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2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Prototype: A Quick Spin

I’m at Toyota’s third Sustainable Mobility Seminar at the moment, a deep dive into the issues surrounding sustainable motoring featuring excellent speakers from industry and academia.  I’ll admit, my head is still spinning from all the education I’ve received over the last twenty-four hours, but there’s one part of the event I feel compelled to write about – right now.  All of us in attendance got the media’s very first chance to drive fully working prototypes of Toyota’s upcoming fully electric RAV4 EV.  As AutoPacific’s resident treehugger, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of Toyota’s upcoming electric SUV.

Last year, Toyota announced a collaboration with Tesla, the upstart electric automaker based in Palo Alto, CA, to share in the development of an electric vehicle.  Both companies would in theory learn some very valuable lessons.  Toyota would gain access to Tesla’s innovative EV technologies, particularly its batteries, and Tesla would gain valuable insight into first-tier automaker engineering and production know-how.  Less than a year later, there is now a slew of running RAV4 EV prototypes – an impressive feat that Toyota officials admit could not have been done alone given the company’s deliberate and process-oriented culture.

The Toyota RAV4 EV, which will be available for sale next year, uses Tesla-developed powertrain components.  This includes the motor, batteries, controller, charger, and other associated EV components.  Toyota provided some preliminary specs, for the geeks among you.  The battery pack is a big 37 kWh lithium ion battery pack with active thermal management to keep performance consistent regardless of climate.  The 3,942 pound SUV achieves 0-60 mph acceleration in 9.0 seconds (comparable to the conventional V6-powered RAV4) and has a 100 mph top speed.  Range is 80-120 miles.  Currently, it takes twelve hours to attain a full charge from empty on a 240v Level 2 charger, but Toyota promises that charging times will drop dramatically in the production vehicle.  Price?  Not determined yet.

So, what is it like to drive?  Remarkably unremarkable.  And that’s the point.  There is nothing unconventional about the way the RAV4 EV drives.  It’s quick off the line, gets up to highway speeds effortlessly, and is extremely quiet due to the lack of engine noise.  As a prototype, there was a bit of driveline noise and gear whine that will undoubtedly be exorcised by the time it reaches production, and the regenerative braking (which feeds juice back into the batteries while decelerating) was not only very aggressive, but also in need of some calibration work for the sake of smoothness.

Both inside and out, few cues trumpet the car’s electric powertrain.  There is a new front fascia with LED running lights, and the interior is standard RAV4 save for a revised gauge cluster and push-button drive mode selector in place of the usual transmission gearshift.  Yes, it’s really just like a regular RAV4.

Interestingly, the second generation RAV4 EV (yes, there was a first generation that debuted way back in 1997) will be available for sale around the time that an all-new RAV4 will hit the market.  So, when it debuts, it will use what will by then be the “old” RAV4 body.  Initially, the RAV4 EV won’t be a very high volume vehicle; Toyota’s staff weren’t ready to talk volume targets, but I got the impression that first year production would probably be in the four-digit range.  If consumer demand warrants, Toyota could begin to engineer an electric version of the new RAV4 due next year.

Toyota may be selling themselves a little short here.  Americans love their crossover SUVs, and this product will be quite unique in the marketplace as it will be the only pure battery electric SUV in the marketplace in the near future.  As an SUV, this EV offers excellent size, space, and practicality that bests just about any electric sedan.  This is the closest thing to a guilt-free SUV.

In a little over a year’s time, you’ll be able to walk into your neighborhood Toyota dealership and silently motor away in this electric SUV.  Based on my drive today, there’s little doubt it will be one of the more desirable electric vehicles available then.

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