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2013 RAV4 EV Showcases Best of Partnership

Toyota and Tesla Make This SUV Work

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The RAV4 EV may not be available everywhere yet, but this is an SUV with potential. Perhaps it's the pedigree that can't miss--Toyota and Tesla. This is Toyota's latest EV in hybrid-dominated lineup. The RAV4 EV is the result of a successful partnership between Toyota and the well-known electric automaker, Tesla. More specifically, this is a partnership that started at the top with Toyota President Akio Toyoda and Tesla's CEO Elon Musk. It's fairly rare for two successful automakers to successfully put their talents together and come up with something that consumers will want to actually buy. More than not, they stay apart in what is admittedly a competitive business to be in.

Once the initial handshake was complete, engineers and product development folks from both companies were tossed together to come up with something. In what was probably a pretty smart move, they used the existing Toyota RAV4 platform, saving on cost and time of development. Besides, the RAV4 is time-tested and enjoys a decent following on its own. What came out of the partnership is a brand new all-electric SUV with a motor based on the Tesla Model S sedan--a pretty incredible feat and one the two automakers hope will be a big hit with SUV lovers nationwide.

If you're familiar with the RAV4, you won't see many surprises in the looks of the RAV4 EV. But there are a few noteworthy changes that put the EV in a class by itself. There's a new front grille, some new badging, more aerodynamic mirrors, a deeper roofer spoiler, LED lowbeam healdights and daylight running lamps, LED taillamps and wonderfully sleek, aerodynamic underbody as part of the new exterior package. While each of these changes can likely be traced to aerodynamics, the final package is a very sleek, very modern-looking vehicle...one that will be the envy of gas RAV4 owners if some of the good looks don't migrate over to the gas-combusion cousin.

You'll find some great interior features as well that set the RAV4 EV apart from its gas-powered counterpart. It has a new eco-friendly cloth interior with contemporary seat pattern that is a bit reminiscent of luxury sport vehicles. If you live in a cold climate, you'll be happy to learn the RAV4 EV has electrically heat seats for both front seats. Sounds like another luxurious touch, but in reality it helps to keep the driver comfortable since it takes quite a bit of energy to warm the air in the cabin. This way, a driver and passenger can feel toasty long before the cabin air heats up to optimum level at a fraction of the cost.

The driver interface, instrument panel, gear selector and information screens on the EV have been revamped from the gas version. It delivers a lot of information to the driver in easy to understand portions. A dominating 8″ color display is at home at the top of the center stack, carrying navigation, audio, communications and vehicle settings information. Many of the traditional control knobs and buttons, especially for audio, have been eliminated, with their functions nested within the touch screen display.

Prius drivers will find RAV4 EV’s gear selector very familiar. A pushbutton electronic parking brake sits just to the side of the joystick. The electric motor is capable of delivering 154 hp and 218 lb-ft in Normal mode, which is good for a top speed of 85 mph. A button in the center stack allows the driver to engage and disengage Sport mode, which gives access to the motor’s full range of torque, up to 273 lb-ft, and a top speed of 100 mph. The EV defaults back to Normal mode each time it is turned off.

Best of all, the Toyota RAV4 EV's lower center of gravity makes it a blast to drive. And just being an EV does not make it any less a utility-happy vehicle. Plan on it taking about five hours to fully charge the RAV4 EV if you are hooked up to a 40 amp/240 volt power source. But connected to common, 12 amp/120 volt household current, it can take up to 44 hours to completely charge--maybe longer. Toyota is counting on RAV4 EV buyers purchasing the optional charging station which will be available installed for about an additional $1,500.

Expect the RAV4 EV to get about 100 miles on a single charge.

Price remains a challenge, particularly since Toyota has made the decision to sell the RAV4 EV rather than allow consumers to lease it. That means that even after incentives and tax breaks a $49,800 RAV4 EV will take a long time to pay back its investment, especially when you can purchase a gas-powered RAV4 for about half that or less.

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