I have some wonderful memories of barreling through the thick beach sand of Southern Mozambique from the South African border post on the way to the stunning White Pearl Hotel as part of the launch drive of the – then – latest generation Toyota RAV 4.

Both my driving partner, John Floyd, and I were impressed with the capability of the all-wheel drive RAV 4 in the conditions, it stability and its willingness to work, and be worked.

Then came the next gen Toyota RAV 4 and the automatic gearbox was replaced by a CVT and, even though the new version made the finals of the South African Car of the Year competition, my impression toook a knock and the feeling I had was the constant velocity transmission had made the car somehow effete.

Considering the RAV 4 launched into local market as a small oddity and received mixed reviews, it worked hard at building its street cred and then appeared (to me) to lose it all with that gearbox change.

White Toyota Rav 4 Plug-In Hybrid on the sidewalk

More than 200 pristine models to choose from on CHANGECARS

Fast forward to the latest iteration and the plug-in hybrid combo and ‘whizz-bang’ it’s all back, the positive instant response from the electric power overcoming all the reservations I had with the CVT – it neatly irons out the constant hunting for a gear depending on power fluctuations.

Even kept in full Eco mode, the thottle response is instant and with more than enough instant acceleration to make any overtaking move an absolute breeze, all the while staying pretty lean on the fuel consumption chart.

Using electric power as much as possible, a figure of 3,4 l/100 km was quite easy to achieve in normal daily driving while pushing it a bit harder and going off-road in search of photo locations on the Dullstroom Rally, it went up to 6,3 l/100 km at its worst.

Following the introductions of the RAV4 GX Hybrid in 2021, and Hybrid E-Four in 2022, Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) is 'testing the waters' so to speak, with the RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV). While not officially on sale yet, several RAV4 PHEV's have been imported as a market research exercise to test customer response, vehicle behaviour, infrastructure requirements and other technical aspects as well as educate customers on the plug-in technology.

Alternative Energy

Toyota, at least, has not fallen foul of the global revolution and simply gone electric. Rather the company http://www.toyota.co.za is working on alternative energy options across the spectrum from electric to hydrogen and both hybrid and plug-in hybrid.

The main feature of the plug-in hybrid option is it can be attached to a standard 220V home socket with no additional equipment required with charging time between seven and nine hours, dropping to around 2,5 hours if a commercial high-speed charger is available.

Importantly, the vehicle does do its own internal recharging when the brakes are applied or it is coasting and, should all battery power be depleted for any reason will happily continue purely on petrol engine power.

Rearview of the Toyota Rav 4 Plug-In HybridProviding the drive is a 2,5-litre petrol powerplant paired with a larger EV battery and two electric motors – driving each of the axles. The PHEV system is equipped with a high-output dual oil-cooling system that is used in combination with air and water cooling and driving force is sent directly to all four wheels.

The Lithium-Ion battery supplies 18,1 kW of power and is located below the passenger compartment.

The petrol enginehas a DOHC design with dual VVT-i, offering 136 kW and 227 Nm. This Is paired with front and rear electric motors that contribute 134 kW and 40 kW, respectively. Torque is plentiful, with an additional 270 Nm and 121 Nm on tap. The resulting total output is 225 kW. 

The RAV4 Plug-In offers the driver four modes to choose from. EV mode is the default setting and prioritises electric-only operation. The vehicle offers a range of up to 80 km in pure EV mode depending on the battery’s state of charge and usage conditions.

HV mode allows the vehicle to operate as a traditional Toyota Hybrid and, while the driver can specifically select it as needed, the system will also automatically switch to HV mode should the battery drop below EV operation levels.

An Auto EV/HV mode allows the system to switch between pure electric and hybrid modes, based on acceleration input required. The petrol motor Is brought online when required and then returned to electric operation as soon as conditions permit. 

interior view of the Toyota Rav 4 Plug-In HybridThe plug-in model's interior is based on the GX-R variant and standard specification includes smart entry, seat heating and cooling, driver seat memory and dual-zone climate control. Tactile comfort is enhanced with a heated steering wheel, while convenience is bolstered by a fully digital rear-view mirror with multiple view modes, a wireless charger and five USB ports.

A comfortable and pleasant ride backed up by sufficient instant power to give the vehicle a true sense of urgency when needed and imbued with useful luxuries such as autonomous braking when cruise control is active – and a decently rapid speed pickup after braking.

Given our ongoing electrical problems, hybrid is a very viable New Energy alternative for South Africa and the rest of Africa.

Colin Windell – proudly CHANGECARS