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2014 Toyota Rav4 Road Test Review

2014 Earth Aware Vehicle Buyer's Guide
Featuring Top 10 Green SUVs & CUVs

2014 Toyota Rav4 Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

Road & Travel Magazine's Top 10 Picks

Audi Q5 Hybrid

Mazda CX-5

Chevrolet Spark EV

Mitsubishi Mirage

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Every time we see an all-electric vehicle we keep thinking about the needs of the person driving it. Is it meant to keep the cost of fuel within reason? To protect the environment from pollution? To be quick, fun and responsive to drive? To haul more than one or two people with enough breathing room to actually enjoy the trip (and have enough luggage room -- especially with rear seats folded down -- so one doesn't need to buy new clothes when they get there)? If the answer to these questions is yes, what's needed is likely to be the zero emissions 2014 Toyota RAV4 EV.

While still the same as a 2013 model, and on sale in environmentally-conscious California, its relationship with Tesla, the current darling of all-electric vehicle sports car enthusiasts, is what piqued our interest. Tesla and Toyota. Hmmmm. That deserves a look.

Of course, most auto enthusiasts with a green bent are aware of Toyota's extensive list of electrically-enhanced autos and trucks, from the longstanding Prius hybrid line (including plug-in) to the hybrid Highlander sport utility vehicle. But Tesla (think of the super expensive, super sporty Model S sports car that can blow the doors off a cop car standing still) and Toyota? Researching and developing jointly? For the past five years it seems maybe it's a marriage made in heaven, at least for the electric vehicle enthusiast.

Toyota calls the potential RAV4 EV owner a "distinctive customer," a term we can't disagree with. We see that as a family person, probably living in the greater Los Angeles, California area, maybe part of a family of four or five. We can envision them packing up for weekend trips into the nearby mountains for a camping trip, or perhaps to scrounge for antiques. They are active, enthusiastic, but caring about fellow human beings in not wanting to damage the precious environment if possible. They particularly want to ensure a healthy, green earth for their children and their grandchildren's children. And they still want to have fun.

That's a pretty tall order.

While the RAV4 EV has the handsome, contemporary styling with rear spoiler one would expect from a front drive crossover utility for five, don't look for a tailpipe. With no pollution coming out of its lithium ion battery pack power supply, and no gasoline engine inside, there's no need. (Think of smog-laden California skies and this being one less source of the daily fog that can keep sunshine behind the clouds until it finally "burns off.")

Easy on the environment also makes it easier (and more pampering) for the driver inside. To fit current needs, such as radio entertainment or comfort controls, Toyota has included an unapologetically contemporary EV blue-glow touch sensitive screen to eliminate the need to fumble with dials as part of its interior gauges and display. Of course the necessary navigation system with 8 inch display (for finding battery charging stations, perhaps) is part of the deal. So is Toyota's Entune communications/audio system and the RAV4's charging status watchdog. Among expected standard items are push button start, cruise control, leather-wrapped, tilt-telescoping steering wheel with controls, heated front seats (driver's height adjustable), and dual-zone climate control.

Powering the RAV4 EV is a maximum 129-kilowatt electric motor that has two driving modes -- normal and sport (when the need for speed kicks in and maximum speed goes from 85 MPH to 100 MPH). It produces 154-horsepower and peak torque of 273 lb.-ft. in sport mode, or 218-lb-ft. in normal mode.

The RAV4 has what Toyota calls its "Star Safety System," a suite (Toyota's term) of six active systems meant to handle any safety emergency that might come along. In addition to the requisite air bag systems, that includes stability, traction, anti-lock braking, brake force distribution to ensure all wheels get what they need, brake assist if a driver hasn't applied brakes hard enough and smart stop technology.

For those who need to recharge on the road and can't find one of those 240-volt charging stations now popping up all over California, there's a 120-volt adapter along with a tire repair system (the spare for the 17-inch, six-spoke alloy wheels was bumped to make room for the battery pack).

Our time behind the wheel of other RAV4s reminds us of the perfect utility size and function of this compact SUV in its native gasoline version. Translating that to electric takes it a step further.

While the vehicle remains unchanged from the previous year (reflecting a specialized, more limited buying public), Toyota has kept the base pricing of the 2014 RAV4 EV at $49,800. There's as much as $10,000 in federal and state tax credits available. And Toyota also notes that some dealer incentives are available and vary with the local market

Toyota lists EPA-rated driving range of 103/76 on a charge (more than enough for most commuters) and miles per gallon equivalent of 78 city/74 highway, the electric equivalent of fuel economy for a gas powered auto. That would be like a distance runner completing the Boston Marathon or New York Marathon on a cup of joe and a few energy bars. Call that medal time? Not a bad idea.

For more information on Toyota vehicles, click here.