There can’t be an awful lot wrong with the performance of a near two-tonne SUV that’ll knock over the 0-60mph dash in less than six seconds, but that also stands ready to really impress you for its real-world running efficiency – whether you charge it regularly or not.
Broadly speaking, that’s the prospect that the RAV4 PHEV offers. It has commendable refinement and isolation too, and mostly good drivability and flexibility as it accelerates. Under wide throttle applications you’re aware of just a little bit of the ‘rubber band effect’ of hybrid Toyotas of old – but mostly you’ll be too busy marveling at a car of this size that can mix it with hot hatchbacks as it zips away from rest. The characteristics of the car’s electric motors and transmission make it feel punchier when pulling away from town speeds than when overtaking around the national speed limit, but there’s still plenty of urgency left under your foot for assertive motorway driving.
Making brisk progress isn’t really what this car feels best suited to once you’re used to its outright capabilities, however. You can sharpen its pedal calibration by selecting the sportier driving modes; but you still have to get quite a long way into the accelerator, and make the engine do its impression of either an (admittedly distant) outboard motor or a hard-working three-speed food mixer, to get the car really moving. Driving it more reservedly and responsibly is generally more satisfying.
Do that and this car is a relaxing, efficient, comfortable and very pleasant family conveyance. It starts in electric mode when there’s charge in the battery pack, but can also be driven in HV (battery hold), Charge (battery charge) and Auto EV/HV modes (in which it deploys electric power and regulates battery condition automatically). There’s also a Trail mode for loose surfaces.
Whichever mode you’ve chosen, you’ll find the engine starts and stops very unobtrusively indeed, and there’s always plenty of urge under your foot in typical give-and-take motoring. Toyota could really only improve drivability in two ways. Firstly, by giving you finer control of brake energy regeneration in electric mode via the car’s shift paddles, allowing you to coast when the road’s clear, and then to blend battery regen up only when it’s needed so as to boost rolling efficiency (there isn’t even a ‘B’ transmission mode here). And secondly, by delivering a better and more intuitive-feeling brake pedal. As it is, the RAV4’s brake pedal feels mushy, then grabby, as it trades motor regen for friction braking, and annoyingly it seems to get worse the harder you drive the car and the more you’ve need of it.