Automotive

Review: Electrified RAV4s, Hybrid vs. Prime

Review: Electrified RAV4s, Hyb...
To plug or not to plug? This is the question with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Prime
To plug or not to plug? This is the question with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Prime
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The 2021 RAV4 Prime model's interior is a bit more upscale than the lower-end RAV4 Hybrid models' offer, but that comes at a premium price
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The 2021 RAV4 Prime model's interior is a bit more upscale than the lower-end RAV4 Hybrid models' offer, but that comes at a premium price
Instrumentation in the 2021 RAV4 Prime is similar to that of the RAV4 Hybrid, but differs in that it's more EV-centric in readout and analytics
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Instrumentation in the 2021 RAV4 Prime is similar to that of the RAV4 Hybrid, but differs in that it's more EV-centric in readout and analytics
As noted by all electrified Toyota models, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime includes hints of blue everywhere
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As noted by all electrified Toyota models, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime includes hints of blue everywhere
There is little functional difference between the standard gasoline-only Toyota RAV4 and the RAV4 Prime in the rear seating
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There is little functional difference between the standard gasoline-only Toyota RAV4 and the RAV4 Prime in the rear seating. Except the lack of adjustment in the plug-in model
Cargo space in both the RAV4 Prime and RAV4 Hybrid (shown) is very similar in size and volume
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Cargo space in both the RAV4 Prime and RAV4 Hybrid (shown) is very similar in size and volume
New this year for the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is an XSE Premium model
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New this year for the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is an XSE Premium model
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid looks very much like its standard gasoline counterparts and is offered in 5 trim points
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The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid looks very much like its standard gasoline counterparts and is offered in 5 trim points
This new-generation RAV4 sees Toyota downplaying the edginess of the (perhaps overdone) bulbousness of the previous generation
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This new-generation RAV4 sees Toyota downplaying the edginess of the (perhaps overdone) bulbousness of the previous generation
With all-wheel drive as standard, both the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime models are excellent all-weather drivers
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With all-wheel drive as standard, both the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime models are excellent all-weather drivers
Off the pavement, the RAV4 Hybrid has a slight advantage thanks to its more plentiful drive mode options
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Off the pavement, the RAV4 Hybrid has a slight advantage thanks to its more plentiful drive mode options
Both the RAV4 Hybrid and the RAV4 Prime can have two-tone paint combinations, for a fee
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Both the RAV4 Hybrid and the RAV4 Prime can have two-tone paint combinations, for a fee
The hybrid powertrain in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is similar to most other vehicles with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive
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The hybrid powertrain in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is similar to most other vehicles with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive
The interior of the 2021 RAV4 Hybrid is very much akin to those of the other RAV4 models
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The interior of the 2021 RAV4 Hybrid is very much akin to those of the other RAV4 models
Seat comfort in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is very good, especially in the XSE model (shown)
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Seat comfort in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is very good, especially in the XSE model (shown)
The back seating in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid offer the same adjustments that are found in the gasoline-only models of the RAV4
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The back seating in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid offer the same adjustments that are found in the gasoline-only models of the RAV4
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime has a few signature pieces that give it a unique look from other RAV4 models
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The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime has a few signature pieces that give it a unique look from other RAV4 models
The RAV4 Prime is comfortable, but doesn't drive as well, nor is it as engaging as are the other RAV4 models
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The RAV4 Prime is comfortable, but doesn't drive as well, nor is it as engaging as are the other RAV4 models
Differences between standard RAV4 models and the plug-in RAV4 Prime (shown) are mostly found in the grille and front fascia
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Differences between standard RAV4 models and the plug-in RAV4 Prime (shown) are mostly found in the grille and front fascia
Dealerships in the U.S. are still adding markups to the RAV4 Prime, making it more expensive than even its high MSRP
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Dealerships in the U.S. are still adding markups to the RAV4 Prime, making it more expensive than even its high MSRP
To plug or not to plug? This is the question with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Prime
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To plug or not to plug? This is the question with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Prime
View gallery - 20 images

When the current-generation RAV4 crossover was introduced in 2019, Toyota promised both a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid option. We’ve driven both as 2021 model year offerings. Here’s what we learned about Toyota’s electrified RAV4s.

