Monday, 6 July 2020

New car report: RAV4 Cruiser hybrid AWD

Having had second thoughts about the Camry on which, the previous year, I had paid a $1000 deposit, I drove down to the Toyota dealership and had a look at an SUV called a “RAV4”, which can come with a hybrid petrol-electric powertrain.

I told the young salesman I wanted a car that would let me carry large things as my daughter and her boyfriend would be coming to Sydney in the middle of the year (though plans changed due to rona); for them I’d need to transport furniture and other things. A “steel blonde” Camry had already been allocated a slot in the Nagoya factory and was due to be manufactured in mid-February, so Ryan drifted off and phoned his manager to tell him about my idea, coming back to me a few minutes later to say there would be no problem making the switch to a different model. Using his computer Ryan changed my order details on the company’s database and I left after choosing a colour.

Navy blue, to match the restored, mounted and framed ensign that’s hanging on one of my living room’s walls. The thing had been among dad’s personal effects – actually in a sail bag – along with other things from our old life. A bunch of such stuff made its way to me after, 20 years ago, I returned from Japan, and I had preservation work done on the flag when I lived in Queensland.

On 6 January – the day I changed my choice of car from a sedan to an SUV – when I got back to my apartment I looked at reviews for the RAV4 Cruiser hybrid AWD, the model I was going to get, and then went to the maker’s website. All of this activity made me decide in favour of roof racks, so I called Ryan and added this option to the list, which included weather shields for the windows, as well as floor mats.

When I asked Ryan on 20 March about delivery I was told the car would be made in May with delivery in June, but on 18 May I was told manufacture might happen in June. On 18 June someone at the dealership phoned to say that the car would arrive in Sydney probably in the first week of July. She also wanted to confirm the options included in the order, and we straightened that out. I phoned back a bit later and left a message, intending to talk with someone about the payment method, and later spoke on the phone with Ryan about this important issue. Then on 20 June I sent $10 online to ascertain the accuracy of the account details I‘d been handed back in December. On the Monday morning I phoned Toyota and they confirmed the money went through.

So I started sending the remainder of the amount due. It would take several days to complete, but bit by bit I finished the task before the end of the month. Meanwhile, I phoned my insurance company to notify them of the pending purchase. I’d been told the car would probably be available to pick up on the 9th of July but, on the last Saturday in June, Ryan phoned me and told me it’d be ready to pick up on the 5th, the Sunday of the following week.

In Japanese “five” is “go”, a lucky number, so the date would be auspicious. I was surprised when Ryan SMS’d me the registration number on the 4th (I immediately SMS’d it to my insurer) because it also seemed lucky, having in it the number “5”. Using SMS, I made a date with Ryan to pick the car up at 10am, when the dealership opens, and in the evening I ordered a new tag for road tolls I would incur while driving it.

Yesterday morning I had breakfast and walked to Glebe through Wentworth Park, arriving at the dealership at two minutes past the hour. Ryan was busy in a meeting so I sat down in the reception area. When he joined me he was surprised by the coincidence regarding the number plate and expressed himself in a positive manner while he showed me all the car’s (seemingly innumerable) features, including the ability to answer and make calls on the iPhone without touching the device. Controls for phone calls are on the centre display and also on the steering wheel, a part of the car that is so loaded with functions that it felt, as Ryan walked me through them, as though I had suddenly been transported – via a TV screen with Netflix connected – to a parallel universe. “I feel like I have just swallowed a whale,” I quipped to Ryan as we were finalising the paperwork at his desk next to the showroom. Again, he laughed obligingly at my meagre humour.

It looks as though I’ll now have to upgrade my phone, as the RAV4’s automatic charging station – where you put your phone down in a bay under the A/C controls – only works on newer phones and mine was bought a few years ago.

Ryan showed me how to link it to the car using Bluetooth. Wi-Fi connection is also possible if you want to watch movies on the centre console; I told him I’d think about it for possible use at a later date. He also showed me how to set up the Toyota app on my phone. This lets you generate QR codes to use at service stations when buying petrol; discounts apply for select retailers and you can accrue points on your account. So far, he told, me, only Caltex has signed up.

As often happens, I silently thanked Steve Jobs. An appropriate reaction, as driving home I sort of felt like I was in a helicopter. The thing sits up off the road relative to the height of the Aurion, but I had no problem manoeuvring it into the parking garage under my building even with roof racks on (I’d checked the height earlier via SMS) and driving was intuitive. This was reassuring at first blush, although the overall feel is plush. Having, since September 2007, driven an Aurion AT-X (see photo below for the two cars lined up in my car spaces), there’s a bit to get used to now.

As Ryan explained on the day I picked up this Saturn blue RAV4, regeneration of the traction battery happens when the petrol engine starts up, and also when the driver brakes. By pressing a physical button on the console there’s a dedicated display showing the car’s drive mechanism which, in the model I bought (an all-wheel drive), includes representations in graphic form of the two electric engines (one on the front wheels and one on the rear wheels) as well as the battery. This display lets you see at a glance how much charge the battery has at any given time. The car has a special energy efficient setting you reach by pressing a button on the console that sits between the front seats, and three other power settings as well, including a “sport” setting which is less fuel efficient. 

Ryan told me you can easily get over 900km out of one tank of fuel, and his employer filled the tank for me. The car had six kilometres on the odometer when I picked it up. As he was showing me the ropes in the showroom Ryan told me, when I asked about the hum that could suddenly be heard, that the engine had started. 

You don’t press a button on a remote control to open the door – the correct remote’s proximity to the car, and a hand on the door handle (which contains two sensors), are enough to give you access to the cabin – but the last thing Ryan told me before I drove off in the traffic was not to leave the remote in the car. He also mentioned that to replace the device is very expensive but I got a spare with my purchase. 

A quick spin in the traffic through Leichhardt in the late afternoon revealed that the car is tightly sprung and heavier than the Aurion, but rides surprisingly smoothly. On the road you feel secure but I had, on getting back home, a dose of the heebie-jeebies, so watched Landline, then the news. It’d been a busy couple of weeks.

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