours. Light colored cloth seats will get trashed by my family (including me). The good news is that most dealers have someone who can re-do the interior in leather pretty quickly and not too expensively. I'd much prefer Toyota include leather standard, or at least as an option, but they don't. Probably the same thinking that went into the Leaf's recycled interior. Leather, however, should be standard on a car that costs $50k. Seriously.
  • Because the Rav4 has a 41kWh battery, you need serious juice in order to charge it. The standard 220 volt, 30 amp chargers would take 8 hours for a full charge. Toyota has selected Leviton to provide a 220 volt, 40 amp charger that does a full charge in 5-6 hours. I talked briefly with a Leviton rep on the phone who told me that they do not offer the 40 amp charger as a standalone purchase, and require that it be installed by them, but the 30 amp charger can be purchased by itself. I wonder if I could adapt Tesla's


0 to 50 acceleration. Click image to see video.

I turned in the Rav4EV on Friday afternoon and was sad to see it go. I had a blast driving it, and getting back into my 08 Prius was a let down. I've always felt that my Prius was roomy inside, but after driving the bigger car since Wednesday, the Prius definitely felt small inside. The sense of loss was also heightened when I looked at my gas gauge and had to spend nearly $50 filling up the gas tank after dropping off the Rav4.


Here are a couple of questions posted to the original thread that might be interesting to other readers:

rabar10 wrote:Thanks for all the details and pics, Chris! How much "coaching" was included or offered when you picked up the RAV4-EV for rental? Agree that not having any EVSE included means missing out on one of the big EV advantages - filling up while parked at home.

There was some coaching on the basics of the screens, but not a lot. The sales rep had attended a course on the car and had previously test-driven one. That said, he is very much an ICE guy that is working to be more familiar with EVs, and there were areas that I was already more informed than him. This isn't a knock on him, but I've test-driven a Model S, a Nissan Leaf, a Chevy Volt, and the Focus Electric, as well as obsessing about EVs in general for a while now. There are a number of little detail questions I'd like to get some answers to, but finding knowledgable people at the local dealership has been a challenge. As an example, a sales rep at the Huntington Beach Toyota dealership told me that she didn't think the Rav4EV would be for sale in California.

jcstp wrote: Thanks for all your details! What is your verdict? Is it a buy, a lease or not considering for now?

For me, it's a buy, not a lease. I'm hoping that this is a vehicle that lasts for many years, and an outright purchase makes a lot more sense for me. With my Model S refund, the sale of my wife's 2005 Prius, some other savings, and the tax credits, I'm hoping to only end up financing about 23k on long term financing. (I understand that I won't get the federal credit until I file my 2012 taxes). Talked to the wife tonight and she's on board with the purchase as well. I think we might be full-steam ahead here!

Ampster wrote: I am a newby here, but I drove a RAV4 EV at the Alt Car Expo in Santa Monica which I attended with a friend. My friend went to the nearest dealer in the evening of our test drive and put a deposit on one. It took me a couple days more to get the fever. The RAV4 EV did rock my world. I had just completed the conversion of a 1973 VW Super Beetle and was figuring that I needed my existing ICE SUV for the occasional day trips that I take that are around 100 miles. The RAV4 EV caused me to reexamine that assumption. I also put a deposit down a few days later and hope to get one before year end so I can take advantage of the tax credit.

My friend and I both have solar panels on our roofs so our incremental energy costs are zero. I love the simplicity of driving my Super Beetle and the incredible torque I feel when I pull away from a signal or stop sign. I live in a small beach town in Southern California and there are several free parking charging stations that I have used, not for range extension, but for the free parking which is always a rare thing in my little town. I think the RAV4 EV will be the perfect complement to my other EV and I am excited about the idea of not being dependent on gasoline for locomotion.


If you call around, there are dealerships that have them in stock right now. No need to go onto a waiting list. I got an email from the Tustin Toyota dealership and they have one of the blue ones in stock for sale.

Please don't take my numerous issues listed above to indicate that I'm not happy with this vehicle. In a lot of ways, it's a 2.0 product, and shows that in some of the choices Toyota made. As most people know, version 3 is usually where you start seeing the real advances. That said, I think this car could easily be a 6-10 year car for my family, especially with aftermarket leather installed in the interior. I'm calling Leviton this week to get an assessment done for installing a charger at home, and if all goes well, hope to be driving around fully electric in the next 30 days.

Hmmm. Now I need to see about a vanity license plate. Wonder if there's anything good left.

Full gallery of photos here.
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Comments

  1. laguna_b1's Avatar
    Chris,

    Did anyone show you a written warranty for the battery? I know the battery is under a long warranty but the NO ONE at Toyota has been able to tell me what defines failure. My recollection is that Tesla defines battery life at 80% charge retention but no such number is available from Toyota. (as far as I know)

    The extended range ability will degrade the battery but may be needed at times. How does THAT affect warranty? There is a scary silence from Toyota on this.

    The price with incentives is nice if you can use the tax credit. I am not yet sure for this year if I will be able to do so yet with so many write-offs already.

    The Ford Focus EV is SO cheap to own, I could not pass up the LEASE. With a lease, I am not worried about warranty or the likelihood that in 3 years much better batteries will be deployed. With less than $200/mo and $2500 out, the risk/reward ratio was way better than the Toyota lease which was triple that.

    The key is that the Ford is used for a 45 mile daily commute with a charger (free) in the parking lot. This was a no brainer. I did prefer the RAV4 have been considering it as a second vehicle due to the extended range and trade my Prius 2008 in. (or sell it) But the buy decision is a non-starter when the battery warranty is useless for lack of a definition.

    Lastly, I have been told that 2012 is the end of the line for the RAV4 EV. Being an early adopter is one thing....the LAST adopter is really bad. I know that the fleet of NiMh RAV4s are doing great....or at least those I have talked to. But I am not willing to put money into a vehicle that has essentially no battery warranty.

    BTW, are you related to the Chris Henry that used to work at AMD?

    Barry
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