Toyota RAV4 Prime — Power and frugality combined

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(August 22, 2021)The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in crossover hybrid comes with 302 horsepower and a 0-to-60 time in the mid five seconds, can tow up to 2,500 pounds, run up to 42 miles on pure electric, and has an astounding combined gas mileage rating of 38 mpg. Is this the perfect compact SUV, or what?


The performance, which never fails to impress, together with the overall driving dynamics and the Prime's stylish exterior treatment will have you singing hosanna. It's an impressive display of matching frugal mainstream driving with the kind of flashy performance the dad of the family will love for a weekend jaunt and the mom of the family will enjoy during the week transporting the kids to and from school and completing the household grocery and pharmacy chores without burning one ounce of gas.

But wait. There's a slight catch — isn't there always? You will have to shell out $41,488 for the base SE trim and up to $50,000 for a well-equipped XSE. That's a heap of cash for a RAV4, even this good. Holy Batmobile, Robin!

There is good news here, too, however. The high cost can be mitigated by an available $7,500 government tax credit bringing the effective purchase price down to that of a high-end gas-powered RAV4. If you can get past the price tag, which will be helped by the tax savings, then we recommend the RAV4 Prime. It's the best Toyota crossover we've ever driven.  

So back to perhaps some bad news. Toyota doesn't seem to be manufacturing very many of the Prime. You might have to look around a bit to find one.

Let's break down the nuts and bolts of this very interesting RAV4 model. The Prime features a 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder gas engine making 177 horsepower combined with two permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor-generators that make 179 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. This is significantly more than the standard RAV4 hybrid that creates 118 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque. Electricity to power the system is stored in an 18.1 k-Wh lithium-ion battery pack. Total available horsepower is 302.

The battery can be charged up in five to six hours with a 240V outlet. If you only have a 110V, fear not it will take only about 12 hours to charge, which in most cases is less than the length of time the car is stored in the garage overnight.

We think this is a great alternative to a full electric vehicle for a family that spends most of its time doing everyday chores or commuting 30-to-35 miles round trip to work. Most of it can be done gas free.  Toyota says the battery is good enough for 42 miles of pure electric driving. We managed about 40. It depends on the speed you drive — it can sustain all-electric driving up to 84 mph.

At the same time, the RAV4 is ready for road trips without the necessity of planning stops at fast charging stations during the journey.

While the Prime weighs in at a rather portly 4,400 pounds — 579 more than the standard hybrid — it still has the ability to accelerate in a recorded 5.4 seconds. At the same time, perhaps because of the added poundage, we thought it rode better than any of the other RAV4 models. The one downside is that stopping time was not as good as its standard hybrid counterpart.

The RAV4 cabin has a spacious quality with excellent materials that look and feel good to the touch, and the dashboard's clean design is welcoming. Seating is comfortable, and rear-seaters will find ample legroom. There are three audio systems to choose from with the premium option featuring 11 speakers and 800 watts. All have Apple CarPlay, Wi-Fi Connect, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

The touchscreen is flanked by easy-to-use volume and tuning knobs for the radio, and big rubberized knobs along with a series of buttons for climate-control. Storage spaces abound thanks to the two-tiered dashboard and large center console. In this age when easy-to-use knobs are going away in favor of hard-to-use sliders or touch points, we give Toyota standing ovation.

To Toyota's credit many standard safety features are bundled into what Toyota calls its Toyota Safety Sense package. The package includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beams, lane tracing assist, and road sign assist.

The RAV4 Prime comes in only two trim levels — SE and XSE. The difference is in features starting at $41,488 and $47,584 respectively. Both trims come with all-wheel drive and the comprehensive safety package including adaptive cruise control. What we liked on our XSE test car was the black two-tone paint (very fetching), the slightly larger 9-inch touchscreen, simulated leather upholstery, and the wireless charging pad.

We also got the $3,756 Premium Package, which brought such good stuff as a 10-inch color head-up display, an overhead 360 degree camera, digital rearview mirror, foot-activated power liftgate, memory power driver's seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, and a power outlet in the cargo area. Bottom line on our test vehicle was $49,633.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime


Base price: $41,488; as driven, $49,663
Engine: 2.5-liter 4 cylinder
Electric: 3 electric motors
Horsepower: 302 total
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 180.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,400 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 33.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 69.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 38 combined
0-60: 5.4 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Escape plug-in hybrid, Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid

The Good
• 42 miles of electric-only range
• Impressive acceleration
• Comfortable ride
• Excellent cargo space

The Bad
• Transmission can be noisy

The Ugly
• Long braking distance