2012 Toyota RAV4 EV: First Drive Of Tesla-Powered Crossover

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2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

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If the ideal electric car has a real-world range of 100 miles or more and the practical utility that American families buy crossovers for, the future may be arriving this year.

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV has every bit of space that the gasoline versions do. Its Tesla-engineered battery pack and electric motor give it better performance than the RAV4's most powerful V-6 version, plus a real-world range of 100 or more miles (depending on how you use the climate control).

It's too bad that the RAV4 EV will only be sold in California as a "compliance car," in a limited run of just 2,600 over the next three model years.

In other words, even if you want one--and have the price of $49,800--you may not be able to buy one.

As electric-car advocates may remember, this is actually the second RAV4 EV. The first one was built a decade ago to comply with earlier California zero-emission vehicle mandates that were subsequently changed, so Toyota stopped building them.

There are still almost 500 of the 2002 Toyota RAV4 EVs running around California--we drove one a couple of years ago--and their owners have been waiting eagerly for the new 2012 model.

Developed in record time, with a deal between Toyota and Tesla announced in May 2010 by respective CEOs Akio Toyoda and Elon Musk, the 2012 RAV4 EV will go on sale later this year in select California markets.

Tesla battery and motor

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] engineered the lithium-ion battery pack, which has 41.8 kilowatt-hours of usable capacity and sits below the floorpan.

Ground clearance is consequently reduced by a couple of inches, but the RAV4's cargo space of 36.4 cubic feet is untouched--as is the rear-seat foot room.

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

Enlarge Photo

Tesla also provided the AC induction motor that powers the front wheels, which is the same unit used in the 2012 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan, but with a lower peak output of 115 kilowatts (limited not by the motor itself but by the pack power).

The drive motor, power electronics, and onboard battery charger are located under the hood where the engine and transmission used to sit.

Despite the loss of those items, the RAV4 EV is roughly 470 pounds heavier than a front-wheel drive RAV4 Limited with the V-6 engine, rising to roughly 4,030 pounds.

But it's the power that really impresses when you drive the RAV4 EV, which more or less uses the powertrain and battery capacity of the lowest-spec Tesla Model S with a 40-kWh battery pack.

Toyota quotes less than 7 seconds from 0 to 60 mph in Sport mode and, more importantly--where it really counts in real-world usage--just 2.5 seconds to go from 30 to 50 mph. That's notably faster than the best V-6 version.

Top speed is limited to 85 mph in Normal mode, and 100 mph in Sport mode.

User control: lots

As in Tesla vehicles, there are a number of user-controllable settings. There are normal and Sport drive modes, for instance, the latter boosting your acceleration even if you keep your foot steady when you push the Sport button while underway.

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

Enlarge Photo

Then there are three climate settings: Eco-High, Eco-Low, and Normal. The Normal setting essentially replicates the maximum-blast behavior of a gasoline car's cooling and heating system--and it chews through range at a major rate.

Eco-Low moderates that, and Eco-High is the least powerful climate setting, providing the most range.

Toyota claimed that Eco-Low is enough to keep front-seat passengers comfortable, if not either chilly or toasty, on cold and hot days respectively.

We were skeptical, but in fact in California coastal weather up to the low 80s, that proved entirely true with the fan on a lower setting.

We didn't have any chance to test the car in chilly Northeastern winter weather--but then, it won't be sold there, so it's somewhat academic.

From 93 to 112 miles of range

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the 2012 RAV4 EV, though, is its real-world range--courtesy of the relatively huge usable 42 kWh of the battery pack.

(By comparison, the 2012 Nissan Leaf has a maximum usable pack capacity of 20.4 kilowatt-hours, or half that number.)

In an afternoon of driving two different electric RAV4s, we concluded two things.

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, Newport Beach, California, July 2012

Enlarge Photo

First, it's easy to get 100 to 115 miles of range no matter how you drive the car, in local stop-and-go or at legal freeway speeds and then some (given the general traffic flow in Southern California).

