By Ross Kiddie
State Highway 72, alternatively known as the Inland Scenic Route, is one of my favourite roads.
It stretches from Rangiora to Geraldine, and although I usually use just a short part of it, I had the perfect excuse recently to travel to Fairlie. Since being voted New Zealand’s best pie, a drive to the Fairlie Bakehouse to stock up the freezer is a regular occurrence.
The drive, with the sun gleaming constantly on the snow covered alps, and the low volume of traffic reinforced why SH72 is one of the South Island’s best kept secrets.
The car I chose to travel south in was Toyota’s new RAV4 sport utility vehicle, more specifically, it was a Limited hybrid and it was the perfect vehicle to tackle the 400km round trip, it was quiet, comfortable, economical and surprisingly sporty.
If the word hybrid makes you have a double take, yes, the new-generation RAV4 is available in hybrid form, the first time petrol/electric power has been offered in one of Toyota’s biggest selling products.
The RAV4 is all-new for 2019, and it is available in eight specifications, non-hybrid with a 2-litre or 2.5-litre engine, or hybrid with the latest spec 2.5-litre engine and powertrain technology.
It’s taken a long time for me to fully accept the hybrid concept, but, as I’ve written in recent times, it now has my complete attention, as each iteration of it comes through, it is better and, dare I say it, more “normal” than ever.
The RAV4 hybrid is rated at 131kW and 221Nm through the petrol engine, with an extra 32kW available through electric generation. They are healthy outputs, and were certainly noticeable on my journey, overtaking manoeuvres can be made quickly as the force of electric power is delivered, the RAV4 fairly scorches through the acceleration process. For the record, it will meet 100km/h from a standstill in just a fraction over 8sec, and it will make 80km/h to 120km/h in 5.4sec.
On the subject of figures, it is also a fuel miser. I couldn’t replicate Toyota’s 4.8-litre per 100km (58mpg) combined cycle claim, my throttle foot is way too heavy for that, but I was pleased with the 6.4l/100km (44mpg) figure constantly showing on the dash panel readout. It will also sip fuel gently at the rate of around 4.5l/100km (63mpg) instantaneously at 100km/h.
The entire petrol/electric operation is seamless, there are dash panel readouts which supply the driver with information as to what is happening in relation to the hybrid system, but if you aren’t watching those then you aren’t going to notice the transition.
That is part of what makes this package so special, the RAV4, along with Toyota’s other hybrid offerings, is smooth technically.
There aren’t a lot of tricky corners on the SH72 route, but there are just enough to gauge a vehicle’s handling ability, and in the RAV4’s case it met all expectations. Long travel suspension and tall ride height don’t usually combine to provide dynamic handling qualities but, it’s fair to say, the RAV4 steers keenly and the suspension isn’t overloaded with body movement.
Throughout the design process, Toyota hasn’t lost sight of the need to build the RAV4 with the notion that it is quite likely to be presented with off-the-seal challenges, although it must be taken into consideration that the entry-level models into the range are front-drive only.
However, on the Limited, drive is channelled to all four wheels, and ground clearance is measured at 190mm. There’s even a trail drive mode which modifies the engine management protocols so that it can move slowly and smoothly across undulating surfaces.
In Limited form the RAV4 E-Four lands at an affordable $47,990. It is highly specced for that price, and comes with the latest safety package Toyota has to offer.
With the introduction of a brand-new platform, the RAV4 also gets a huge upgrade in terms of trim levels and interior quality. The layout of the controls is simplistic and intuitive, while family-friendly features are scattered throughout the entire cockpit.
Even though the hybrid is a new RAV4 inclusion, the RAV concept hasn’t been lost. It is still the family-friendly, easy-to-drive model that has gone gang-busters since it was first introduced on to the global market in 1994.
Price Toyota RAV4 Ltd hybrid, $47,990
Dimensions Length, 4600mm; width, 1855mm; height, 1685mm
Configuration cylinder, four-wheel-drive, 2487cc, 131kW, 221Nm, continuously variable automatic.
Fuel usage 4.8l/100km