Halfway: 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

The shift towards electric vehicles has begun whether you like it or not, and the pace is increasing. The mandates are happening and governmental incentives can still be found. The real question is, what if you have a long distance to travel and are afraid of running out of juice? There are lots of ways to solve this problem. If you drive full electric, you move from charging station to charging station and pray that they’re working and available when you get there. In some parts of our area in Upstate, NY, a fast charging station is no guarantee. So perhaps being able to charge all the time is a better solution. The plug-in hybrid vehicle, or PHEV, solves the electricity problem by carrying its charger around with it. Some may call them a means to an end, or simply a middle-ground until fully-electric infrastructure becomes available, but having an internal combustion engine on board to charge the battery and drive the vehicle itself if necessary is a huge peace of mind. For my money right now, the plug-in hybrid route is the best way to go. For 2021, Toyota happens to have one of the best on the market with the new RAV4 Prime.

I spent a week with the RAV4 Prime to see what it’s like to be the ‘tweener at the crossroads of the electric revolution. Sure we’ve driven hybrids before, including Toyota’s own 2020 RAV4 Hybrid, but this is different. My normal commute is about 18 miles one way to and from my primary job and the RAV4 Prime is rated at 42 miles on a single charge. My commute is mixed driving of highway and some stop-and-go traffic. It was the perfect test-bed ofthis technology for my personal use case, and I’m happy to report that even with my 36 mile round trip, I was easily returning home with 10-12 miles of EV range left. Over the week, I put approximately 400 miles on the RAV4 Prime, used roughly 1/4 tank of gas, and averaged over 60mpg when using only the internal combustion engine. Interestingly, I charged the Prime at home with a wall outlet and, even from completely dead, it would charge to full overnight and be ready for the next morning. As someone who may not have the use-case for the full 240V wall charge set-up, this seemed to be a reasonable option, at least in my week. It should be stated though that this test took place in the summer, and I would expect a decrease in efficiency over the winter months.

Now, with all that out of the way, how was the car itself to drive? Well, to put it plainly, this is by far the best RAV4 on sale today. Like I stated before, we’ve driven this generation RAV4 quite extensively and we do enjoy it, but this powertrain suits the vehicle better than any other application. Power is ample and is rated at 302 horsepower combined with the front and rear axle electric motors and the familiar 2.5L four-cylinder up front. All is attached to a CVT that you cannot tell is one until you’re foot-to-the-floor for more than a few seconds, which in a car this fast is rare. Fast and RAV4 certainly don’t belong together, right? Totally wrong in this case…this car is fast. The four-cylinder and the hybrid powertrain combine for a sub 6 second 0-60, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the mid to low 5 second range. The extra battery pack adds some weight, but you’re not going to be carving corners with any RAV4 regardless, so that’s not necessarily a penalty you’ll be feeling. The regenerative brakes are adjustable with the paddles on the wheel, but just leaving that alone felt most natural in daily driving and seemed to still regenerate as much as possible.

Inside is very familiar to every other RAV4. Some different stitching and some gauge updates are all that make themselves known as differentiating factors. Since ours had every option, the Premium Package allowed a heads-up display that was blurry and headache inducing, adaptive headlights, panoramic moonroof and ventilated seats. All niceties that are, and should be included in an over $46,000 asking price. One other benefit of the XSE Premium Package is the upgrade from standard 3.3kW to an 6.6kW on-board charger. With this greater charging capability and a 240V home charger or public Level 2 charger , the RAV4 Prime can fully charge in only 2.5 hours!

If you’re dreading the upcoming EV takeover, perhaps the halfway point is a good place to start. If you are given the opportunity to test the waters and get comfortable with the technology, capability, and infrastructure, fully-electric adoption might not seem so daunting. Thankfully with vehicles as good as the RAV4 Prime, you have a great baseline to start with.

-Scott Villeneuve

2021 RAV4 Prime XSE$41,675
Supersonic Red/Midnight Black Metallic roof$425
XSE Premium Package with options$5,760
Destination Charges$1,215
As-Tested MSRP$49,075

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