2012 Toyota RAV4 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-electric model joins lineup.
An all-electric model joins the 2012 Toyota RAV4 lineup.
Otherwise, the RAV4 lineup carries over unchanged for the 2012 model year. This third-generation compact SUV has been around since the 2006 model year. A fourth-generation RAV is slated to debut as a 2013 model.
The 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV is an all-electric version borne of a partnership between the Japanese automaker and Silicon Valley startup Tesla, which developed the electric powertrain to shoehorn into the existing RAV4 architecture. This variant sports a 115 kW electric motor connected to a lithium ion battery pack. RAV4 EV is distinguished by special interior and exterior trim. RAV4 EV seats five: A third row is not available.
Power output is equivalent to a mere 154 horsepower, but Toyota claims the RAV4 EV is the fastest and most powerful electric vehicle on the market. Peak torque is more impressive, at 218 pound-feet in Normal mode, and 273 pound-feet in Sport mode.
As with any electric vehicle, the range of the RAV4 EV varies on driving patterns and use of the climate control system. Toyota estimates the RAV4 EV is good for about 100 miles of real world driving. Three climate control modes put varying levels of demand on the battery. In Normal mode, the climate control system works the same as in any other car, but it uses the most juice. The Eco Hi setting is the most efficient, and Eco Lo is in-between. The display on the instrument cluster will recalculate range as the driver toggles through the various climate control settings.
Charge time for the RAV4 EV varies from decent to excruciating, depending on the system. The recommended 40-amp, 240-volt fast charger will juice the RAV4 EV up in about five hours, while a normal 120-volt household outlet can take as long as 52 hours.
Only 2,600 units of the RAV4 EV will be produced over the next three years, all of which will be on sale solely in California. It's not cheap, either; the RAV4 EV retails for $49,800. Toyota says the cost to the buyer will be closer to $40,000 after federal and California tax credits. Add $1,595 for the 240-volt fast-charging system with standard insulation (meaning, if your wiring is up-to-date).
All variants of the 2012 RAV4 boast a roomy and comfortable interior, although some materials aren't up to par with competitors. Still, the RAV4 excels at convenience and ease of use. Getting in and out of the driver's seat is easy. It can move lots of people or lots of gear, and it comes standard with a long list of safety equipment. We prefer the five-passenger configuration; for seven, we'd prefer a bigger vehicle.
The standard RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 179 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. We found it smooth and stable underway. The power feels wimpy, however, especially paired to the dated standard 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy is mediocre at 22/28 mpg City/Highway on front-wheel-drive models, and 21/27 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The 3.5-liter V6 packs more oomph with 269 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque, along with a 5-speed automatic transmission. EPA-estimated fuel economy is a respectable 19/27 mpg with front-wheel drive and 19/26 with AWD.
The 2012 RAV4 carries on as a versatile yet dated utility that seats up to seven with plentiful cargo space. The 2012 RAV4 competes with the Honda CR-V, which has been recently refreshed, along with the Kia Sorento, Dodge Journey, and Chevrolet Equinox.
The 2012 Toyota RAV4 comes in Base ($21,500), Sport ($24,350) and Limited ($25,330) trim levels, all of which come standard with front-wheel drive, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, and a four-speed automatic transmission. A 269-hp, 3.5-liter V6 with 5-speed automatic is optional on all models, as is full-time all-wheel drive, which includes an automatic limited-slip differential. The RAV4 EV ($49,800) is available in a single trim level and is powered by a 115 kW motor and Lithium Ion battery pack. All models seat five; gas-powered models offer an optional third row ($1,090) that can set two more passengers for a total of seven.
RAV4 comes standard with air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, 60/40-split second-row seat, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and USB port, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks. Standard wheels are 16-inch steel, with optional 17-inch wheels in steel or alloy. The Upgrade Value package ($1,145) includes upgraded upholstery, a roof rack, rear privacy glass, a sunroof, a cargo cover and alloy wheels.
RAV4 Sport gets upgraded upholstery, rear privacy glass, a sport-tuned suspension, foglamps and 18-inch alloy wheels. Models with the V6 also include automatic headlamps. The Appearance package ($1,482) adds chrome-look interior accents, run-flat tires, heated power outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and different tailgate design. The Enhancement Value package adds a roof rack and sunroof.
RAV4 Limited upgrades with dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless ignition/entry, a cargo cover, automatic headlamps, heated mirrors, a hard-shell spare tire cover and a roof rack. But it lacks the Sport's sports suspension and comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels.
