Toyota is making headlines over its new RAV4 PHEV. What does that bunch of letters even mean? It’s easy – RAV4 is of course the name of its compact SUV or CUV or whatever you want to call it. The PHEV part is where it gets interesting: This stands for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle.
That means the RAV4 PHEV, which is coming in 2021, has an electric motor, a traction battery AND a gas motor. You can drive on battery power alone for awhile (the battery size and range specs haven’t been released yet, so I don’t have numbers to provide -- but I will update when Toyota tells us more on Nov. 20) before the gas engine kicks in to drive the wheels. By way of comparison, this is the same technology as the current Prius Prime PHEV, which can go 25 miles before needing a charge or its gas engine kicks in.Â
Sounds pretty cool, right? But is the Toyota RAV PHEV right for you? Is it better than an all-battery electric vehicle?
Why Do You Want a Plug-In Hybrid?
Figuring out whether the Toyota RAV PHEV is right for you involves figuring out exactly what you’re looking for. Here are some things to consider.
You Want to Create Less PollutionÂ
You’re definitely going to emit a lot less pollution with the RAV4 PHEV. There’s not going to be a huge difference in the emissions caused by building the RAV4 PHEV versus a conventional vehicle.Â
And post-production emissions will be lower since you’re using less gas. I haven’t seen a cradle-to-grave analysis of PHEVs versus conventional engines. But the Union of Concerned Scientists analysis found that battery-electric vehicles will produce 25 percent fewer emissions over their lifetime than gas cars. That factor will increase as more utilities switch to renewable power – it also changes if your home has a solar array.Â
You Want to Save Money
You won’t get quite the same return on your investment as you would with a pure battery-electric vehicle. There will still be emissions from the gas motor, and you can go a lot further on $3 of electricity than you can on $3 of gas.Â
When charging from my house, $3 of electricity is about 160 miles of range. $3 of gas in the Prius Prime gets you about 50 miles. The RAV4 PHEV will get less because it’s bigger and heavier. Best case scenario splitting between gas and electric? It’s tough to say. I don’t see it being any more than 50 miles per $3 (nice measurement because it’s right around the current price of gas).Â
You Want Less Maintenance?
Electric vehicle drivers love saying "see ya later" to maintenance. We don’t change oil, transmission fluid, differential fluid, serpentine belts, timing belts or any of that other outdated, old-timey, messy internal combustion engine nonsense.Â
As it turns out, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV saddles you with an internal combustion engine that will need conventional maintenance. And it makes the vehicle heavier, which causes the efficiency of the electric motor to plummet.Â
In this regard, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV is the worst of both worlds.
Â You Want to Support Efforts to Reduce Emissions
If this is a factor for you, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV is a bad choice. It’s actually a step backward for Toyota.Â
Toyota actually has TWO previous generations of fully electric RAV4s. The last one was a joint venture between Tesla and Toyota. From 2012-14, the joint venture produced an EV that could go 0-60 in less than 7 seconds, get about 140 miles to the charge (in my experience) and hold a ton of cargo and people in comfort.
Toyota is clearly dragging its feet in addressing emissions. Instead, it’s putting its eggs into the hydrogen-powered car effort. This technology is perpetually three years away. You’ll never be able to fill a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at home. There’s far less infrastructure for fueling. It’s harder to deal with. It’s more complicated.Â
So why is Toyota stuck on it? Who knows? My theory: They just don’t know how to let go of the past and modernize.Â
Anyway, the company that deserves your money is Tesla. They single-handedly dragged legacy automakers into the battery-electric era.
You Want Performance
People are also switching to electric vehicles for push-you-back-in-your-seat acceleration. Everyone who takes a ride in my RAV EV is blown away by the acceleration.Â
It’s very possible the RAV PHEV will have all the pep of its all-electric counterpart while in battery mode. We’ll have to see. I can confirm, though, that the 150-horsepower RAV4 EV is faster 0-60 than the current RAV4 hybrid.
When the RAV PHEV rolls out in 2021, what all-electric options will you have in the same size class? There’s the Tesla Model Y, but that will likely be significantly more expensive. Aside from that, I really don’t know what’s going to happen in this space.
A Toyota RAV4 PHEV could be right for a family of three that likes to hit the road. That’s pretty much my family. My wife, 4-year-old and myself could fit neatly in this vehicle, along with our camping gear and a bike rack. The Kia Soul, Kia Nero and Hyundai Kona EVs are all smaller. And who knows what VW will really come out with -- plus some people are furious with VW for its emissions cheating and wouldn’t give them a nickel at this point.Â
Also, range anxiety is still a thing with people. A decently priced EV has about 240 miles of range right now. That freaks people out for some reason, even though they can charge to 80 percent in 15 minutes.Â
Part of it is the old-school driving mentality: You drive your car until it’s almost out of gas, and you fill up. That’s not how you drive an EV. You drive someplace and plug in, constantly topping off. You rarely start recharging from anywhere near zero. Road trips are the only time that changes, and fast-charging infrastructure is improving all the time (and will be better by the time the Toyota RAV4 PHEV comes out). For most people who commute less than 40 miles a day, the range is a much smaller factor than they realize.
Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV Right for You?
I hope this helps with your decision. For the TLDR version – it’s better than a conventional combustion engine, but nowhere near the equal of an EV in terms of convenience and operational cost. The Toyota RAV4 PHEV will have a relatively small battery that doesn’t require fast charging, which could be a huge bonus in areas that are actually lacking in charging infrastructure. If that sounds like, you might have a winner.