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223 Miles in Toyota's Tesla-Based SUV

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Let's say you want a Tesla (TSLA - Get Report). However, you want it to be an SUV. Also, you want it for half the price of a Tesla.

Luckily, if you live in California, Toyota (TM - Get Report) has answered your prayers. It has brought to the California market a Tesla-based SUV for half the price of the entry-level Tesla, and I drove 223 miles in it over a few days.

You can have the base Tesla for as little as $71,000. Toyota sells its SUV version with a similar Tesla electric motor and a smaller battery for $51,000. However, unlike Tesla, it offers a $9,300 discount. Both cars are eligible for $10,000 in tax incentives for Californians.

That means the Toyota can be had for $32,000 before sales tax, compared to $61,000 for the Tesla Model S -- approximately half the price. Obviously, Tesla's average selling price is much higher than $61,000 given plenty of options available, with a potential for over $110,000. The Toyota's only options are a choice of three colors.

In the Toyota, the Tesla electric motor has been moved from the back of the car to the front. The battery sits under the floor, and you can choose to charge it to 35 kWh or 41.8 kWh. Over a variety of conditions, including the cold/warm seasons, you should expect to average almost three miles per kWh for a typical range of 95 to 115 miles.

The Toyota RAV4 EV occupies a unique space in the plug-in car market today. There is nothing like it, and there may never be. What do I mean by that?

On the one hand, we have cars such as General Motors' (GM) Chevy Volt, Ford's (F) Focus Electric and the Fiat 500e. They are adequately fast but they are all very noticeably slower than the Tesla-based Toyota RAV4 EV. They also have smaller interior space.

On the other hand, we have the Tesla Model S. It is blisteringly fast, 0-60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds. In contrast, the Tesla-based Toyota can't match it to the millimeter.

However, the Toyota feels faster than the Tesla Model S, in an old-world sense of the experience. A key reason for this: the tires. Whereas the Tesla Model S rides on wide, low-profile tires, the Toyota has very regular -- and dramatically less expensive -- narrow SUV highway tires.
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