Better Than the Regular Hybrid?


Toyota’s biggest strength is its hybrid technology, and in our SUV-obsessed market, the RAV4 Hybrid has overtaken the Prius as the best-selling hybrid in the brand’s lineup. The RAV4 Hybrid boasts several advantages over the standard RAV4, including a smoother powertrain and better fuel economy. Now, Toyota is introducing a plug-in version of the RAV4, one that’s more powerful, more fuel efficient, and delivers impressive electric range. That makes the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime the crown jewel of the brand’s SUV lineup.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Range, Fuel Economy, and Charging

One key differentiator between the RAV4 Prime and its siblings is its ability to cover distances on EV power alone. Some customers will be able to commute to work every day without using a drop of gasoline. The RAV4 Prime is expected to travel 42 miles on a single charge, giving it the highest EV range of any plug-in hybrid SUV on the market. Ford’s plug-in hybrid Escape isn’t far behind with an EV range of 37 miles, except the RAV4 Prime has all-wheel drive, while the Escape plug-in hybrid is only available with front-wheel drive.

Charging times vary dramatically depending on the method. Included with the RAV4 Prime is a 3.3-kW, 120V Level 1 charging cable, allowing customers to recharge the battery in about 12 hours from home. With a 3.3-kW 240V charger, the time drops to 4.5 hours. XSE models with the Premium package feature enhanced 6.6-kW charging capability to replenish the battery in 2.5 hours on a faster Level 2 charger. With the gas and electric bits combined, total driving range is expected to be 600 miles.

After initially estimating a fuel economy rating of 90 mpg-e, Toyota is now anticipating greater efficiency. The SUV is expected to deliver 94 mpg-e, an impressive number, but lower than the Escape PHEV’s 100 mpg-e rating.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Performance

It’s counterintuitive to think of a RAV4 as sporty, but Toyota intended this variant to focus heavily on performance. The automaker claims the RAV4 Prime is its second-quickest vehicle, just behind the Supra.

Under the sheetmetal, the RAV4 Prime has a lot in common with the RAV4 Hybrid. It uses the Hybrid’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine, tuned to a slightly higher output. A new lithium-ion battery pack, booster/converter, and more powerful motor-generators give the Prime 83 more horsepower overall compared to the regular RAV4 Hybrid. Total system output is 302 hp, much more juice than you think a small mainstream crossover would need. The Prime is also significantly heavier, though, weighing around 4,300 pounds in top XSE trim.

So how does it all work? There are three different electric modes. In auto/HV mode, the engine kicks on to deliver extra power when needed, such as when you kick the gas pedal. You can select an EV priority mode to run on electric power only, even when you use the accelerator aggressively. A battery charge mode uses engine power to recharge the battery, adding EV range as you drive.

If you use electric power only, acceleration is slower. Toyota estimates a 0-60 mph time of 9.2 seconds in pure EV mode. That’s a far cry from hybrid mode, when Toyota claims it can hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, regardless of the charge state.

Much like the RAV4 Hybrid, the RAV4 Prime’s acceleration is smooth and linear from a stop. Despite the extra horses, it doesn’t feel radically more powerful from a stop than its sibling. The gas engine is quick to jump in with an extra kick when you’re switching lanes on the freeway in hybrid mode. When the engine engages, however, you hear a loud groan.

Toyota says it tweaked the RAV4 Prime’s suspension for a smoother ride, but we didn’t notice a significant improvement from the RAV4 Hybrid. It massages out small bumps well enough but acts jittery over harsh pavement. Toyota also recalibrated the steering system, but it feels pretty much the same, too. It’s just as dull as it is in the RAV4 Hybrid.

Many hybrids suffer a mushy brake feel compared to traditionally powered vehicles. On the RAV4 Prime, the brakes take a little longer to bite down completely, but it’s something we feel we could get used to over time.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Interior

The interior should feel familiar if you’re driven a RAV4 Hybrid. Buttons are smartly laid out on the dashboard, giving the cabin an uncluttered feel. Large, grippy knobs allow you to adjust the climate without taking your eyes off the road. On the lower center console, the shifter and cupholders are placed for easy access. Like with the RAV4 Hybrid, soft-touch materials everywhere make the cabin feel more comfortable. The RAV4 benefits from excellent visibility. It’s easy to see out the vehicle thanks to the low windows and unobtrusive pillars.

Our XSE tester came with a long list of standard features, including plush leatherette seats and ambient lighting. On the tech front, there are five USB ports and wireless phone charging. This top trim also includes a 9-inch touchscreen. On the options roster, a premium package brings along a 10-inch head-up display, exclusive to the Prime. It also includes a foot-activated tailgate, panoramic moonroof, adaptive headlights, perforated and ventilated front seats, and a bird’s eye view camera.

With the battery mounted under the floor, the RAV4 Prime has the same passenger volume as the RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid. But cargo space suffers modestly. It offers 33.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row and 63.2 with the seats folded, compared to 37.5/69.8 cubic feet for its siblings.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Prices and Availability

The RAV4 Prime arrives this July, and it will be sold in all 50 states. In the launch year, Toyota expects to sell 5,000 copies for the U.S. Afterward, 20,000 units are planned yearly.

You can get a RAV4 Hybrid for as little as $29,470. But if you want a Prime, you’ll need to spend almost $10,000 more. Prices start at $39,220 for the base SE model, which is admittedly well equipped. The RAV4 Prime XSE starts at $42,545, plus an extra $3,765 if you want the Premium package. Keep in mind the Prime will be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and any applicable state credits, which should lighten some of the load.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Specifications
BASE PRICE $39,220-$42,545
LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.5L/176-hp/163-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 179-hp/199-lb-ft (front) + 53-hp/89-lb-ft (rear) electric motors; 302 hp comb
TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT 4,250-4,300 lb (MT est)
WHEELBASE 105.9 in
L x W x H 180.9 x 73.0 x 66.9 in
0-60 MPH 5.7-9.2* sec (mfr est)
EPA FUEL ECON 40/36/38 mpg; 90 mpg-e combined (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 84/94 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.51 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE Summer 2020
*9.2 second time is in EV-only mode.



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