All-electric sports-utility vehicle holds appeal for early adopters, but it's only on sale in the state of California

What is it?

Although Toyota has committed to hybrid power trains in a big way, it is also dipping its toe into the battery-powered electric vehicle market. The Toyota RAV4 EV is the Japanese manufacturer's all-electric SUV, developed in conjunction with electric vehicle specialist Tesla Motors.

The Toyota RAV4 EV is currently only on sale in urban areas of California, where it is in line with the state's strict clean vehicle laws and qualifies for tax breaks and financial incentives.

Akio Toyoda, president and chief executive of Toyota, put forward the prospect of a collaboration with Elon Musk's Tesla back in 2010.

Underpinned by a Tesla-designed battery and electric powertrain, the front-wheel-drive RAV4 EV developed from a pipe dream to a reality in just 22 months.

The SUV was first revealed in 2012 and has since gone on sale in modest numbers. Output will be restricted to 2600 examples for the first three years of production.

Read our full review on the conventional Toyota RAV-4

What's it like?

It feels quick enough to be a fun drive, and not as cumbersome as you might fear, probably because the instant slug of torque that's on tap whenever you accelerate belies the extra weight of all that battery technology the RAV4 EV lugs around.

The vehicle is quiet, but not completely noiseless, with a distinct whine as its noise signature. There's not much wind noise owning to the fact that the RAV4 EV, with a drag coefficient of 0.30, is even more slippery than a conventional Toyota RAV4.

One drawback is that the hushed nature of the vehicle's powertrain highlights noisy road surfaces, such as those we experienced on our test drive in Michigan.

In its wisdom, Toyota has fitted a button that switches the RAV4 EV into so-called 'Sport' mode. Press it, and the instrument dials behind the steering wheel glow devilishly red instead of calming blue and an extra dollop of power is unleashed.

The SUV gathers pace quickly, reaching 60mph in just 7.0 seconds on its way to a top speed of 100mph. However, such wanton disregard for power consumption scuppers any hope you might have of matching Toyota's claimed maximum range of 103 miles.

In truth, though, the RAV4 EV is more intended for urban cruising. The steering feels very light and is fairly direct, lending itself well to city driving.

Under braking you're reminded that you're carrying an extra 200kg or so compared to a regular RAV4. The battery pack has been mounted low in the middle of the vehicle to make the centre of gravity as low as possible.

The driver has a full range of EV instrumentation to play with, including a three-mode climate control system that can tease out more battery life in its most frugal setting.

An eco cluster includes the power meter, driving range, battery gauge, speedometer, shift indicator and multi-information display. Information such as driving range, trip efficiency and one of those pretty but pointless trees showing how much CO2 your vehicle hasn't emitted can be called up on the multi-information display.

Back to top

A regenerative braking system, developed in cooperation between Toyota and Tesla, can help to replenish the batteries. Used intelligently, a driver could potentially recoup about 20 extra miles of range per full charge.

Crucially, the load space of the RAV4 isn't compromised by the electrical components. That means there's a 547-litre boot with the rear seats in place, which makes it one of the more practical EVs on the market.

Recharging of the batteries can be completed in approximately six hours at its quickest.

Should I buy one?

It could prove expensive, mainly because you'd have to first relocate to California to do so. Which, on reflection, does hold some appeal.

Like the Toyota Prius before it, the RAV4 EV is primarily aimed at far-sighted early adopters and companies that wish to run green vehicles on their fleets.

For most motorists the usual electric vehicle concerns about the lack of flexibility prompted by a limited driving range would still exist, as would the initial outlay.

Using the (very rough) guide of a straight US dollar to UK sterling conversion, the price equates to about £32,000, which is more expensive than the top-ranking four-wheel-drive, 2.2-litre diesel Toyota RAV4 we get over here.

However, the Toyota RAV4 EV feels well sorted and robust, and if it was more widely available it is easy to imagine how its high-riding stance and practical load space would find favour with those who have already warmed to alternative vehicles on either side of the Atlantic.

Toyota RAV4 EV

Price $49,800 (approx £31,736); 0-60mph 7.0sec (sport mode); Top speed 85mph (normal mode) 100mph (sport mode); Range 103 miles; CO2 0g/km (local); Kerb weight 1829kg; Drive AC induction electric motor with 41kWh lithium-ion battery; Power 154bhp; Torque 273lb ft (sport mode); Gearbox single-speed automatic

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Will86 10 September 2013

Bit Late

These pictures show the old model, not the new model just released in Europe. Why didn't they fit the EV tech to the new one?

Matt Burt 11 September 2013

I guess when the EV project

I guess when the EV project started in 2010 the previous-gen car was still on sale so it was the logical choice. The new one was – IIRC – shown at LA motor show near the end of last year.
MrJ 10 September 2013

The RAV4 gets bloatier and

The RAV4 gets bloatier and uglier with each succeeding version.

Bring back the dinky original!

fadyady 9 September 2013

EVs are all rage

Yet another electric car from yet another manufacturer. But I've seen only one electric car so far that is genuinely impressive and lights a trail for much larger car makers.

ordinary bloke 9 September 2013

What was it ?

fadyady - "But I've seen only one electric car so far that is genuinely impressive and lights a trail for much larger car makers."

What was it ?