Second, the Tesla/Toyota range estimator on the RAV4 EV is remarkably accurate, with the change to projected range usually no more than 1 mile different than the actual mileage covered.

We didn't run any of our test cars down near 0 range, but Toyota assured us that there's a small margin even after the battery is shown as totally depleted.

Range of 158 miles, RLY?

Toyota estimates that in Normal charging mode--which doesn't charge the battery pack to 100 percent--the RAV4 EV has a range of 93 miles.

If the owner needs more range and sets the electric RAV4 to "Extended Range" charging mode, that rises almost 20 percent, to 112 miles.

Despite lengthy conversations with the EPA, though, Toyota was not able to convince the agency to let it list two separate ranges--so it expects the EPA-rated range to come in around 98 miles.

Just for reference, with a fully charged pack and the ventilation turned completely off in one of our test vehicles, the range estimator said we had 158 miles. That's worth opening some windows for.

The number fell to 92 when we touched the switch for Normal ventilation, rose to 111 on Eco-Low, and then 118 on Eco-High--which was where we left it.

10-kW charging

Unlike lesser battery electric cars whose onboard chargers are limited to 3.3 kilowatts (Nissan Leaf) or 6.6 kilowatts (Ford Focus Electric, Coda Sedan), the Tesla-designed charger in the RAV4 EV can charge at up to 10 kilowatts.

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Comments (40)
  1. "Then there are three climate settings: Eco-High, Eco-Low, and Normal."

    This brings new meaning to 'Climate Control Settings' (high & low vs. warm & cold). Wish auto manufactures would not over focus on eco-marketing and call these 'power settings'. I love electric vehicles because they are: clean (no smells, drips) & fun to drive (max torque anytime).

    Eco-power settings on an EV are somewhat ironic from an eco-nomic point of view as they save less than a cent per mile. Similar eco-power settings on ICEV will have a greater than 8x cost savings per mile (multiple pennies per mile). This is because an EV motor/drivetrain is already 85-90% efficient vs. 28-35% efficient for ICE.

    My eco-rant a side; I'd purchase a RAV4 if I lived in CA.

  2. Tough to watch market reception when you're not planning on selling many of them.

  3. "But given that the car may retain only 50 percent of its pack capacity over 5 to 8 years--"

    I've seen no evidence that a Tesla pack would drop capacity at this rate, Roadsters are showing only a few percentage points of capacity loss per year, and newer chemistry should do even better. Where did you come up with those numbers?

  4. @JRP: Good question. This came from a side conversation on worst-case scenarios with Toyota execs, but since I didn't write down a source in my notes, I am wondering if I should strike it through ... though I suspect in some cases it could be accurate.

  5. It seems excessively pessimistic considering Tesla's aggressive TMS/BMS setup to protect the pack. I suppose constant 100% charging, deep DOD, high temps, and a lot of high power charging, might lead to premature capacity loss, but doing all that is pretty much asking for problems and would be outside of normal use.

  6. That's the first time I hear such a number. It doesn't seem to have a scientific basis. ;)

  7. For those of us with Laptops, the number seems about right. However, the Tesla Li-Ion chemistry is a little different.

  8. More importantly an EV environment is quite different than a laptop pack, which is usually kept at a high SOC, used near hot processors and not temperature controlled, and discharged deeply on a regular basis. EV cells have a much easier life.

  9. I buy the high "SOC" claim, but I am not sure about the temperature issue.

    My laptops seem to have the battery as far away from the processor heat as possible. Also, I don't deeply discharge my laptop batteries, and they still only last 2 to 4 years.

  10. As far away as possible in a laptop means a few inches, the batteries do sit at elevated temperatures.

  11. @JRP3:I agree with your observation. Throwing in a gratuitous 50% capacity drop number, based on some hazy worst case scenario without mentioning that, raises some questions. It's precisely the sort of FUD that scares people away from BEVs and I wonder why I find so much of that on this blog especially when it comes to Tesla.

