Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld

Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid performs dangerously in the moose test

Toyota's suv, the RAV4, once again has major problems in our evasive maneuver test, aka the moose test. This time, the new plug-in hybrid model is performing poorly, significantly worse than the regular RAV4 Hybrid.

This article is also available in Swedish.

Bromma Airport, Sweden. The 14 yellow cones that make Swedish car magazine Teknikens Värld's avoidance maneuver test ”The Moose Test” are standing there neatly.The sun peeks out on us, and mild winds are blowing. It's a lot warmer than usual this time of year. That's why we chose to test these cars on summer tyres, which gives us and our readers so many advantages when it comes to testing cars. Amongst them the possibility to do proper moose test.
Due to the corona pandemic we have, for the time being, stopped having real human beings as rear seat passengers during the test. Instead we use 25 liter (6.6 gal) waterfilled cans strapped to the seat and load up wit sand- and lead-filled bags to get the proper weight in the car. The difference between that and actual people is that the centre of weight is lower in the car – which mostly is an advantage for the car. The lower the weight is, the better the car feels.
All three of the cars in this test (Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid, Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid and Volvo XC40 Recharge T4 – all plug-in hybrids) weigh as they are supposed to, according to the registration papers och we load them accordingly to the numbers in the documents.
Tyre pressure is adjusted for full load, where there is such a recommendation. Toyota is one of the manufacturers that doesn't make a difference between empty and fully loaded car, there is only one tyre pressure in the document for the RAV4.

Test driver Ruben Börjesson has mounted our GPS-equipment VBOX from Racelogic in the Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid. Of course it is the first car to be tested, anything else would be unthinkable.
The failure in the moose test by the RAV4 Hybrid (without charging cable) in 2019, which lead to Toyota modifying the electronic stability system and that we tested in Spain in early 2020 – with better results – makes us really hope that Toyota have done their homework this time, and have produced an even better version of the RAV4. You're supposed to learn from your mistakes and progress development further on all levels, right?
Two months ago Toyota Sweden told us that the updated software in their electronic stability system, VSC as Toyota calls it, was implemented in the production of all RAV4 Hybrids for the European market.

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We load the cars with sandbags that are tightely fastened.
Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld
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Ruben Börjesson looks a bit grim, with all rights.
Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld

The first drive through the moose test with the Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid is an icecold awakening. The fast steering is well known from the ”regular” Hybrid, but what comes after we did not expect even in our wildest fantasies: The car is close to spinning around the course. ”Can this even happen in 2020” is my first thought behind the steering wheel.
The stability system seems to not engage – at all. The rear end goes out in a skid that doesn't end until I steer against it hard enough. The skidding angle is extreme. Ruben Börjesson is in the car with me, and we look at each other. We don't really believe what just happened. In 68 km/h (42.3 mph). There is no chance at all to drive through the cones in that speed.
Which clearly signals that the plug-in hybrid is even worse than it's non plug-in sibling, the RAV4 Hybrid, was before the upgrade last year.
So we lower the speed, 67, 66, 65 and 64 km/h. It barely manages to get through the moose test at 63 km/h (39.1 mph).
We change seats, Ruben drives. The behaviour repeats itself. Not even Ruben, who has lived his life in various rally cars, can tell when the rear end skids – the car is about to spin around again in 68 km/h (42.3 mph). His best result is also 63 km/h. So how do the competitors in the test perform?

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Left rim is dangerously close to hitting asphalt as the car leans heavily. The steering is good though.
Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld
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The rear end skid starts to grow and the electronic stability system doesn't seem to react at all when the car loses its grip.
Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld
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The driver has to steer against heavily to stop the skid, still no help from the stability system.
Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld

Mitsubishi Outlander makes it thorugh at 70 km/h (43.5 mph). It wobbles through the course, is hard to place and the steering gets heavier. It doesn't make the limit for passing the test, which is 72 km/h (44.7 mph). But it never skids.
The Volvo XC40 Recharge T4 meets its limit at 71 km/h (44.1 mph), due to loss of front wheel grip. So… three cars fail. But only one of them is really bad. Scandalously bad, Toyota!

DO NOT MISS: The complete test! 

What is happening at Toyota, on the other side of the world? These days Toyota is the only car manufacturer who has so much and reaccurring problems with getting their electronic stability systems to work correctly in the moose test. To add bad to worse this is the fourth time in the last 14 years. Two generations Hiluxes that was close to flipping over and now two different versions of the last generation of RAV4. I mean, once is once too many.
To try to steer around an obstacle, let's say a moose since we're in Sweden (replace the moose for what ever you want, for example a child running out on the road, or a vehicle coming over on your side), and suddenly be close to skid around on the road or be close to flipping over – that's damn wrong.

Both the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid and the Volvo XC40 Recharge T4 understeer out of the track at 70 and 71 km / h respectively (43.5 and 44.1 mph). None of them are approved in the moose test, but run significantly better than the Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid. Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld

The last 20 years the evolution has progressed, sometimes backwards and someimes even sideways when it comes to the function of electronic stability systems. We have seen it all, and we can thank our moose test for that. Korean Hyundai had a hard time to get good results for a long time, but then the 2015 Tucson was introduced – and suddenly it was one of the best cars in the class. And the rest of their models followed in the same positive direction. If we turn the clock back ten more years we find a BMW 5-series that skidded wide. BMW was less than impressed with our results, and officially there was nothing wrong with the car. Very strange indeed, because at the next test, 18 months later when the 5-series had a facelift, the car behaved very well, with no skidding at all.
The same thing occured with Jeep Grand Cherokee that almost flipped over in 2012. This time there were Americans who thought that we were really, really stupid – since there was nothing wrong with the car. But we couldn't help ourselves thinking of all those tyre punctures the car managed to get at Bromma Airport – after Jeep's engineer had tampered with the car.
If you haven't seen the movies of all this, have a look on Youtube. It's a piece of Teknikens Värld history, since the Jeep Grand Cherokee 18 months later came back after a facelift and is one of the best in its class in the moose test. No skidding, no flipping, just a properly working electronic stability system – just as seen in this video.
All the manufacturers that have put these cars on our test track, they did their homework and came back better prepared. They never said that to us, instead there suddenly is a new car in our garage – and the rest is history.