The Premium package available on the Sport ($2,835) and Limited adds leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat and heated front seats. On the Limited only, the Premium Plus Value package ($1,650) adds a sunroof to these items, while the Navigation Value package ($1,175) includes a navigation system with touchscreen and Toyota's Entune system, which includes real-time information (traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports scores) and access to applications such as Open Table restaurant reservations and Pandora audio streaming. A towing package is also available on V6 models.
The RAV4 EV comes with off-white fabric upholstery, six-way adjustable driver-seat, heated front seats, 60/40 split reclining rear seats with folding center arm rest, a, 8-inch touchscreen with unique display for EV functions, Toyota's Entune interface, an audio system with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming and USB port, unique exterior features and 17-inch wheels with low rolling resistance tires. Note the charging system is not included; Toyota recommends a 240-volt fast-charging system ($1,595, if your wiring is up-to-date).
Safety features on all RAV4s include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, whiplash-reducing front headrests, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Vehicles equipped with the V6 and/or the optional third-row seats also come with hill-start assist and hill-descent control. Rearview camera is optional.
The design of the current RAV4 is aging. And while a few years ago it looked contemporary and composed, we think a new look is due for the baby crossover.
Visually, the fenders are separate elements from the engine bay, with a tight rectangular grille atop the wider bumper slits below. Headlights are compact and focused. Vertical brake scoops, lined with black ribs, bite into the bumper beneath the headlights; fog lights nestle into these scoops on Sport models. A wide track gives the RAV4 a solid stance visually, while resisting rollovers in emergency maneuvers.
Limited models have a look all their own, with a single, deep, trapezoidal grille opening bolding bisected by a body-color horizontal bar with a large, chrome Toyota World-T badge at its center. A pseudo-skid plate wraps up from the bottom, leaving no room for additional lower air intakes. Tubular nacelles supporting the fog lights replace the brake scoops of base and Sport models.
The side view is oblong, a mix of boxy and oval, which helps to accommodate the optional third-row seat. In back, a single-piece rear bumper cradles the swing-open tailgate, which, sadly, still opens from the left side, so you have to walk around it when unloading curbside. Taillights are positioned high on the rear fenders. The spare tire bolts into a recess offset to the right in the swing-gate, and doesn't dip below the bumper line. The rear license plate, sunk into the lower left side of the swing-gate below the handle, visually balances the spare. The Sport model's spoiler hangs conspicuously off the top edge of the roof.
The Sport Appearance Package eliminates the spare entirely, and centers the license plate up high. A bulge low down on the tailgate fills in the step in the standard bumper when the tailgate is closed. A handle on the left side still betrays the gate's swing-open design, but in spite of this the overall look with the Sport Appearance Package is remarkably more car-like, more station wagon than SUV.
The RAV4 EV looks distinct from the rest of the bunch, with a solid upper front grille that's blacked out below. New headlights integrate high beams, low beams and turn signals in one housing. A vertical LED daytime running lamp helps the antiquated RAV4 design look a little more modern. Different sideview mirrors, as well as a rear spoiler, help reduce aerodynamic drag.
Inside, the RAV4 is functional, if a bit eccentric in style. Placement of the gauges will be familiar to anyone who has owned a previous RAV4. The position and function of the controls populating the center stack is very good; that also applies to the arrangement of the hand brake and the shift lever. The dash is sharply split by a horizontal indentation running the width of the car. About the only plus we found in this garish feature is a bi-level glove box, with an upper bin covered by a retracting lid and a lower bin fitted with a traditional, bottom-hinged cover.
A couple of years ago, we would have said interior materials in the RAV4 were high quality. But as competitors up the ante with soft-touch dashes, improved fit and more attractive looking finishes, we'd say the RAV4 has some catching up to do. All three trim levels share the same motif, with contrasting but complementary colors and brushed metallic trim elements around the stereo and climate controls, surrounding the shift gate and swooping around the door handles. The standard side-curtain airbags allow a passenger assist grip, which folds down from the headliner over each door.
The RAV4 EV uses a thin film transistor (TFT) display for the instrument cluster, which is perhaps the only thing on the RAV4 that looks thoroughly futuristic. It provides the driver with information such as driving range, driving time, odometer, average efficiency and a Eco Coach function, which rates drivers' ability to get the most range out of their vehicle. A touchscreen interface on the center stack uses a menu that will be familiar and easy to use for anyone who owns a smartphone or iPad. Interior upholstery is an off-white, which we think will show dirt over time.
