Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive with impressive Tesla Drive System

Toyota RAV4 EVBy Tom Bartley (4/11/11)

The test drive of the new Toyota RAV4 EV had three people in the car for about four miles and included a variety of uphill, downhill, stop and go, and freeway driving in 4:30 pm traffic around the Torrey Pines – UTC area of San Diego. This electric SUV beat a V8 gasoline pickup going up hill. The 0-60 in 9.0 sec performance was fine. From my test drive experience and the comments from the other media journalists, the results are very encouraging here at the Toyota Sustainable Mobility Seminar.

The 90 kW motor, inverter, and battery pack systems are all Tesla components. This car has plenty of torque and is heavy on the regen deceleration. The regen was so heavy that I could drive the car with little or no brake pedal. My impression is that the control system is primarily Tesla, but Toyota will probably add some battery management for long life. When this is released for sale, I expect Toyota to smooth out the accelerator drive and regen controls which could be a bit jerky. The regen in the prototype is so heavy that I noticed in the rear view mirror that following drivers seemed to be riding my rear bumper. Then I remembered that without pressing the brake pedal there is no indication that the car is slowing down.  This was severe enough that it could be the subject of a future safety regulation.

Combine a mature Toyota RAV4 chassis and interior with a maturing Tesla electric drive and you have a premium electric vehicle in months not years. With the heads of the two companies agreeing to the joint development in July 2010, there was no room left for protectionism or “not invented here.” There were a few IP (intellectual property) issues to work out, but teamwork quickly produced 31 converted BEV RAV4 prototypes in the hands of the U.S. Toyota advanced sales team by March 2011. I hope other manufacturers take note and this cooperation can be used as a working model for quickly developing needed products elsewhere.

On the passenger visor there was a sign that said that this was a prototype and may not be up to production quality. Other than the finish of a couple of interior panels, nothing was immediately obvious that would identify these cars to be different from the ones to be sold from the dealer’s show room floor. Upon closer inspection, the charging connector is Tesla and has an adapter to make it compatible with the J1772 Standard. The production model will have the J1772 plug and connector.

The RAV4 driver information displays were based on the standard RAV4, right in front of the steering wheel, making them much easier to see while paying attention to the road. The display is superior to the Plug-in Prius display which is mounted in the middle of the dash. In the RAV4 EV, the left side dial was converted to show how much power was being used and regen recovered by the motor/generator. The numbers seemed to be right on for about 90 kW max output and about 45 max kW input.

The PRNDL directional controls are push buttons on the center console. The position of the buttons are in the traditional gear shift pattern similar to the plug-in Prius that puts R (Reverse) forward and D (Drive) back. I would prefer that the controls highlight the new technology and put the buttons in a location to match the direction of motion, D forward and R back. I understand that the push buttons may not survive into the production model. On this prototype, there was a big red button on the dash that I was warned not to push. I think it was a safety switch that disconnected the high voltage battery.

To achieve 100 mile real world range (not just the LA4 urban drive cycle) there are 37 kWh of usable energy storage that would indicate a 370 Wh/mile consumption rate. For most drive cycles, I’m guessing that the efficiency is a bit better, but Toyota wants to offer a real 100 miles range for highway speeds as well as flat stop-and-go commutes. Tesla wouldn’t disclose the total capacity of the pack nor the specific Li-ion chemistry, only that it is small format cells in modules the same as those used in the Tesla Roadster and the new Tesla Model S.

The battery is liquid cooled with a tight temperature management for cell life and performance in all temperature environments. Similar to the other Tesla vehicles, any time that the car is connected to the charger or whenever the car is turned on, the temperature management system is active.

A separate liquid cool loop for the motor and inverter/controller is also planned for the production model, but they are air cooled in these prototypes. The passenger compartment has another liquid cooling loop for the A/C using a design from the Lexus hybrid.

Rumor has it that the price of the new Toyota RAV4 EV will be in the $40,000 range. This is consistent with a 40 kWh battery costing $500/kWh and with a battery pack being half the price of an electric car. With the Tesla S priced starting at $57,400, the RAV4 EV could be the right electric SUV at the right price for both companies. $40K stills seems expensive, but it gets more attractive as gasoline continues it’s climb above $4/gallon.

Toyota RAV4 EV Specs

  • Curb weight – 3942 lbs
  • Storage space – 73 cu ft, same as RAV4 V6
  • Acceleration, 0-60 mph – 9.0 sec, matched to the RAV4 V6
  • Range – 80 to 120 miles measured by actual driving trips (not LA4 drive cycle)
  • Usable battery capacity – 37 kWh
  • 100% SOC charge time
    • 28 hrs @ Level 1 – 110 VAC avg 12 amps
    • 12 hrs @ Level 2 – 220 VAC avg 14 amps
  • Estimated full battery and cost – 41 kWh @ ~$20,000
  • Estimated selling price at 2X battery ~$40,000
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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

4 thoughts on “Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive with impressive Tesla Drive System

  1. Andrew
    May 28, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I hope Toyota keeps the heavy regen and the shift buttons, that’s part of the EV technology and it works very well.
    It doesn’t make sense to use the foot brake if you don’t have to and it doesn’t make sense to use a stick shift if there are no gears to shift.

  2. Andrew
    May 28, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I have an AC Propulsion eBox which has heavy regen and the brake light engages when the regen is on heavily.
    The regen is controlled through the accelerator pedal on my car, which I prefer.

  3. Tom Bartley
    April 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Excellent news, the closing rate of other drivers from the rear was enough to raise some anxiety.

  4. Chris
    April 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    One thing to keep in mind about the regen, in the Tesla Roadster if the regen exceeds a certain amount the car will light the brake light to warn other drivers that you are slowing down. Toyota may still decide to tinker w/ the amount of regen but the “safety” issue of heavy regen has been thought through.

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