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Autumn of 2019 it looked like this when Toyota Hilux did the moose test. The result from nine years earlier...
Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld
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... is seen in this picture.
Foto: Teknikens Värld
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The summer of 2012 this was what happened to Jeep Grand Cherokee, in a similar speed as the new RAV4.
Foto: Glenn Lindberg / Teknikens Värld

But that does not apply to Toyota. We have had our share of meetings during the years, and I would like to make this clear: Teknikens Värld is completely transparent with our test results. We keep nothing secret, not even before publishing the story. The car manufacturers get all the info we have regarding movies, speeds, loading of the car and so on. Toyota does not differ from that. But they do not learn from their mistakes. In 2019 they launched the RAV4 Hybrid with an electronic stability system that didn't work effectively enough. The system was upgraded and we tested it and it passed with 72 km/h (44.7 mph). And this autumn Toyota told us that the ”new” system was implemented in all cars for the European market – which from our point of view was the obvious way to do it.
But then the RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid is launched. And skids out of the moose test in 64 km/h (39.8 mph).

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid showed a similar behaviour as the RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid now does, but at a higher speed. Toyota upgraded its software for the electronic stability system and the RAV4 Hybrid suddenly passed the test at 72 km/h (44.7 mph), a speed that is our limit for a car to be approved.

In an accidental situation there is nothing more dangerous than meeting a crash with the side of the car. That is why it's so dangerous when the car skids, because you then risk to go sideways into an accident. The massive impact zones in a car is at the front and rear. And to add to that, the wheels and brakes work best straight ahead. To add even more to that, there is always the risk that a skidding car catches the surface and flips over. The risk for that is a lot less with a properly working electronic stabilisation system. Why one of the world's two largest car manufacturers manage to avoid that risk analysis is completely incomprehensible. So the question stands: What is happening at Toyota?

Teknikens Värld's questions for Toyota

• The RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid shows extremely serious skidding tendencies in our moose test, something the RAV4 Hybrid did already in 2019. But the plug-in hybrid skids out of the coned test track at 64 km/h (39.8 mph) instead of 68 km/h (42.3 mph). How is it possible that the new car is so much worse and show a really dangerous behaviour?


• We have got information from Toyota Sweden that the upgraded VSC software (Toyotas name for their electronic stability system) for the RAV4 Hybrid was implemented in production during august 2020 in cars for the European market. Why doesn't the new plug-in hybrid have a system that works as well as in the upgraded RAV4 Hybrid?


• Why doesn't Toyota prioritise a well functioning VSC system that stops the dangerous rear skid before it happens? 


• How can Toyota allow this dangerous behaviour reach the customers?


Toyota Motor Europe's answer:
– The RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid has successfully passed all development testing and fully meets all safety regulations in force in the market on a worldwide basis. Furthermore, it also complies with Toyota internal standards, which surpass the regulatory requirements in a wide array of testing circumstances.

It must also be noted that the RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid is fully equipped with the most advanced version of the Toyota Safety System including a comprehensive range of the latest safety technology, among them a Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert and Vehicle Stability Control.

Following Teknikens Värld’s evaluation, we have replicated their Elk test, which includes an extreme obstacle avoidance manoeuvre, and have produced similar results.

As a countermeasure, we will now take steps to ensure that RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid can pass Teknikens Värld’s Elk test.  

In the meantime, we would like to reassure our customers that the RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid remains safe to drive.

However, in the spirit of continuous improvement, we will make this upgrade available to all customers who would like it within the first quarter of 2021, and we will introduce the upgrade into mass production shortly afterwards.

Teknikens Värld, with test reporter Linus Pröjtz in the front line, advises against buying a Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid until the car model is fixed and without issues.

Comment by Tekniken Värld

”Until the problems are solved, we advise not to buy”


Toyota RAV4 sold almost one million copies all over the world in 2019 (965 760 cars) according to Toyota Europe Newsroom. This corresponds to almost ten percent of the brand's total sales. This is, with other words, an extremely important model for the Japanese brand, which makes what now occuered both hard to handle and extremely embarrasing.

We never got a proper answer to how Toyota can allow such a dangerous behaviour reach their customers. Instead we are told that the car passed through all the tests and safety regulations on all markets around the world. I can tell you that sort of answer did not mean a thing to us when we nearly spun around in the moose test.

Toyota took the tested car back for internal testing, which gave them approximately the same results as we got. No long discussions followed, the answer above is all the communication that has been (update below).

Of course we are both surprised and appalled by the repeated problems with the RAV4's electronic stability systems. And Toyota's solution for already delivered RAV4 Hybrids is based on their customers having to ask for the upgrade. Two errors in the same sentence, a recall is the only solution.

Maybe the wheels are turning too fast for Toyota? Maybe there is a lack of proper communication between different development units in the company? Or maybe it is something so simple and dangerous as a severe misprioritization during the development of the world's best selling SUV. Until the problems are solved we advice against buying the Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid. (Toyota has recently announced that the model will be updated, which you can read more about below)