At a Glance

  • Starting at US$28,500, the RAV4 Hybrid is only slightly more expensive than the non-hybrid option
  • The Hybrid offers five trim level options and is EPA-rated at 38 mpg on the highway
  • The plug-in-hybrid Prime offers 42 miles of electric-only range
  • The Prime is much more expensive and has only two trim levels

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid was introduced in the previous generation of the crossover and carried over into the current generation without too many changes. The hybrid technology just made sense. With it, Toyota introduced what has become the architecture upon which most of its all-wheel drive offerings with a hybrid option are built. Toyota didn’t invent the idea of foregoing physical connections for the rear axle in a front-driven architecture converted to AWD, but the company has taken it to mass production.

The hybrid powertrain in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is similar to most other vehicles with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive
The hybrid powertrain in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is similar to most other vehicles with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive

The RAV4 Hybrid's AWD system works, quite simply, by putting an electric motor on the rear axle and connecting it electronically to the motors and transmission up front. The rear axle is thus driven purely by the motor there, without a physical driveshaft connecting the drivetrain up front. This saves weight, costs, and engineering hassle as well as energy losses. It’s compact, relatively easy to add, and much smarter. And in the RAV4 Hybrid, we’ve noted in the past, it works really well.

Specifically, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid runs an Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated with two electric motors and a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which form the basis of what Toyota calls its Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD). These twin motors act as a generator during regenerative braking, a starter motor, propulsion in all-electric driving, and as a boost to the axle during hybrid operations. A third motor rests on the rear axle to add all-wheel drive. Total output is 219 horsepower (163 kW) in all.

Because the RAV4 Hybrid has been around a little while and has a clear audience of buyers, Toyota offers it in five trim levels, starting at US$28,500 before delivery. That’s not much of a jump from the equivalent gasoline-only model at $26,050. The 2021 RAV4 Hybrid is EPA-rated at 38 mpg on the highway. Comparatively, the standard gasoline RAV4 without all-wheel drive is rated at 35 mpg highway. Adding AWD to that gasoline-only version drops MPG to about 32. That’s a big jump for not much money.

As with all RAV4 models, the RAV4 Hybrid has a roomy interior, lots of cargo space, good passenger and driver comfort, and drives well on the road. It drives better than the gasoline-only model, we think, thanks to better vehicle balance and earlier torque curves. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is, by all accounts, a well-executed small crossover.

Differences between standard RAV4 models and the plug-in RAV4 Prime (shown) are mostly found in the grille and front fascia
Differences between standard RAV4 models and the plug-in RAV4 Prime (shown) are mostly found in the grille and front fascia

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime model takes the Hybrid and goes a step further, adding a plug and a lot more EV-only range. Where the RAV4 Hybrid has about two miles of EV range in all, on the best of days, the RAV4 Prime has about 42 miles (67.6 km). This comes thanks to larger motors and a much larger battery pack.

The Prime has the same basic hybrid setup as does the RAV4 Hybrid, in that motors are running both the front and rear axles. The greatest difference is in the size of those motors and the size of the battery pack (18.1 kWh in the Prime). These combine for 302 horsepower (225 kW) of total output in all-wheel drive, 82 hp more than the Hybrid.

The Prime feels quicker than its counterparts in the RAV4 lineup and is certainly more technologically-advanced in its appeal. It does suffer in terms of drive quality though ... and price point. If you can buy one at manufacturer’s suggested retail (most dealers are currently marking them up), it’ll start at $38,100 before delivery. But for that, you’re getting an MPG-equivalent rating of 94 combined from the EPA. That’s impressive.

