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Road test: Toyota Rav4 Hybrid is the SUV South Africans need

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With fuel prices surging and the national power grid remaining an issue, hybrids are a hot topic in the South African vehicle market.

The dream of pure electric vehicles will remain clouded by Eskom’s inability to deliver reliable power. But hybrids offer a compelling alternative. And Toyota has a new one.

Although many brands make bold promises about an electrified future vehicle portfolio in South Africa, the rollout has been painfully slow. Toyota has said little and done a lot.

TOYOTA: PROVEN LEGACY WITH HYBRID VEHICLES

The Japanese company has a proven legacy in hybrid vehicle technology. Toyota’s Prius has offered South Africans a hybrid vehicle option for two decades, predating the current social discourse about sustainable vehicle ownership.

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Combining the legacy petrol-hybrid technology developed since the late 1990s with Prius and Lexus, Toyota’s Rav4 2.5 Hybrid GX is deeply impressive. And brilliant product planning by Toyota South Africa – as usual.

Rav4 is the country’s most popular mid-size crossover/SUV and Toyota has further increased its appeal with a hybrid version. To keep its price below that R600 000 threshold, the Rav4 hybrid is not available in ultra-luxurious VX speciation but rather a more affordable GX equipment grade. You get cloth seats, instead of leather – for instance.

Image: Supplied

MIDDLE OF THE RANGE – BUT NOT MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Beyond the tidily proportioned styling and established platform, what really matters is this Rav4’s powertrain. Toyota’s engineers combine a high-compression 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, with a potent electric motor.

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The petrol engine is good for 131kW and 221Nm. Sophisticated control electronics and a clever vehicle dynamics algorithm, surge power into the drivetrain as required, from an electric motor, rated at 88kW and 202Nm.

Total system output is 160kW, and although that is not a linear combination of the total electric motor potency added to Rav4 hybrid’s petrol engine, it makes for a decently rapid vehicle.

With Rav4’s hybrid configuration, the electric motor also acts as a generator system, and it deploys a flood of additional power, when you require a surge of acceleration.

Need to edge into that rapidly narrowing gap in traffic? Or pass two trucks in a single overtaking manoeuvre? In both cases, the Rav4 hybrid acts with terrific assertion and delivers great throttle responsiveness and acceleration.

HOW GOOD IS IT, AT THE PUMP?

The brilliant part of Toyota’s Rav4 hybrid is how it balances excellent fuel economy with potent on-demand performance. Toyota claims a theoretical 1170km range on a 55-litre tank of fuel, which averages to a remarkable 4.7/100km.

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We averaged just below 7l/100km on our test cycle, frequently using the Rav4 hybrid’s brisk overtaking performance.

If you are suspicious about the viability of pure electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids, this Rav4 hybrid is a brilliant compromise within the South African context. It might use slightly dated nickel-metal hydride battery technology, instead of the greater power density available with lithium-ion, but the system integration is superb.

And unlike its rivals, who price electric vehicles and hybrids way beyond the average South African new car affordability index, this Rav4 hybrid is within reach. At R555 300.

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