Behind the Wheel

Tested to Brooklyn and back, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is road trip-ready but not perfect

People keep their personal distance as they enjoy a spring afternoon in Brooklyn Bridge Park on April 28, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The idea of driving to Brooklyn, New York, wasn't an appealing one. Even when there isn't a global pandemic with a hot zone in the heart of the Empire State, it's still a long drive from Ohio. Coming back the same day ensures that nearly 20 hours will be spent on the road.

Armed with some Lysol wipes, a paper face mask, and a document that says that I'm essential under the federal government's Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency's guidelines, I climb behind the wheel of a 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to begin the journey.

2020 Toyota RAV4 HybridThe RAV4's interior is filled with high-tech features, especially in its top-level trim.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

My destination was the Micro Center store in Brooklyn. The I.T. company that I work for has been running a coalition of 3D printers to make important Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for first responders, health care professionals, and anyone at risk of contracting the coronavirus. To keep over 40 printers running, they need to be supplied with a steady stream of filament.

Local stock is non-existent. Early that week I had visited three different stores in Ohio and Michigan and purchased whatever remaining stock they had left. It wasn't enough. After searching nationwide, the Brooklyn store seemed to have a decent amount in stock. So, we ordered it and I went there to get it.

When reaching out to automakers to provide a vehicle capable of bringing the stockpile back (it wouldn't fit in my daily driver), there were a few things I had on my punch list. I wanted something fuel efficient. It's 1,100 miles roundtrip and I was paying out-of-pocket for fill-ups. Additionally, I wanted to spend the least amount of time handling a grubby fuel filler as much as I could.

2020 Toyota RAV4 HybridThe RAV4 Hybrid only gets 300 miles out of a tank of gas.Photo by Chad Kirchner

It needed to have safety technology. Every RAV4 comes with the company's advanced suite of safety technology, including full-stop adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and lane departure warning. I didn't plan on driving drowsy but having a good backup safety system in case I make a mistake is welcome.

It also needed to be comfortable. I hadn't spent a lot of hours at once behind the wheel of a RAV4 before, so I wasn't sure what to expect there. But the seats in my Limited trim level tester were leather, power adjustable, and were both heated and cooled.

The infotainment system also supported Apple CarPlay, so I could use Waze and have my music and podcasts in easy reach.

Driving during a pandemic is a bit different than driving normally. There's still a considerable amount of truck traffic on the roads, many with Amazon logos, but other traffic is extremely light. There are enough people sending traffic updates to Waze so I know where the local constabulary is hiding, but I don't run into heavy traffic either on the way there or back.

Pennsylvania felt like a ghost town. Rest areas were seemingly abandoned, with even the vending machines empty. New Jersey felt a bit more normal, aside from the increased mask usage. I was surprised to stop at a Wawa and see attendants still pumping gas for people.

As I inched closer to the Holland Tunnel, which is how Waze wanted me to enter the city, I started seeing more signs about how if you're coming in from New York you need to quarantine yourself. The weather was beautiful but that didn't stop the apprehension from rising about entering the city that has seen so many infections and so many deaths.

Also, it seemed odd to me to cross into Manhattan and then down to Brooklyn. I've only been on the island during normal times, and traffic is usually at a standstill at best. But as I entered the tunnel that takes traffic deep below the Hudson River, traffic continued to flow. Coming out on the other side I was shocked with how little traffic there was.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Micro center BrooklynThe streets o the way to Brooklyn were filled with mainly truck traffic.Photo by Chad Kirchner

My route took me right by the World Trade Center, and while there were traffic and people about, it was a mere fraction of what there normally is. It appeared to me that most of the area's 8 million people were taking the order to stay inside seriously.

Entering Brooklyn took me down some side streets, where cars of all types were parked with considerable amounts of dirt and grime on them. A newer Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 looked like an abandoned barn find, clearly not having been touched since the beginning of the pandemic. It exemplified the experience of being in New York – I didn't feel like I was in "Planet of the Apes" – but without everyone out and about it felt very different.

Standing in line to get my order from Micro Center is when everything felt truly normal. Yes, we were in masks and the parking lot was virtually empty, but folks in line were chatting and being friendly. I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was talking about how his son had been 3D printing some projects at home that had been wreaking havoc with his home appliances.

It ended up being a long day when I arrived back home, having left the house at 6am and returning just after midnight. But it was a successful trip. I wish I could've enjoyed New York longer, but the reason why everything is easy to get to is the same reason why I need to leave.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid cargo spaceThe supply of filament easy fit in the SUV's rear cargo area.Photo by Chad Kirchner

The RAV4 was a capable companion. The driver assist systems help relieve some of the stress, but I do wish the lane centering was actually a bit more aggressive. It's not as good as Tesla's Autopilot or Nissan's ProPilot Assist, but it's a good backup to have on a long trip.

I averaged 32.9 mpg for the journey. While I was expecting and hoping for better, my speeds averaged higher than they normally would for this trip, so it's okay. The biggest disappointment is the size of the fuel tank. A full tank only registered a bit over 300 miles on the trip computer.

The seats ended up being surprisingly supportive and comfortable on the trip. I didn't want to immediately do the trip again, but I felt like I could have. So, for road trips the RAV4 is pretty solid.

More importantly, though, the team was restocked so we can continue printing. While the need isn't a great today as it was, places are still requesting more and we want to make sure we provide what they need, free of charge.

Editor's Note: Kirchner has returned home safely and soundly to Ohio and is not exhibiting any symptoms commonly attributed to COVID-19.

Trending News

 
 

The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

Trending News

 
 

New minivan

Honda announces new Odyssey Sport

Sport is a new trim for the Odyssey minivan.

Honda

The Honda Odyssey may not be the most exciting vehicle in the world, but it's getting a new Sport model that at least makes it look the part. Honda will release the model for the 2023 model year, and the Odyssey line overall will be offered with a new Honda Service Pass, which includes two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance.

The Odyssey Sport slots into the Honda catalog between the EX-L and Touring trims. It comes with gloss-black exterior trim and black 19-inch wheels outside, and black leather with red stitching inside. The cabin comes with red accent lighting on the dash and in the footwells, and the roof pillars and headliner are both black. Under the hood, the Odyssey Sport gets the same 3.5-liter V6 from years past. It makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, and comes paired with a ten=speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.

2023 Honda Odyssey SportThe Sport comes with dark exterior trim and unique leather upholstery with red stitching inside. Honda

All Odyssey models come with Honda Sensing safety equipment, which includes adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection. The 2023 van hasn't been crash-tested yet, but the 2022 model earned a Top Safety Pick + award, so it's likely the new model will be rated similarly.

Honda Service Pass is a new program for 2023+ Honda vehicles. It covers routine scheduled maintenance for up to two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. Under the program, buyers get free oil changes, tire rotations, and multi-point inspections.

Trending News