RAV4 EV Mini-Review

Here's a copy of a mini-review and some dealer comments I sent to our RAV4 EV salesperson, Steve Yaeger at Stevens Creek Toyota in Jan Jose, CA. -- Jeff C.

Hello Steve,
Wanted to send a quick note to thank you for working with us on buying the RAV4 EV. I took it for a 20 mile drive yesterday, with a couple hours charging at Fry's, and am extremely impressed with the car.

I think you can tell, but like you I'm a car guy. I've done some competition driving and consider myself a fairly sensitive, smooth, skilled driver. Just driving gently around town, I'm really impressed with the RAV4 EV suspension and steering damping and tuning, pitch, yaw and roll rates, control feel and feedback, etc. It is a very well-developed car that drives with extreme competence, if that's not a contradiction in terms. The car is also quiet, comfortable, practical. I'd say it's nearly an ideal in town car.

Having years of other EV experience also helps to appreciate how well done this car is. In some ways it's a better driving car than the EV1 which is more like piloting a sporty but heavy spaceship.

The main flaws from my medium length drive are a large turning radius and the low speed cogging effect from the motor or controller. The former is probably inherent to all RAV4s and the latter may be inherent to the permanent magnet motor type. The brakes seem a little overboosted and grabby, but that could be to high pitch rates due to the tall springs. Most of us are used to driving cars, not trucks, so the roll and pitch rates seem a little exaggerated to us.

One of us thinks the shocks are too firm on small highway pavement flaws, but I think they're a little too soft on larger movements. Perhaps the shocks are digressively valved. Or perhaps the whole suspension is just a little sticky from being new and will smooth out as it wears in.

Speaking of highway driving, the RAV4 EV is very nice once it comes up to speed, but it's a little slow accelerating at some speeds, such as merging at on ramps. It's also complicated by the fact that we want to avoid heavy power usage in order to conserve battery charge. Flat out it's probably quick enough, but we don't want to do that.

Overall though my impression is that the RAV4 EV is a superb car. It's a great battery electric vehicle. It's convenient in town, very well developed, highly practical, and excellent to drive. Frankly I'm pleasantly surprised how good it is. I might even be willing to call it an ideal in-town car.

Also wanted to say I enjoyed talking with you. It's really nice to buy a car from a car guy. I wish more people who sold cars actually liked them personally. You're also one of the nicer and calmer car salespeople I've met.

Anyway I would highly recommend the RAV4 EV. Anyone with any EV experience who is also a knowledgeable driver may really like it. I would also gladly send anyone to you to buy one. You made the experience a good one in my opinion. Please tell Toyota they can sell more so please make more. We need more on the road!

Jeff Chan

Additional comments from me about RAV4 EV:

We decided to replace the EV1 which is coming off lease this month (probably to be crushed by GM) with a Toyota RAV4 EV. The RAV4 EV uses a NiMH battery pack of similar voltage and capacity as the EV1, similar sounding electronics, etc. Range and top speed are similar at 100-120 miles and nominal 80 mph. Like the EV1, RAV4 EV uses a heat pump for heating and cooling the passenger compartment, has a small 12v accessory battery charged from the main pack, etc. Both use the GM-originated Magnecharge inductive charger paddle, though the RAV4's is the newer, smaller, backward-compatible version of the larger one in EV1. Unfortunately the Mountain View Costco has the large paddle charger. We'll try to see if we can get it changed to the small one. Fry's has a couple of the small paddle third generation chargers. Of course the public chargers are just icing on the cake since we can charge at home.

Other differences are that the RAV4 EV has an onboard charge timer, which also controls pre-cooling or heating the cabin from charger power. EV1 can pre-condition the temperature, but does not have an onboard charge timer. It's a minor, but very convenient feature. RAV4 EV has a simpler instrument panel, with essentially just a large battery state of charge "analog" meter. In terms of electronics the RAV4 EV is nearly as sophisticated as the EV1, but in terms of user interfaces, construction, aerodynamics, etc, it's much simpler. In many ways the RAV4 EV is more like a familiar regular car. That can be a good thing: it's a little simpler to use, more friendly, and much less expensive to engineer, repair, maintain, etc.

The RAV4 is about 400 lbs heavier than the EV1, being based on a stock, steel-bodied, first-generation RAV4 as opposed to the EV1's unique, light, spot-welded and bonded sheet aluminum chassis and plastic body. Being heavier RAV4 EV does not accelerate as quickly, at about 10 seconds to 60 MPH versus about 8 for the EV1. RAV4 EV is about 700 lbs heavier than a regular first-generation RAV4. I suspect Toyota chose the RAV4 instead of a Camry since it can carry the 900-1000 lb battery pack under the car better. The lowness of the battery pack feels like it helps the dynamic stability. Since the battery pack is entirely outside of the passenger compartment, the full, standard interior space is available.

Interestingly RAV4 battery pack is said to be laid out in an easier to cool single-height rectangular array, as opposed to the double height T shape in the EV1. EV1 uses first generation Ovonics NiMH batteries whereas RAV4 EV uses newer Matsushita (Panasonic) NiMH. The later batteries are said to be more temperature tolerant. One of our complaints about the NiMH EV1 is that it used a lot of energy to keep the pack cool, both during charging and on the road (and even parked!). Apparently this shows up as significantly lower overall energy efficiency compared to the RAV4 EV.

The RAV4 EV is also more practical than the 2 seat EV1 with easier and larger storage, 4 seats, and more normal car-like appointments. But the thing that surprises me most about the new car is that it drives very well. It is of course a tall, heavy Camry and the weight and tallness are somewhat noticeable but the engineering and tuning for driving feel is world-class good. No it's not a Lotus or Ferrari substitute, but it does exactly what is reasonably asked of it and responds nearly perfectly doing it in gentle street driving.