My Thoughts Exactly: 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

If you have not caught up on your Toyota line-up, you are probably wondering why they are calling this plug-in hybrid version of their popular RAV4 "Prime."

Is it named after the Jackson State University football coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders? No. 

Is it a paean to a character in the “Transformers” series? No. 

Is it a special edition made for Amazon customers? No. 

The word "Prime" is a way for Toyota to identify their plug-in hybrid models from the rest of their Hybrid lineup. For example, the Prius Prime

So, what’s in a name? Especially with the best-selling SUV in the USA and its newest driveline offering? 

Toyota wanted to expand their electrified vehicle lineup and the RAV4 has always been a prime product to do so. After all, Toyota’s first battery-electric vehicle was a RAV4. 

For 2021, the RAV4 Prime adds a plug-in receptacle to its hybrid driveline. My question – as with any such electrified vehicle – is "does it work?"

Let’s start with the propulsion set-up. When you start up a RAV4 Prime, power will come from the electric motor. If the battery is fully charged, you get 38 miles of driving range in EV Mode. That’s better than almost every plug-in hybrid vehicle I ever worked with. 

Charging is done from the passenger side of the rear of the RAV4 Prime. It can only take up to a Level 2 charge – 240 volt cycle – from your home or public charger. The RAV4 also comes with a 120-volt charging cord. Charging time using that cord is up to 12 hours. My tester had an upgraded charging system, running at 6.6 kilowatts. If I plug the RAV4 Prime into a 240 volt charging unit, including public chargers, I should have around two-and-a-half hours to recharge the battery from empty. Normally, that recharge would take four-and-a-half hours. 

Once your battery is drained, power is switched seamlessly to the RAV4’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. This engine is quite familiar, as it is the basic powerplant for the RAV4. It is also the gasoline engine attached to the non-plug-in RAV4 Hybrid. 

This tester has an electric all-wheel-drive funneled through a continuously variable transmission. Traction-wise, this is a good choice for this vehicle. I love how the transmission worked well with both the electric motor and the gasoline engine by providing quiet performance from start-up to some typical highway driving. 

How do I explain the fuel economy on this one? The way the instrument cluster’s center screen reads it, that depends on which motor you are using. In electric mode, I get a reading in miles per kilowatt-hour. If the system flips to the gasoline engine, I get a “clockdown” on fuel economy for miles-per-gallon. With that said, I earned an average of 2.5 miles-per-kilowatt-hour on electric driving along with a 49.5 MPG rating on the gasoline side. 

Energy feedback aside, the RAV4 Prime is really a lovely SUV to drive around town. Its driving dynamics are not far off from a regular ol’ RAV4. Yet, I did find some things that I wished should be reigned in a bit, such as the on-center feel of the steering on the highway and the pedal feel for the brakes. 

As you well know, I nitpick a bit. Your driving experience may differ. Just saying. 

One thing I really want to cover in this review is the interior. Granted, I could say that "this is all familiar" because I had experience in the RAV4 before. However, this XSE cabin is truly spot on in terms of comfort and environment. The upholstery felt right, the seats were well-balanced between comfort and support, and I just love the red stitching accents against this black cabin. 

I give the highest praise to the instrument cluster. Not just to the excellent center screen, but to how precise the information was for the driver. Even the fuel and battery gauges were precise. Everything else is all RAV4 – one of the better interior environments of any vehicle in its class.

Toyota will have 5,000 of these plug-in hybrids available on sale for the 2021 model year. If you’re looking for one right now, you’re out of luck. They are not at dealerships at this time – but coming later in the model year. You do have two trim levels to choose from – SE and XSE. Pricing for the RAV4 Prime starts at $38,100. My loaded up RAV4 Prime XSE came with a sticker price of $49,578. In the case of any tax credits, please check with your national and local tax authorities – and your selling dealership – on what you are eligible for.

Please note that for 2021, you now have 13 different RAV4s to choose from – including Hybrids and Prime models. 

Overall, this is such a wonderful RAV4! Scratch that…a wonderful plug-in hybrid! OK, it is simply wonderful. 

But, one thing is bugging me about the RAV4 Prime – the price. While you can get the Prime SE for just over $38,000, this XSE is coming in close to $50,000. Do you want to spend $50K on a RAV4? Plus, what if your community does not have a strong public charging infrastructure? That point alone opens a huge can of worms about plug-in vehicle ownership. 

If you fine with these two points, you will get a rare opportunity to own what could be the best Toyota RAV4 around. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America

All photos by Randy Stern

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