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 Hybrid The 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 Hybrid The 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 Brooklyn The 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 space The 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.

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The WarnerMediaRIDE App provides thousands of hours of streaming content to Toyota and Lexus vehicle owners.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

If there's one thing parents want, it's a way to keep kids from fighting in the car. Not only that, it has to work. Toyota and AT&T have teamed up to deliver just such a solution to Toyota and Lexus vehicle owners.

When connected to AT&T in-car Wi-Fi, the WarnerMedia RIDE App allows Toyota and Lexus owners to connect up to five compatible devices to browse, stream and share content from the open road. Passengers can view a rotating selection of live and on-demand content, including thousands of hours of hit TV shows and movies from top channels and services such as Cartoon Network, CNN, HBO Max, and TruTV, spanning animation, news and sports programming and more.

Owners of select 2020 model year and newer Toyota and Lexus vehicles are eligible for a complimentary Wi-Fi data plan trial for up to 90 days. Owners can activate their trial within the Toyota and Lexus owners app.

2021 Toyota Highlander Select Toyota vehicles will get the tech. Expect the Toyota Sienna to be one of them. Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

"By working with AT&T to provide access to WarnerMedia RIDE, we are reimagining the in-vehicle entertainment experience and ensuring that passengers have access to their favorite content wherever the road may take them," said Steve Basra, group vice president, Toyota Motor North America, Connected Technologies. "We're also excited to offer additional enhancements within our customer app and to provide one resource for our customers to access their in-vehicle features."

"Customers are hungry for access to new experiences with integrated, everywhere connectivity. Our relationship with Toyota is helping us deliver more for our customers – whether they're on a long road trip or short commute," said Joe Mosele, vice president, Mobility & Internet of Things, AT&T Business. "Since the launch of WarnerMedia RIDE, passengers are enjoying their favorite animated friends with 'Looney Tunes', 'Tom & Jerry', and 'The Jetsons' as some of our most watched content."

The WarnerMedia RIDE is available now in the App Store and Google Play for all U.S. unlimited data plan subscribers. WarnerMedia RIDE is included at no additional cost for existing and new unlimited subscribers. The Toyota and Lexus Owner App download is available for iPhone or Android smartphones.

Toyota isn't the only company getting into the streaming game. Stellantis recently announced that select customers will be able to stream Amazon Prime TV programming in their new Jeep Wagoneers.

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The F-150 has gotten an available hybrid power plant for 2021.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Don't get so focused on similarity of the headlights and bed of the redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 that you miss the significant new details that make the truck one of the best you can buy. Consider that its revisions are a response to consumer demands and the F-150 really begins to shine.

One of the shiniest spots of the F-150 PowerBoost comes from its hybrid powertrain. Its also one of its sorest points. Each F-150 hybrid is equipped with a 3.5-liter hybrid V6 engine. Unlike some engines that are calibrated for fuel economy ahead of power availability, the Ford engine allows for both delivering 430 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque upon request.

2021 Ford F-150 interior features The interior of the F-150 is quite well-appointed, but not as luxurious as the Ram 1500. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

It never really feels like the truck wants for power, but switching from all-electric power off the line to a traditional hybrid power combination while getting up to speed makes the truck shutter to life. Playing it easier on the accelerator does help, not that you need to be a lead foot to make the shutter happen.

Through it all, the transmission doesn't question what is happening. It's smooth as silk, with the same gear ratios with the hybrid engine as it has with all other available F-150 engines.

Buyers can get their PowerBoost powertrain with either two- or four-wheel drive. The 2WD version is more efficient, but just barely, putting up 25 mpg combined to the 4x4's 24. The other F-150 engines fall between 19 and 21 mpg combined. Towing and hauling will significantly impact those numbers (it has a 12,000-pound towing capacity).

As tested in the mid grade Lariat trim, the Ford F-150 felt just right. It wasn't as fancy as the Platinum or King Ranch versions of the truck, but comfortable enough to be lived in with the right blend of refinement and tech. It's a truck you can use every day, not worry about getting dirty, and take your date out in on a Friday night.

2021 Ford F-150 Lockable rear under-seat storage is a major plus when it comes to grocery shopping. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

With the SuperCrew box, the F-150 Lariat starts at $47,055. For the average customer the truck's equipment list is going to make it feel pretty loaded: 12-inch driver information screen, 12-inch infotainment screen, dual-zone automatic climate control, a Wi-Fi hot spot, leather-trimmed seats, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, a Class IV trailer hitch, and Ford Co-Pilot360 2.0.

Plus, it has most of the features that Ford has included as part of its generational revision like the tailgate work surface, lockable rear under-seat storage, flat fold-out work surface in the center console, and foldable shifter.

It all works well, almost too well, as a matter of fact. The features of the interior of the truck are almost nice enough to get you to forget how well the Ram 1500 is appointed for a similar price tag. But, the Ram 1500 doesn't have a full hybrid system, on-board generator, or a host of other technologies that the Ford has.

2021 Ford F-150 interior features The center console folds out to a flat surface that can be used for work or as a table. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Ford is better than the Chevrolet 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, and Ram at all but one thing. Fix the shutter from a stop and the F-150 PowerBoost will quickly become the best choice for pickup truck buyers.

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