- Impressive performance stats and great to drive
- Generously equipped and packed with safety kit too
- Great tax savings for company car buyers
- Expensive to buy initially with top versions costing in excess of £50k
- Official mpg is only possible if the car is regularly plugged in to charge
- CVT gearbox can be a little rev-happy if driven with a heavy right boot
The RAV4 is Toyota’s most popular model globally and the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology will bring extra attention to the highly successful vehicle.
Available in Dynamic and Dynamic Premium trim levels, the 2021 RAV4 Plug-in can deliver 46 miles of electric driving range at speeds up to 84mph (where allowed).
Factor in the intelligent all-wheel drive as standard and this five-door SUV, with an official 282mpg and carbon emissions of just 22g/km, brings with it massive tax savings.
In fact, it would be fair to say it offers an unmatched combination of power and environmental efficiency in its class.
On The Road
The plug-in hybrid version of the RAV4 is the most powerful version of the car available with 302bhp. The vehicle has a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine matched to a CVT transmission system. But it is the large 18.1kWh battery pack and dual electric motors that are the main talking point on this model.
It starts up in EV mode as its default mode and drives through these electric motors most of the time with the petrol engine really acting as a back-up if needed. So, it is ideal if daily commutes are below 46 miles and the car can be plugged in to charge each day.
When it comes to performance though, this RAV4 PHEV is no slouch sprinting to 62mph from a standing start in just 6.0 seconds and onto a top speed of 112mph or 84mph in pure EV mode.
The driver can select from four drive settings called EV (for pure electric miles), EV/HV which mixes electric and hybrid operations, HV for hybrid running and finally, a Charging mode which tops up the battery via the petrol engine on the fly.
Then there are the drive modes called Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail that alter the characteristics of the car - the latter being for softer off-roading tasks.
On fast moving country lanes, the RAV4 PHEV feels nicely grounded with plenty of grip through tight bends and minimal body sway. It’s a car that can cruise with ease on motorways, and is perfectly agile in busier town centres with a good turning circle and nice light steering.
We hear a lot these days about manufacturers adopting multi-model platforms, but Toyota’s GA-K platform is particularly important to the fifth generation RAV4. It enables the car to have a low centre of gravity, it is more lightweight and it boasts a strong, rigid and balanced chassis – all factors that add up to improved handling, stability and driver enjoyment.
The fifth-gen RAV4 is also 10mm wider and 10mm lower than previous versions and that means it delivers a far more controlled and balanced ride with an upgraded suspension system smoothing out the rougher road surfaces along the way.
The AWD system brings with it added reassurance of grip in poorer driving conditions. The RAV4 PHEV features the latest version of Toyota’s intelligent AWD system which is far lighter than a traditional mechanical AWD set-up and that keeps the car’s weight down and also helps maximise efficiency.
Cabin refinement is impressive too as there is less noise from the PHEV system than the standard hybrid set-up because the car can run at lower revs. It also boasts extra insulation in the wing linings, front pillars, along with acoustic glass to keep occupants protected from any outside sounds.
Even going back to the days when the RAV4 was available as a three-door model, it was always a great looking car and over the years it has evolved into an attractive, dynamically-designed model that looks great from the outside and is thoroughly modern on the inside too.
The five-door RAV4 PHEV boasts eye-catching, athletic styling, complemented by a black honeycomb grille, black bumpers, front fog lights, black roof rails, twin exhaust pipes, rear privacy glass, a black rear spoiler and shark fin antenna, body-coloured door handles, black front and rear under-runs, LED dual beam projector headlights with LED daytime running lights and 19-inch machined alloy wheels.
Open the doors and puddle lights project the Toyota logo on the ground and then it’s a case of getting comfy and exploring the wealth of kit at your disposal.
The black upholstered seats have neat red contrast stitching (leather on the Dynamic Premium model) and there is a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift lever with a chrome surround.
There are heated seats (also ventilated in Dynamic Premium versions) up front and heated in the outer rear seats with reclining settings in the back too.
The soft-touch black dashboard with silver inserts helps give the car a very high-end, premium appearance.
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
Finding the ideal driving position in the RAV4 PHEV takes just seconds with powered seats and plenty of manual steering wheel adjustment.
The latest vehicle is built on Toyota’s GA-K platform and that has resulted in the driver’s hip point being lowered and the steering wheel adjustment increased by 50 per cent. The front pillars are slimmer, the bonnet and belt-line lower and the door mirrors have been moved to a slightly lower position too - all these factors, along with the elevated seating position, result in excellent all-round driver visibility.
