Toyota RAV4 EV Review

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When the current Toyota RAV4 EV debuted in 2012, most people naturally assumed it was the first electrified RAV4 ever. But electric-vehicle enthusiasts knew better; for them, the new RAV4 EV marked the rebirth of a legend. That's because the first electric RAV4 actually appeared way back in 1997, when the RAV4 itself was in its infancy. Although fewer than 1,500 original RAV4 EVs were produced, they have developed a cult following, with well-preserved examples fetching nearly their original asking price on the used-car market.

Not to rain on the original RAV4 EV's parade (we don't want to electrocute anyone), but the current RAV4 EV is a major improvement. Thanks to a Tesla-engineered powertrain, it's much quicker, and it also offers superior cargo capacity and comparable driving range, all for about the same price as before. In fact, aside from the Tesla Model S, it might be the best all-around electric vehicle on the market today. On the other hand, it's only available in California, and in very limited quantities at that. But hey, that was true of the original, too. Perhaps a new legend has been born.

Current Toyota RAV4 EV Specs
Deriving 154 horsepower and up to 273 pound-feet of torque from its electric powertrain, the front-wheel-drive RAV4 EV makes a strong first impression. Whereas the original RAV4 EV did the benchmark 0-60-mph sprint in a mesmerizing 18 seconds, the current model gets it done in just 7.2 seconds per Edmunds testing. That's in energy-hungry Sport mode, mind you, but even in Normal mode, which cuts torque to 218 lb-ft, the RAV4 EV can definitely get out of its own way.

The current RAV4 EV's real magic, though, lies in its well-rounded nature. Yes, it's quick, but it also provides an above average 103 miles of driving range between charges, and a full recharge takes a reasonable 5-6 hours with the optional 240-volt home charger. Moreover, the RAV4 EV drives a lot like a normal car, with secure handling and surprisingly normal-feeling brakes. And with a whopping 73 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity, the RAV4 EV can out-haul many conventionally powered crossovers.

We should mention that the current Toyota RAV4 EV is technically a generation behind, as it's based on the previous RAV4 platform instead of the new-for-2013 design. What's more, one of the previous model's niftiest features, its third-row seat, got deleted for EV duty. Nonetheless, the RAV4 EV seems thoroughly modern from the driver seat, aided by a high-tech dashboard with a large, attractive touchscreen. Outside, meanwhile, that old RAV4 body has been spruced up with LED lighting elements, aerodynamic mirrors, a sleeker rear spoiler and a unique EV grille.

Like most electric vehicles, the RAV4 EV doesn't come cheap, but at least Toyota throws in a whole bunch of standard features. The list includes heated front seats, automatic climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth with streaming audio, iPod/USB connectivity and an 8-inch touchscreen with Entune mobile-app integration and numerous EV-specific functions. There's also a high-tech instrument cluster with a color scheme that's determined by whether you're in Sport (red) or Normal (blue) mode. You even get an "Eco coach" program that evaluates your driving style and displays an overall score.

Used Toyota RAV4 EV Models
The current, second-generation RAV4 EV was introduced for the 2012 model year. There have been no changes to it since.

The first-generation Toyota RAV4 EV was offered in fits and starts from 1997-2003. Based on the original RAV4, it was a four-door crossover with front-wheel drive, just like the current RAV4 EV. Standard features were generous for the period, highlighted by dual airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and air-conditioning. As noted, power was in short supply -- the electric motor made 77 hp, to be precise -- but the relatively compact platform yielded nimble handling and convenient parking characteristics. Maximum driving range was roughly equivalent to that of the current model, while recharging took a comparable seven hours or so.

Fewer than 1,500 first-generation RAV4 EVs were produced, and just a fraction of those are still on the road. If you're interested in finding one to buy, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, every example came with a home charger from the factory, so the charger should be part of the sale; otherwise, you'll need to procure a replacement charger, which could set you back a few thousand bucks. Second, low miles are key for longevity, as the battery pack is thought to be good for about 150,000 miles, and replacement packs are prohibitively expensive for most owners. Finally, equipment changes were minimal during the original RAV4 EV's run, so buy on mileage and condition, not model year.

Read the most recent 2014 Toyota RAV4 EV review.

If you are looking for older years, visit our used Toyota RAV4 EV page.

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