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First Drive: 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV

Great performance offset by cheap interior and an awful infotainment system.

by on Aug.07, 2012

Toyota turned to Tesla to help it develop the battery version of the RAV4.

No automaker has done a better job of surrounding itself with a green halo than Toyota.  Its Prius model has routinely generated half of all hybrid sales, a number now approaching two-thirds since the introduction of an entirely new Prius “family,” including the big V, compact C and the Prius plug-in.

The latter model was the first from the Japanese maker to opt for state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, rather than time-tested, if less powerful, nickel-metal hydride batteries. After running into some early development problems, Toyota has been reluctant to go with more advanced lithium – which partially explains why the Asian giant decided to reach outside for help when it laid out plans for its first pure battery-electric vehicle in two decades, the 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV.

The project pairs Toyota with Tesla Motors, the bold California start-up that just introduced its own new battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, the Model S sedan.  In fact, they share many of the same underlying components – which is why the 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV is likely to shock those used to the typically slow-as-a-snail battery car.

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The new Toyota battery car boasts great performance, and good range and handling – but echoes other recent entries from the Japanese maker by cutting corners on interior fit-and-finish.  And the new RAV4-EV introduces what may be the singularly most user-unfriendly infotainment system since the very first BMW iDrive hit the road.


First Drive: Toyota RAV4-EV

Toyota plugs in with first battery-electric vehicle.

by on Apr.11, 2011

A first drive in a Toyota RAV4-EV prototype.

The all-electric RAV4 isn’t officially due to plug into the U.S. market until the 2012 calendar-year but recently Toyota gave us a chance to take a spin in one of the 31 prototypes built by its partner, the California-based battery car start-up, Tesla Motors.

Toyota was the first automaker to produce a hybrid-electric vehicle – though rival Honda beat it to the U.S. market by several months.  Until recently, Toyota dismissed more advanced plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles, so the decision to launch the RAV4-EV was a significant shift in strategy.  So was the decision to turn to Tesla.

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While alliances have become the norm in the automotive world, Toyota has traditionally preferred going it alone, so the RAV4-EV will be a significant addition to the Japanese giant’s line-up in a variety of ways.

We headed to Southern California for our first drive, where Toyota had one of the battery cars fully charged and ready to go, to get a sense of what we can expect when the maker’s first pure electric vehicle comes to market in little more than a year.