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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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Sony's team is testing the Vision-S on the streets of Austria.

Photo courtesy of Sony

One year ago Sony surprised the crowds at CES with the Vision -S, a concept vehicle meant to further the discussion on safety, security, and entertainment. The vehicle has moved from concept to prototype, taking to the roads of Europe for testing.

The car has been driving the roads of Austria since December 2020, according to the company, for technical evaluation. Evaluation of what? We're so glad you asked.

If the car is technologically similar to what has presented at CES last year, on-board is Sony's imaging and sensing technologies as well as software regulated using Sony's AI, telecommunication, and cloud technologies.

Sony Vision-S The Sonny Vision S is a working vehicle prototype now. Photo courtesy of Sony

The car, which was built in cooperations with Magna Steyr, features 33 sensors, including CMOS image sensors and time of flight (ToF) sensors within the vehicle. These sensors are designed to detect and recognize people and objects inside and outside the vehicle, and provide "highly advanced driving support."

Each of the two rows of seating in the vehicle features Sony's 360 Reality Audio system. Bose has similar technology built into the Nissan Kicks.

The crossover-lie car's front seats have a panoramic screen in front of them that has the ability to display rich content.

Does this mean that Sony will begin to make cars? The quick answer is no. Sony does not appear itching to get into the car business though the products that result from this testing will likely be available to automakers offering additional competition for components in a fast-paced marketplace where the technology is evolving quickly.

The real winner here could be consumers who will benefit from the stiff completion between suppliers and be on the receiving end of better technology because of it.

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A general view of the Mercedes Laver Cup cars in front of TD Garden in promotion of Laver Cup Boston 2020 on March 2, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images for The Laver Cup

The 2050 Decorbonization Roadmap laid out by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in December makes it clear, the sale of new gasoline-powered cars will end by 2035. It's all part of the Commonwealth government's push to Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Though it's not law, the guidelines set forth in the plan make it clear that the internal combustion vehicle is marked for dead despite the current very low rate of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicle adoption. Despite pushes from government, advocacy groups, and the automakers themselves, the public just isn't buying electric vehicles at a high volume. In the last 10 years, there have been just 1.6 million plug-in electric vehicles sold in the U.S.(BEVs and PHEVs) out of over 156 million light-duty vehicles sold in the U.S. during the same time period according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Ford sold more than 1.6 million F-150s in 2018-2019 alone.

2020 Hyundai Nexo The Hyundai Nexo runs on a hydrogen fuel cell rather than a traditional electric battery setup. Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Effectively, Massachusetts is set to eliminate choice for its residents, a move that echos recent action by the State of California.

The Roadmap looks to slowly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions using the measurement of million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e). The baseline the study uses for measurement is 1990, where there was 94.5 MMTCO2e in the Commonwealth. 2005 was the last year where emissions were above that level. They've been sinking since.

By 2017, emissions were 22.7 percent below 1990 numbers nearing the 70.8 MMTCO2e goal set by the commonwealth for 2020. Sixty-nine percent of that is from households and light-duty vehicles. Light-duty vehicles make 27 percent of the state's emissions.

Efforts to decarbonize come in four areas: end use energy (transitioning away from fossil fuels), energy flexibility and efficiency (aggressively pursuing energy efficiency and flexibility to enable cost-effective decarbonization), decarbonizing energy supply (production of zero and low-carbon energy supplies), and carbon sequestration (facilitating carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere).

The Roadmap contends that "although several clean options already exist for both light-duty transportation and for home and small business building services, across our in-depth analysis, electrification tends to be the most cost-effective - both individually and system-wide - and easiest to deploy." Basically, if the government requires buyers to purchase more electric cars, their cost will go down and that area of the graph is "fixed".

A 2021 Toyota Mirai fills up with fuel at a station in Southern California.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

The report doesn't completely neglect hydrogen use in vehicles. It says that "zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen help power the rest of the transportation system". By "the rest" they mean vehicles that aren't cars, trucks, or buses. That means high-load transportation vehicles like tractor trailers will be able to use hydrogen but the public would be discouraged from purchasing and driving a Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Nexo, both of which run on hydrogen fuel cell (FCEV) technology, are available for sale today, and produce only water vapor out of the tailpipe.

Massachusetts and other states in the northeast face a unique barrier to widespread hydrogen fuels adoption. According to Toyota, in the 1980s, many municipalities in the area outlawed the transportation of combustable fuels over bridges and through tunnels. Using hydrogen as a fuel in vehicles is not as risky as traditional transportation methods because of the technology that has evolved to protect the fuel, vehicle, and passengers. However, these laws have not changed to accommodate the advances. This means that driving a FCEV over a bridge or through a tunnel in some areas is illegal despite the fact that a neighboring jurisdiction may have modernized their regulations.

Most automakers are willing to publicly admit that their company views FCEVs as the endgame while battery electric vehicles (BEVs) like the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model 3 as merely roadways to the full FCEV future.

The Roadmap spells out other ways in which the Commonwealth is committed to reducing the amount of fossil fuels emitted by vehicles including maintenance and support of existing public transportation systems, reducing single occupancy vehicles "where possible", making complementary land use decisions, and supporting active transportation architecture like bike lanes and sidewalks.

The report lays out the biggest obstacle facing wider spread adoption of electric vehicles by residents, the development of dependable and accessible charging infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth and in residents' homes. Europe, which is far ahead of the U.S in terms of regulating certain types of vehicles into popularity and the government subsidization of energy initiatives, still struggles with charging infrastructure woes.

Uncovered in the plan are the business consequences of the actions set forth. Assuming not as many people will need gasoline to run their vehicles, it is likely that gas stations will go out of business. The transportation of fossil fuels has its own sector of the industry that will be made mostly redundant. Vehicle service centers, often independent retailers, will be forced to spend big on equipment so that they can service electric vehicles as they gain popularity due to government regulation. Recently, many Cadillac dealerships balked at the quarter-million dollar cost of installing EV repair and service technology at their dealerships instead electing to give up their dealership rights entirely.

The report does say that "close attention and vigilant care is given to mitigate any undue or avoidable impact or burden on Massachusetts' residents across the Commonwealth's entire economic, social, and geographic diversity."

However, t does not cover what could happen if new vehicle buyers simply cross the border into Maine, Rhode Island, or Connecticut and purchase their new internal combustion vehicle there.

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