On-board tech is comprehensive with the main focal point being a nine-inch touchscreen with Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system with sharp graphics. From here, you can access full smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And creature comforts include a six-speaker sound system with DAB radio and Bluetooth, heated front and rear seats, remote dual zone air conditioning, wireless phone charging and plenty more besides.
There is a handy reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, and quick access to the multimedia, phone, voice recognition and safety systems from the steering wheel.
Being a hybrid, the instrumentation does offer slightly different readouts with dials showing charging and power levels etc, but it’s all simple enough to take onboard.
Space & Practicality
With active families in mind, storage options on the RAV4 PHEV need to be good – and they are. The model shares the same external dimensions as the RAV4 Hybrid so the powertrain has been designed not to impact on passenger room. There is a very slight decrease in the amount of load capacity as the floor is raised by 35mm, but the
boot can swallow 520 litres of luggage, increasing to 1,604 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat. This limit is on a par with other models in the sector.
Accessing the boot is made simpler thanks to the powered tailgate which is handy if approaching the car laden down with shopping bags and there is extra underfloor storage to pack away the charging cables.
Scattered throughout the cabin are a number of convenient compartments for hiding away bits and bobs, including a locking glovebox, practical door bins, a drop-down sunglasses holder, front and rear cup holders, central cubby and seat back pockets.
The rear doors open wider on the latest RAV4 than previous models and that would prove beneficial when gaining access to a child seat or for anyone with mobility issues. In addition, passengers in the back have more legroom as the car’s wheelbase has increased by 30mm.
The RAV4 PHEV can tow a trailer weighing up to 1.5 tonnes and charging the car takes about two-and-a-half hours from a 7.4kW wallbox.
The RAV4 PHEV is available in two trim levels - the Dynamic grade that we tested priced at £47,3295 and a Dynamic Premium model that costs £50,895 – who could have predicted Toyota would be charging £50k-plus for a family car?
According to official figures, under stricter WLTP testing, our RAV4 PHEV could deliver a combined 282.5mpg. That is a figure that grabs anyone’s attention, but in reality, it would only ever be achievable if the car was plugged in to boost the battery charge on a regular basis and very few miles involved the petrol engine kicking in.
The combined carbon emissions figure is set at just 22g/km and that will result in some great tax savings. The first year Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) bill will be just £10 increasing to the standard fee of £155 after 12 months.
But what the Government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other, because all vehicles costing more than £40k incur an extra £335 annual levy for five years after the car is registered.
For company car buyers, the low emissions output means an attractive Benefit in Kind rating of seven per cent.
The RAV4 PHEV Dynamic is in insurance group 34 and the Dynamic Premium version is set in group 35.
Quality & Reliability
Toyota’s reputation for developing hybrid technology is world renowned and it has been a leader in this field for more than 20 years now.
The Japanese carmaker frequently tops customer reliability surveys or is in the top three. Based on those facts, there is little reason to think the new RAV4 PHEV would have any mechanical issues at all despite the introduction of plug-in technology.
In addition, as a show of its confidence in its products, Toyota has one of the best warranty packages in the business of five years or 100,000-miles. There is 15-year cover for the hybrid system provided all the official servicing schedules have been completed.
The smart upholstery looks upmarket and feels high in quality so should survive the test of time. All the switchgear is well put together and the cabin certainly seems to have been designed with durability and longevity in mind.
Safety & Security
Toyota’s Safety Sense system has proved a resounding success since its introduction back in 2015 and it comes as standard on the RAV4 PHEV.
It was developed with an aim to dramatically reduce the number of road accidents and make inroads to the ultimate goal of zero road accident fatalities. To date, more than 10 million new vehicles worldwide benefit from this technology.
The RAV4 PHEV gains the latest second generation version of Safety Sense. The pre-collision system not only detects vehicles on the road up ahead, but it can also recognise pedestrians during the day and at night, along with cyclists during daylight.
The dynamic radar cruise control is more sophisticated in its operation, working with the road sign assist to automatically reset vehicle speed in line with changes in the speed limit.
The combination of lane departure alert and lane tracing assist helps keep the RAV4 centred in its traffic lane, providing a sound alert or steering wheel vibration if it detects deviation without the indicators being activated, then applying steering assistance if necessary to help return the vehicle to its correct path.
In addition, the car features blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, hill-start assist, trailer sway control, driver attention alert, automatic headlight levelling, a full suite of airbags and eCall emergency assist.
The car was awarded a maximum five stars when tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating.
The Toyota RAV4 PHEV may be a tad expensive, but the cars do hold their value exceptionally well and the customer aftercare is regarded as one of the best. This car looks great, drives well and has all the boxes ticked for any active family with an eye on the planet.