    People will argue that this is still a very positive review and sure enough, so it is. But when when I read it, based on my experience I realised there would be some venom in the tail, and sure enough: there it was. No matter how positive this review was, that's probably the bit that will stick with people I fear despite the fact that it's pretty baseless and I wonder why there is such a predictable pattern.

  12. I'll take one, please. Thank you Tesla for the mini sport utility version of the 40kWh Model S.

  13. So this is about a $25k premium ($15k after incentives) over a comparable equipped regular RAV-4. Kind of expensive to justify unless you love the quieter drive and HOV sticker.

  14. The $15k premium over ICE is not so expensive if operating costs over 5+ years of ownership are included. A basic 12,500 miles per year at average 25mpg (RAV4 rated 22/28) using $4/gal CA gas = ~$10,000. This leaves $1000 per year for added ICE maintance (oil changes, spark plugs, air filter, transmission fluid, muffler, radiator flushes, etc).

    Savings are greater if:
    -- drive more that 12,500 miles per year,
    -- gas price go above $4,
    -- drive the eRAV4 more than 5 years.

    This doesn't include value of time savings with HOV pass.

  15. Sure, $1k per year is a pretty expensive maintaince even for an ICE. Oil change every 5k miles is about 13 changes over 5 years. $40/change is only $520. No need for spark plug change for 65k miles, Air filter is about $30 every year for 5 years is about $150. Transmission fluids only needs change every 50,000 miles at most (unless you are towing). That is $200 at most. Muffler usually last lifetime these days since they are stainless. Radiator flushes cost about $80-$150 per flush. Let us say every 3 years. That is only $300. Add it up to only $1500 at most over 5 years of ownership. Double it for 10 years is only $3000. So, the ICE is still ahead by at least $2k. Assuming electricit is free.

  16. My math suggests the premium is $9,000 after incentives, not $15,000. A loaded 4x2 V6 RAV4 runs $31,400, but perhaps there are rebates to that one too? The Electric is $50K minus $10K in incentives. $40K-$31K is $9K. Annual savings will depend on how much -- if anything -- you pay for electricity. Some people charge for free from municipal lots or from employers. If you drive 10,000 miles per year at 25 MPG, that's 400 gallons. At $4/gallon, that's $1,600 per year. That suggests a 6 year payback. Obviously, there are many other factors: fun to drive, less noise, less maintenance, carpool lane... and the eventual battery change some time down the road. It's a messy calculation.

  17. Well, A "limited" edition FWD V6 RAV4 starts at $27K MSRP. If you load it up to $31k, it has just about every options. I don't think the EV version will have all the options that Loaded Limited does. Now, NO RAV-4 is selling at MSRP. There are $1,000 incentives right now. According to Edmunds.com, the average selling price is only $26K including the incentives. That is a realistic price. But let us say it is $28k. Average CA sales tax is about 8.5%. So, a real cost of the RAV4 EV is $50k *1.085 - $10k = $44.25k. The real cost of the RAV4 ICE is $28k *1.085 = $30.38k. The registration difference is $4,656 vs. $2,663. Add it up, you are talking about $15,863 in cost walking out of the dealership (assuming you are getting $10k back).

  18. Don't get me wrong. I agree that EV requires almost no maintaince, it is quieter and more pleasant to drive. More Low end torque and faster off the line...

    But $15k difference leaving the dealership is a hard pill to swallow. Sure, you will end up saving enough money in gas in the long run. But most people don't just jump at "long term" saving. Most Americans don't look for anything long term. That includes American corporations.

    I am just playing the devil's advocates here. It is simple to see why some of the EVs are hard sells.

    "SUV" are there so people can haul things or go to the mountains. A Limited edition RAV4 can take people to Lake Tahoe for a ski trip in the winter. A eRav4 will take 2 days to get there from SF...

