Friday, 16 October 2020

RAV4 Cruiser hybrid AWD (episode four)

It’s been about three-and-a-half months since I picked up my new car so I’ve had time to get used to things. Time flies, and so do you when you’re driving one of these beauties.

Thinking back, and on viewing YouTube videos of others reviewing the same car, it strikes me how accurate were the issues, in those early days, I noticed to remark on. The noisy drivetrain under pressure, for instance, is something that others have mentioned in their reviews, as is the nice feel of the car over any surface; its hard ride – something my father used to complain about in European cars (he drove a Holden Statesman) – is dreamy and effortlessly deals with speed bumps.

One thing that comes to mind as a shortcoming is the use of CarPlay, though this is a secondary function and won’t impact your driving or safety. My phone is an old one (I bought it in 2017) and so I have to plug it into the car in order to enable CarPlay; with newer phones you just place the device in the brown holding bay under the aircon controls and it automatically charges and connects. To connect mine via CarPlay I bought a short USB cable at the Apple store. 

A related issue is also of secondary importance. This is the irritating warning message (mentioned in an earlier review) that appears for the driver’s information every time you start the car, and which, if you need to get out into the traffic quickly because of a break in the flow of cars, prevents you from moving if you need to use CarPlay for some reason, for example to enable hands-free messaging, or if you need to punch an address into the satnav. 

What I do for music is, while at home I buy albums on the iTunes store and start playing them sitting on the couch and then, when I climb into the car and start it, simply wait for it to use Bluetooth to connect to my phone and play the same album at the point where I’d left of listening earlier. By using Bluetooth instead of CarPlay I avoid having to plug the phone into the car. These are minor points but they affect your decision-making every time you choose to drive.

When CarPlay is not in use Bluetooth integration of your phone is enabled. You can toggle between commercial radio and Bluetooth using the ‘Audio’ button (a physical button handily on the right-hand side of the centre console) to bring up a menu of sources to select. 

Bluetooth is a dreamy feature and can also work with podcasts and audiobooks, as you can listen at home and then, a few minutes later, resume listening at the same spot when inside the car, but while you can shift between tracks on an album easily to change albums you have to go back up a navigational level (by tapping the soft ‘Browse’ button) and then painstakingly select the phone again, and then ‘Albums’, before you get a list of the relevant titles to choose. This navigational quirk of the system takes some getting used to, and might’ve been avoided by better design of the interface. 

If you want to avoid this problem you can plug in your phone and use the CarPlay function. This allows you to navigate between albums, a task that is far simpler as CarPlay has a soft ‘Back’ button that, from the play screen of an album track, you can touch to go to a full menu of albums that are on your phone. It’s is very convenient.

Some items by design won’t work with CarPlay, including TV and YouTube. A safety function thus shelters drivers from distractions while in traffic and busy manoeuvring among fast-moving cars. 

A hands-free approach to using the popular messaging application WhatsApp was useful one day. On that day I knew I had to contact someone while on the road and decided to use WhatsApp to do so. The interface that allows access to this application is however slightly counterintuitive. You tap on the WhatsApp icon on the top level menu in CarPlay, then a Siri-like interface prompts you to say a name. When I said the name of the person I wanted to contact, the AI understood me and displayed his name on the centre console. Then I dictated my message, the AI captured it and asked me if I wanted to send it, reading out my message back to me. I sent it when I tapped a soft button on the screen but you can also reply to a prompt that lets you send your message without using your hands. 

The feature worked pretty smoothly but not all of the RAV4’s electronic and software features do. You get the promise of endless features but in the upshot your ability to use them can be limited by various constraints. This is obviously suboptimal and reflects an annoying problem that Toyota has with interface design. They do a terrific job with hardware and have perfected the art of manufacturing, but US companies do the soft part of IT better. Problems with the RAV4 driver interface system also reflect the hazards inherent in a car that almost has more functions than can be feasibly handled by a driver who must obey road rules all the time.

As one reviewer mentioned – and as I also found after some weeks of driving – you get about 1100 kilometres out of one tank of petrol. It comes out at around 47 miles per gallon, or five litres per 100km, which is pretty tops compared to all-petrol units (which is most of the cars on the market). 

I’ve been noticing more RAV4s as I drive around the city, but most don’t have the “EV” badge the state government issues. I got my badge in the mail and affixed the little triangles – made with blue reflective paint and the letters “EV” printed in white – to my number plates on 8 September. The badges are designed to alert emergency personnel and first-responders to the presence of a battery in case of an accident, so that they know immediately in case of fire which cars to attend to first. The front plate had less room for the badge than the rear plate, and you have to put them on without obscuring the registration details. It’s a bit fiddly; if you take care you’ll have no problem but if NSW drivers don’t have them on their hybrid or hydrogen or electric vehicles after 1 January 2021 they could cop a fine.

No comments: