BMW M5 vs Mercedes-AMG E63, and tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka
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Someone at Toyota has clearly watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens, judging by that new face. Stormtrooper, much? Possibly, but the frowning face and many LEDs of the facelifted Toyota RAV4 isn’t the big news. And neither is the more powerful, more fuel-efficient diesel engine that you can have under the bonnet. This, despite the fact that most UK-dwelling crossover-ists are a sucker for torquey, fuel-sipping diesels. No, here we have a hybrid RAV4. None of the car’s immediate rivals – the Ford Kuga, Honda CRV, or Kia Sportage, not to mention the likes of Audi or BMW – offer a hybrid system in a crossover this size (yet). In fact, the only car that does is this car’s cousin, will.i.am’s beloved Lexus NX. So Toyota has either stumbled upon a goldmine of untapped genius, or no-one’s really done the hybrid crossover thing before for a reason. Well it’s not for want of versatility. You can have a front-wheel drive RAV4 Hybrid or, like this car we’re driving, a four-wheel drive version. The bootspace hasn’t been eaten by a big clumsy battery pack, and the rear seats are still very roomy. It’s not even painfully slow.
At last, a performance hybrid SUV… Not quite. The RAV4 Hybrid is the quickest of all the RAV4s, its total of 195bhp from the 2.5-litre petrol engine (plus front and rear electric motors) hurling it to 62mph in a pulverizing, er, 8.4 seconds. Okay, it’s no Bentayga, but it’s still 1.2 seconds quicker than the RAV4 diesel, and considering the elastic CVT bleeding away power, that’s not to be snorted at. What’s it like at being economical? Less impressive. This is a mild hybrid remember, not a plug-in, so the only juice you have in the batteries is what you’ve put there by leaning on the squidgy, unnatural-feeling regenerative brakes. You don’t so much count the distance you’re whirring along silently in EV mode as the time – three seconds here, five seconds there, all the time feathering the throttle like it’s made of Faberge eggshells and desperately trying to ignore the tailbacks in your rear-view mirror as you creep the RAV4 towards 30mph. This is a heavy car, at 1775kg without the driver, and if you’re not prepared to wake the petrol engine, this is not a spritely town runabout. Anyway, the idea is you simply go about your normal driving business and the car’s brain decides when the e-power should be used on its own, and when fossil fuels should be mercilessly burned. Fine. The TopGear office is in London, so by taking it out into the conveniently located rat run and then for a lap of the North Circular, a fairly clear picture of the RAV4’s urban merits quickly forms. Tread carefully, and it’ll manage north of 40mpg in a typical jaunt. A diesel could maybe match it in the same conditions, but imagine the smog you’re leaving in your wake, you monster… So it works? If you wanted a family car that’s going to be deployed mainly in town, you don’t want a RAV4. It’s not that it’s big and unwieldy – quite the opposite in fact – but the ride simply isn’t good enough. The car cannot deal with sharp ridges and bumps in the road at all, sending a resonant, creaking crash through the body structure at every mild pothole. In city traffic, over draincovers and surface patches and speedbumps, it’s a mess. Bringing a big 4x4 into town has always been a bit antisocial, but not usually to the people inside the car. Meanwhile, the electric power steering’s weight yo-yos more than a beauty queen’s, and why does a car that’s too stiffly sprung to ride comfortably in town roll around so much and flounce on its springs like a Californian low-rider in bends? It feels like the powertrain team did the job they wanted to do, then handed it over to the chassis guys, who forgot the purpose of the hybrid car. Is it cheap? For a well-kitted out ‘Excel’ model like this one, you’ll need £31,490, and for that you could have an equally specced-up and more town-savvy Renault Kadjar or Honda CR-V. Okay, they won’t do the silent, pollution-free walking-speed party trick the RAV4 can, but they’ll be nicer to live with for every minute you’re not sat in gridlock.