2012 Toyota RAV4 EV: some restrictions apply

For the record, I’m an optimist, but also a realist. For example, I really want to believe I’ll win the lottery, but I’m not sure it will happen. I also want to believe that EVs will save the world, but the reality is they aren’t ready yet. Now before I get the stigma of being anti environment, I am all for alternative propulsion solutions to fossil fuel. But I’ve driven my share of EVs, and until they can be made more affordable for the masses with broader range and easier use, only a handful of diehards will reap their benefits. Does that mean we didn’t like the 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV? No it doesn’t; I actually liked it quite a bit, but honestly, I was happy to drop it off at Toyota and return home in the 2013 Infiniti JX.

First, let’s start by questioning why this new vehicle is a 2012 versus a 2013. The answer is that the 2013 RAV4 is going to be sporting an all-new body style, and since the development was underway with this model and the new RAV4 has yet to be seen (waiting for the auto show circuit, I’m sure), Toyota kept the 2012 designation. As a reminder, this is the second-generation EV RAV4. The first gen used a Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery with a range of 100 to 120 miles and a governed top speed of 78 mph. NiMH batteries are heavier, and have a shorter life span than the new Lithium ion now being used in the new RAV4 EV.

The RAV4 EV comes with a standard rear spoiler with vertical “winglets” that extend down the side glass to provide a more wraparound body for improved aerodynamics.

The RAV4’s shape is familiarly square, with a few changes that include a restyled front bumper, upper and lower grilles, new headlamps, LED taillamps, side mirrors, rear spoiler with vertical winglets and a different underbody design to help maximize aerodynamics for improved fuel efficiency. The RAV4 EV has the lowest coefficient of drag of any SUV at 0.30. For comparison, the Corvette has a Cd of 0.28. We won’t harp on the swingaway cargo door that opens from the street side because it’s been beaten to death for years, but we do hope at least the new RAV4 will have a traditional liftgate.

Inside are some differences in fabrics and materials versus the gas-powered RAV4, but the biggest difference is the addition of EV-related screens on the capacitive touch screen and more EV information on the screens flanking the speedometer. The RAV4 EV provides plenty of room for occupants, and the seats are both comfortable and supportive. Where the RAV4 EV shines is in the packaging. Because the batteries are located under the floor, there is no loss of cargo capacity. You still get a flat load floor and all the 73.0 cubic feet of volume with the seats folded, or an impressive 37.2 with the second-row seats up. Because the batteries are under the floor, it does reduce the ground clearance by a few inches, but the RAV4 had good ground clearance already, and in truth, few people take these vehicles off road.

Because the Lithium-ion battery pack is below the floor, the RAV4 retains its great cargo-carrying capabilities, including split-fold second-row seating.

The RAV4EV features two drive modes, Normal and Sport. The sport button is located in the center console below the HVAC controls, and when Sport mode is selected, the ring around the speedo illuminates red as a constant reminder you’re using more power. In normal mode it reverts back to blue. In Sport mode, with 273 lb-ft of torque, the RAV4 EV accelerates faster, with a higher maximum speed of 100 mph. In Normal mode with 218 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 times jump from 7.0 to 8.6 seconds, and the maximum speed is reduced to 85 mph. While we didn’t try it in Sport mode for fear of really burning down the miles, other journalists we spoke to did, and said it was plenty fun, but are RAV4 EV owners after a fast ride, or is the focus on being the most economical?

Why is the RAV4 EV so quick? Mostly because the battery technology comes from Tesla, as does the electric powertrain. It’s an AC induction motor with a fixed-gear open-diff transaxle. The Lithium-ion battery has a power output of 120 kilowatts, for a max rating of 154 horsepower. Range is over 113 miles on a full charge, but will be reduced if you run the air conditioning. However, you can use one of three AC settings: Normal, ECO low or ECO high, which will adjust the range according to how much air the compressor needs to process to keep you cool.

The RAV4 EV has both Standard and Extended charge modes. With Standard mode, the battery charges up to 35 kWh, which allows the vehicle to achieve an EPA-estimated driving range rating of 92 miles. In Extended mode, the battery will charge to its full capacity of 41.8 kWh, which extends the driving range to 113 miles, but uses up battery life faster.

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BJ, one of the first female automotive journalists in the country, has been testing and writing about automobiles for almost three decades. A former Road Test Editor for Motor Trend magazine. BJ now freelances for numerous automotive titles and websites. She is the Road Test Editor and co-host of “Driver’s Talk” Radio, a simultaneous vodcast/broadcast that is heard in over a dozen markets across the country as well as on the internet and Stitcher. BJ is a multiple winner of the prestigious IAMC awards, including the “Best of Radio,” and has served as a judge on numerous automotive competitions, including Concept Vehicle of the Year. A big racing fan, her love of automobiles started early, having been exposed to the field through her father, who owned an assortment of collector classics, such as a ’61 Austin-Healey 3000, a ’641⁄2 Mustang, and other vehicles. BJ, a native Southern Californian, is married to automotive photographer Scott Killeen, and is a two-year past president of the Motor Press Guild, the organization that represents almost 900 automotive journalists and industry representatives across the country. BJ and Scott (Team Killeen), are publishers of the BUILD BOOK, a serial publication that follows the build of one custom vehicle from start to finish.

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