And the RAV4 Prime has all of the roominess, cargo space, and general appeal of the other RAV4 models, even if it’s not as engaging to drive.

Both electrified Toyota RAV4 models have Toyota’s full suite of advanced safety systems, including crash mitigation and the like. Both have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay included with their (otherwise outdated) infotainment systems. And both are good looking crossovers.

Although the Prime is currently the only non-premium plug-in hybrid in the segment, we would still recommend shopping it against the other hybrid offerings on the market as they do offer better ride quality, long-term drive comfort, and perhaps more appeal. On the other hand, 42 miles of estimated range (ours varied according to weather and idle times) covers most daily needs, as long as you can get easy access to a plug.

Product Pages: 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

View gallery - 20 images
7 comments
martinwinlow
Given that these things (hybrids) are only marginally more efficient than an comparable fully ICEV (and that the plug-in ones with their *massive* 30 real-wlrd electric-only range are rarely ever plugged-in), unless you really are that gormless that you believe Toyota's "self-charging' ads can actually charge the car's battery from pixie dust... who the heck cares?
Fredrik Klintebäck
I have a 2020 Prime, it is really nice but the heating is lousy in EV mode, and the pre heating is even worse.
Daishi
I like how they use the electric system instead of a drive shaft for the rear wheels in the AWD system. In theory plug in hybrid makes a lot of sense because it gives you battery mode for > 90% of travel and a hybrid system that handles range anxiety beyond that. In practice though the extra ~ $10,000 premium over the regular hybrid model seems hard to justify. it uses a 18.1 kWh battery and by current estimates of around $150/kWh that puts the battery pack cost at around $2,715. Some estimates put costs closer to $100/kWh which put the battery pack in the Prime at about $1,810. I doubt Toyota is simply marking up the price by 500% for sale so it seems like the money the ICE hybrid saved them on allowing a smaller battery pack was basically spent on the complex hybrid system that allows it to work seamlessly together in the first place. With the drop in battery prices maybe plug in hybrid is making less and less sense because here we are in 2021 and the price of the plug in RAV4 is basically on par with a Tesla Model Y even before considering tax savings.
Nibblonian
I test drove a latest generation RAV4 Hybrid when they first came out. I really liked it. With more HP, AWD and better MPG than the ICE version for not much more, I don't know why anyone would even consider the ICE version. I was about ready to buy the RAV4 Hybrid but unfortunately, they were being marked up significantly at the time, so I passed.* Although I can't comment on the driving dynamics of the RAV4 Prime mentioned in the article, adding that to the ~$10K surcharge (or more) for the Prime version makes it much less interesting to me. That puts the Prime price in BEV territory. Yes, the Prime has a bigger battery and bigger electric motors compared to the Hybrid, and no range anxiety compared to BEVs, but BEV pricing and range are looking better and better all the time. (*I ended up getting a used Audi A3 e-tron PHEV with low miles for a little more than half the price of the RAV4).
WB
it is amazing how Toyota has completely missed the boat. They were the leader with Eco.. with their prius, then they managed to completely screw it up and dick around with hybrid that just adds complexity and a better concience... meanwhile they do zero with EV just hydrogen which has been a total failure.
The incompetence there while Tesla has been eating their lunch is mind boggling.
toni24
If they are so impressed with their hybrids they should let me test drive one where I live for a year. I live totally off grid accessed by a road so bad that it qualifies me for running the Baja 500 and the Dakar rally races. If they stand up to the rigors of my life style, then they are ready for the American Market
Don Duncan
Hybrids are/were an attempt to forestall the BEV. Hybrids are "a marriage made in hell". They appealed to the math challenged, as a quick "pay-back" analysis would have shown them to be not economically justifiable. That's why I waited for Tesla to perfect the BEV. Just as I was set to buy, along came the Aptera, reinvented and superior to even Tesla. I put down a deposit. It's only logical.