  19. @Xiaolong: This is an age-old discussion on whether people buy EVs for the payback or not. Certainly the mass market will need to see rough price equivalency before buyers will seriously consider EVs in huge numbers.

    And retail buyers are known to overweight purchase price (translating to monthly payment) and underweight total cost of ownership.

    That said, at the moment, there are several different motivations for buying a plug-in vehicle, and only one of them is payback. See:

  20. I am with Xialong on this one. Even though I love the idea of owning an EV, it is tough to part with that kind of premium, particularly if there is any doubt in you mind about the long term reliability.

  21. The payback issue is pretty moot here. Only 2600 are available; this doesn't need to appeal to the calculator crowd. It will payback though, big time. The largest single cost in car ownership is depreciation and since this will be rare yet attractive offering on the second hand market it's residual value will be rock solid. Apart from maintenance there is also repairs to be considered, most likely much lower on this than on most ICE vehicles. Not necessarily compared to a quality product like the ICE RAV4 but certainly compared to the average GM product, including the Volt I'm afraid which is a very complex product from a car maker that has trouble getting it right with much simpler products.

  22. There are more comments in this thread
  23. There are so many people in this country (USA) that buy BMW, Mercedes, Audi, etc. and there is certainly "no payback" on any of those alternatives over a more plebeian transporter, but they find the "personal satisfaction" in those choices. Driving an EV, certainly for most of us is absolutely NOT about "payBACK," but investment in a better TOMORROW for others. Independence from Middle East oil cartels, environmental concerns, convenience and the simple "feel of such linear power" are all rewards for going EV now.

    Sure, these are somewhat novel (and perhaps "risky" ) choices at this time, but so were early flat screen TVs and laptop computers and now we cannot imagine a world without those "new technologies."

  24. No, but at that price it is better to buy a Tesla S instead of eRav4...

  25. Yaa, baby! But how can this be so expensive? The base vehicle is around $23k, and this is double that.

  26. Since the conversation moved to "cost"... is there a reliable source to confirm the difference in manufacturing cost (less the battery) for the changes needed in a specific car to go from ICE to BEV? Is the electric motor, trans, controller, brake system, HVAC system and other EV electronics less or more expensive than the comparable ICE components?

  27. Well, cost is associated with volumn. Tyically, a large volumne ICe cost about $1-$2 per hp to make. Transmission is generally $500-$1000 in "cost".

    By those figures, the battery and controllers alone will be more expensive than ICE and transmission. Plus, EVs will need special cooling system for its controllers and batteries.

  28. Numbers on EV components vary wildly (especially battery) so it remains all speculation and like you said, it's all volume related anyway.

  29. This vehicle is definitely an improvement over the Chevy Volt which is advertised as an electric car but in reality it is far from it.The volt has an electric range of only 25-35 miles which may be OK if you only go on short trips but the advertised range of the car is almost all using the small gas engine it is equipped with.To me it is not much of an effort by GM to make an electric car and the advertising for it borders on false advertising.If you want a real electric car buy a Tesla.
    If you are a sheep buy a Chevy Volt,an expensive farce.For a little more money you can get an all electric car made in America by a company that is not supported with your taxes and not in partnership with the government and big oil.The volt is a joke.

  30. Well, in my last 2865 miles, only 9.2 gallon gas was used. Most of my trips were electric. In those 9.2 gallon trips, NONE of the current EVs can meet my demand. So, why is Volt NOT an EV inside its battery range? A farce? At least it is a NOT a "compliance" car like what this article is talking about...

    "sheep"? Really, Volt is the FASTEST EV (battery power only) under $45k. I guess "sheep" really beat just about every electric "turtles" ou there...

    "A little more money"? Do you mean the Tesla? Which still go about few hundreds millions of tax payer funded loans from the DOE. If Volt is a "joke", then why does it sell more than any other plugins?

  31. With a 40 kW-hr pack, I would expect much better range than the quoted numbers.
    Is the vehicle that heavy or have such poor aerodynamics?

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