In all models, the front seats are supportive but not overly firm, with modest bolsters and decent thigh support. The tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and height-adjustable driver's seat enable almost any size driver to find a comfortable fit, and without the added complexity (and cost) of adjustable pedals. The relatively high seating position, low cowl and sloping hood make for good visibility to the front. The lengthy side windows ease lane checking. Fully retracting head restraints in the second row and optional third row seats improve the viewing range through the inside mirror.
It's interesting to note that the RAV4 EV comes standard with heated seats. With electric vehicles, the heater will suck up battery power, because, unlike cars powered by combustion engines, there is no engine heat ready sweep into the cabin. Toyota engineers say it's more efficient to heat the seats (and thus, the person) than to generate hot air through the blowers.
The second-row seats are less padded than the front seats, without bolsters. It's no surprise, really, seeing as how that seat has to fit three people in a pinch.
The optional third row seats barely qualify as such, with flat bottoms and equally featureless backs and head restraints. Access to that back row, by folding and tilting the outboard second-row seats, is not especially easy, but it isn't as much of a strain or as awkward as in some larger, full-sized sport utilities.
Storage areas are plentiful. Beyond the glove box, the doors have fixed plastic map pockets, the backs of the front seatbacks wear net pouches, and a total of ten cup holders are situated about the cabin. When the third-row seats aren't ordered, a deep cargo area awaits beneath a water-repellant, foldable deck board.
The Toyota RAV4 delivers a smooth, stable ride. In the Sport variant, the suspension is tuned for firmness over cushiness. Steering response is confident, although we noticed moderate body lean in corners. RAV4's available four-wheel-drive system works very well in wintry conditions as well as on rain-soaked roads. The four-cylinder version is of course more efficient than the V6, but we found it wimpy.
Depending on the engine, response to the gas pedal is either prompt or underwhelming. We prefer the optional V6, with its 269 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque, along with its 5-speed automatic transmission. With its more powerful acceleration comes torque steer, though, particularly on front-wheel drive models. This means that when you floor the gas pedal hard, you can feel the steering pulling one way or the other.
The standard four-cylinder engine produces 179 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 172 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. While it's fine for putting around town, it feels underpowered for hauling cargo or handling hilly terrain. It's paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission, which is obsolete. The EPA estimates for the four-cylinder RAV4 are a mediocre 22/28 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, 21/27 mpg with 4WD.
RAV4's on-demand four-wheel-drive system uses an electronically controlled center coupling to distribute torque between the front and rear wheels, depending on road conditions and driver input. The system can continuously and seamlessly switch from front-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive mode, maximizing fuel efficiency. In Auto mode, torque distribution to the rear wheels is decreased during low-speed cornering for better maneuverability.
A 4WD manual locking switch will disengage the Auto mode, maximizing torque to the rear wheels. When vehicle speed reaches 25 mph, Lock mode will disengage, reverting back to Auto mode. Lock mode also disengages when the brakes are applied, optimizing operation of the ABS and electronic stability control (VSC) system. FWD models come equipped with an automatic limited slip differential.
Hill-start Assist Control provides additional control for on-road and off-road driving by helping to keep the vehicle stationary while starting on a steep incline or slippery surface. Downhill Assist Control is designed to enhance low-speed descending ability by helping to hold the vehicle to a target speed with minimal intervention from the driver.
The RAV4 EV, like any electric vehicle, is exceptionally quiet and smooth. We found the brakes to be grabby, especially at lower speeds, typical in vehicles with regenerative braking. The adjustable climate control system with its three modes is helpful in staying comfortable while still preserving range. On a warm day in Southern California, we were perfectly fine using the most efficient Eco Hi mode. With the exception of the quietness and the high-tech instrument cluster and touchscreen interface, we didn't feel that driving the electric RAV4 was drastically different from driving any gas-powered vehicle, which is a good thing.
The Toyota RAV4 is a capable but aging compact SUV. The RAV4 EV is an exciting new variant, but it is expensive.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents Tom Lankard and Laura Burstein contributed to this review.
Toyota RAV4 ($22,650); Sport ($24,350); Limited ($25,330); RAV4 EV ($49,800).
Tahara, Japan; Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Premium Plus package ($1,650): leather upholstery, heated front seats, 8-way power driver's seat, AC power outlet, power moonroof, daytime running lights.
Toyota RAV4 Limited V6 4WD ($28,650).
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