Saturday 24 August 2019

Hitching a ride to the future – with Toyota’s new RAV4 hybrid SUV

 

Toyota RAV4
Toyota RAV4
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I think it is fair to say many people are buying hybrid because they fear diesels will become prohibitively expensive in the face of antipathy from regulators. That, in my opinion, is unfair to hybrid and diesel. Both have roles to play as we shift inexorably to the 'electrified era'.

There is more to buying a hybrid than might immediately appear to be the case but fuel consumption is a major one. Depending on driving (I broke it into town/country segments) I got 5.8l/100km to 6.7l/100km from the Toyota RAV4 hybrid I had on test. That's not extraordinary but I was happy enough with it. Diesel would have fared better I think; maybe not.

But should there not be more to a decision to buy a hybrid than just its outright MPG?

There are myriad considerations and implications. People should stop and think.

For a start, with a hybrid, you get an 'automatic transmission' (CVT as it is called). It's an area often overlooked. In most cases it is a plus for those who wish to lower gear-change stress, in heavy traffic especially. But not every one is happy with it. Some fear it, believe it or not. That's a challenge of the current transition.

Now I happen to love the whole idea of a hybrid; I always have. The combination of electric and petrol power being orchestrated by a central control unit depending on demand is still a great source of admiration for me.

But I also love my diesels, for a number of reasons. They include wonderful pulling power out of low revs, the sound of a big diesel engine humming at motorway speeds and, of course, its unbeatable (fossil) fuel consumption.

And then there is the key, controversial, element of 'suitability of mileage'. This is critical. If I were driving under 20,000km/year, I'd be torn between diesel and hybrid on MPG and transmission.

I think I am at a stage where, up to 15,000km, I'd go definitely hybrid, perhaps a nice petrol.

More than 20,000km? I still think it's diesel for me. At least until I am convinced hybrid can perform on an equal basis for that sort of range. I know there are everyday cases of people achieving excellent consumption. I also know of people doing 30,000km a year in electric cars so it is really a matter of how you, and where, you drive (urban versus country showed up differences in the RAV4).

I also know for a fact that Toyota has figures that would 'convince' me about the viability of hybrid well above the 20,000km mark.

But I'm getting news from drivers who have switched from diesel, and it's not quite as clear-cut as that. The gap is narrowing for 20,000km/30,000km range but I think 30,000km+ remains diesel territory and will do so for quite a while.

All of which frames the conversation around the Toyota RAV4 hybrid review car this week. It comes only with a petrol hybrid powertrain based on a 2.5-litre engine, battery pack and electric motor.

The car, the whole set-up, is so much better than before (new platform). It's a quantum leap for Toyota. Admittedly, I had a well-specced version, but the quality of materials, space and cabin room made it difficult to seriously criticise without appearing to nitpick.

Even the usual 'whine' from a CVT transmission was barely noticeable. There were some smooth drives down through Wicklow and Wexford.

I did find the semblance of a whinge on a few stretches; the tyres seemed to pick up on road ripples more than I'd like. But I reasoned that I had noticed the bit of sharpness and rumble because the car itself was so quiet.

I'd say if I had been driving a comparative diesel, I may not have noticed as there would have been a bit more generated noise.

As I say, the RAV4 is properly roomy now; despite the hybrid battery pack, the boot was copious, considering there was a spare wheel underneath. Load capacity is up 69 litres (to 542). Well done.

And by golly, have they pushed the envelope on the design - especially the front where a vibrant grille and emblem catch the eye. Boring Toyota? I don't think so any more.

I parked it in several car parks over the few days, and each time I returned it caught my eye. That would not have happened too often with Toyotas in the past.

It's symbolic, perhaps, of much that is happening in motoring generally. People want change - not just in what drives their cars but how their motors look as well.

Here's a car worth test driving to get a flavour of both.

Facts & Figures

Toyota RAV4 hybrid SUV:

2.5-litre, 218hp hybrid system, 105g/km, €190 tax, 4.6l/100km.

From €35,900. Sol spec 2WD (€39,590) on test includes: Safety Sense 2, parking sensors 18in alloys, 8in multimedia system, 7in TFT info screen, dual-zone climate control, Tex leather seats, heated front seats, five USB ports (inc two at back), electric parking brake, LED lights front and rear, front fogs.

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