The RAV4 is now the crown jewel of the Toyota empire, having replaced the Camry’s long tenure as best-selling non-pickup truck in America a few years ago. While Toyota has been the name in hybrids for nearly 20+ years, it’s been slower to jump into more electrified vehicles. Yes, the Prius has had a plug-in and now has its own “Prime” but that didn’t really have much appeal outside of Californians looking for carpool lane stickers, especially with the space-agey robot looks. It was a shame, as the Prius Prime was one of the first cars to ride on the well-sorted TNGA platform that now underpins most of Toyota’s car and crossover lineup.
The RAV4 Prime brings Toyota hybrid and electric goodness into a form that nearly all Americans can find appealing, the compact crossover! It’s a plug-in hybrid, PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) in car world speak, and let’s pause to unpack that a bit. It has a big battery pack that can be charged/plugged in, which gives it 42 miles of electric-only range. That 42 mile range is one of the highest of any plug-in hybrid on the market today. The 2021 BMW X5 PHEV can do 30 miles. Volvo XC60 Recharge, just 19, same goes for the Audi Q5 55 PHEV.
Charge port for the RAV4 Prime can be found on the passenger side. Gas tank is on the driver side.
RAV4 Prime also has a gasoline engine and tank for more typical hybrid operation, under which it can get nearly 40 miles per gallon! No, you don’t have to plug the RAV4 Prime in to drive it, you could utilize it solely as a pretty efficient gas hybrid SUV, but what would be the point then? There’s already a RAV4 Hybrid for that, which is cheaper as well.
By maximizing that 42 mile electric range, I’m willing to bet that many people could accomplish a majority of their day to day tasks with just electric power. Now, if you had to use nearly all that electric power every day, then it would be difficult to charge back up completely at home if you don’t have a high power, level 2 charging system. With a standard household outlet, going from empty to full takes a whopping 12 hours. Now, if you didn’t use the full battery each day, perhaps you could top off enough over night. If you DO have a level 2 charging outlet available, that recharge time drops to 2.5 to 4.5 hours depending on how your RAV4 Prime is equipped.
We have a Level 2 Charger at home, making electric top offs a breeze.
So how does all this whizbangery drive? In a word, smoov. Toyota is one of the best when it comes to hybrid blending and it shows with the Prime. You can also pick and choose what hybrid/electric drive mode you want, given that there’s enough juice to do it. EV mode focuses on, shocking, electric mode. Now in typical Toyota hybrids, if you even looked at the accelerator pedal, it would jump out of EV mode. Luckily this has the big battery and beans to back it up. Even if you floor it in EV mode, it won’t bring in the gas power. That said, this isn’t the fastest the RAV4 Prime mode, that would be Auto EV/HV mode. This mode can prioritize EV driving, but can summon more power through kicking on the gas engine. There’s Hybrid mode, which prioritizes the gas hybrid engine power, which is most efficient on segments like high speed highway drives. You could then conserve some EV driving range for when you’re off the highway. However, EV range can still go down when in hybrid mode. If you need EV range later, but no time for a plug-in charge, there is a Charge mode, in which you can use the gas engine to charge up the large plug-in battery. This isn’t particularly efficient though, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Driving this thing around town and on the highway like a normal person would, the RAV4 Prime continues to shine, even leapfrogging the aging Lexus NX300h hybrid that we tested not too long ago. Where the Lexus structure and handling felt a bit loose and wobbly, the RAV4 Prime is buttoned down and sharp, but was never harsh. We’ve noted this good balance in many of the newer Toyotas. In electric mode, power is smooth and quiet. The transition to gas hybrid power is also well-managed and refined, as is the braking blend of energy capture with regeneration and traditional friction braking. Only hiccup with braking we noted was in slow/low speed maneuvers when it often felt that you had to press the pedal farther than expected to bring the vehicle to a full stop. The gas engine does sound a bit coarse during harder acceleration or if you were to use the Charge mode. This is something we noted even with the standard gas RAV4s. So some additional sound insulation from the engine might be called for. But again, if you’re able to drive primarily in EV modes, you’ll rarely deal with it, except for those long hauls, and even then, only when accelerating.
Display shows how many miles of EV and Hybrid gas range you have left. Display itself could be a bit sharper in resolution and darkness.
Whether in town or on the road, the RAV4 Prime comes with plenty of safety, tech and convenience features. Toyota’s Safety Sense suite brings active safety tech like automatic emergency braking, active lane departure assist and adaptive cruise control with lane tracing assist. Apple Carplay and Android Auto are also standard on the RAV4 Prime, and while the XSE does have a wireless charging pad, you’ll still need to connect your phone through the USB port. Our XSE also had the Premium Package, adding goodies like a digital rear view mirror, kick to open rear door, touch handle access rear doors, panoramic roof and vented front seats. A Weather Package added a heated steering wheel and heated rear outboard seats among other things.
Pretty standard RAV4 fare on the inside. 9″ Infotainment screen is standard on the XSE.
All in all, this drove a nearly $50,000 sticker price of our tester. And from our research and internet chatter, dealers are commanding full sticker price, if not asking for market adjustments (aka, mark ups). Yes, the RAV4 Prime is eligible for the maximum federal tax credit of $7,500, but not everyone will be able to maximize that, and that doesn’t help with the initial $$$ outlay that a customer has to fork over at the dealer to buy one. That money could also start to bring a customer into something like the XC60 Recharge and Audi Q5 55 we mentioned earlier, but with some pretty big hits to electric range and hybrid fuel efficiency.
Some things we found lacking, despite having everything the RAV4 Prime offers:
No Leather – Toyota only offers the RAV4 Prime with Fabric or SofTex. SofTex is Toyota’s fairly decent pass at faux leather. And for some people this might be a positive as SofTex doesn’t need as much conditioning, maintenance, etc.
SofTex is one of the better faux leathers out there, but still not quite the real thing.
Limited Front Passenger Seat Adjustment – While the front seat in the XSE is power, it only has 4 basic directions, so no height adjustability of the lower cushion, and also no lumbar adjustments.
No seat height adjustments and no power lumbar for the passenger
No Power Folding Exterior Mirrors – May not be a big deal, but garages and spaces seem to be getting tighter, even for these “compact” utility vehicles. Would like to see power folding mirrors, especially given the price point we’re reaching here.
Rear Seat Flexibility – There’s pretty minimal recline offered in the rear seat, and it’s only 60/40 split folding. We’d like to see a 40-20-40 fold, more recline, and also would like to see rear seat folding releases in the cargo area.
These shortcomings may be on purpose, to help leave room for the next generation of Lexus NX, that we would hope would be able to share parts of this excellent overall offering.
The RAV4 Prime allows you to experience some of the best parts of electric driving, while giving you the flexibility and freedom for fuel efficient long distance cruising with easy fill ups. Toyota has created one of the most compelling PHEV packages on the market now. Crossover? Check. Fuel Efficient? Check. Substantial electric range? Check. All-Wheel Drive? Check. If you can overlook some of the rough edges and some of the content and features that may not live up to the full sticker price billing, the RAV4 Prime still represents one of the best all-around PHEVs you can buy today. Now, if only you could find one and then hope that isn’t horribly marked up. Toyota only earmarked 5,000 RAV4 Primes for the U.S. this year, and only 20,000 in following years.