There are a few times in your life when you get behind the wheel of a vehicle and experience something totally unexpected. My recent week with the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is one of those times. This isn’t just any RAV4. It’s the first-ever plug-in hybrid for the RAV4 lineup with performance that will change the way you think about mainstream electrified vehicles.
The PRIME is the most powerful and fastest RAV4 ever with the quickest 0 to 60 time in the lineup behind the Supra. Yes, guys. You read that right, it’s second only to a sports coupe. With a 42 mile EV-only range, it also offers more range than any other PHEV SUV on the market right now, luxury brands included.
It’s of course fuel-efficient plus offers a great ride and drive. Cabin comfort is terrific too in my top-of-the-line XSE model, which is, admittedly, loaded with goodies.
The secret to the PRIME’s success is its powertrain so we’ll start there. It shares its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with the regular hybrid. But with more powerful motor-generators, a newly developed high-capacity Lithium-Ion battery and a booster converter, it delivers more power. The PRIME’s Hybrid System’s combined 302-horsepower is an 83-horsepower boost over the standard hybrid. As far as torque goes - the gas engine delivers 165 lb.-ft and the electric motors deliver 199 (front) /89 (rear) lb.-ft. (The rear motor powers standard all-wheel drive.)
All of this adds up to some quick and effortless acceleration that I have to say pretty amazing. Step on the gas pedal and you are off to the races! Toyota clocks a 0 to 60 time of 5.7 seconds. (Car and Driver clocked it in 5.4! ) While EV mode is quick, you’ll get the best performance in hybrid mode, since you are using all the muscle the powertrain offers.
The PRIME delivers an estimated 42-mile range on a single charge, (though like MPG estimates actual range can vary.) Once you use that up, it switches into Hybrid mode for 38 combined mpg. An auto HV/EV button automatically switches between hybrid and electric mode depending on your driving, meaning the gas engine will kick in when needed. A HV/EV charge hold button allows you to choose between the two. Plus charge hold tells the engine to charge the battery.
To charge, you just plug the cord into the charging port on the passenger side. It locks into place and a green light signifies charging has commenced. It will also give you that info on the driver display screen along with the projected charging time. (Note, you’ll need to unlock the car before you can remove the plug from the port otherwise it won’t budge.)
Level 1 vs Level 2 Times
Using the included charging cable and standard 3.3 kW on-board charger, the PRIME takes 12 hours to charge using a 120-volt level one charging from a home outlet. Level 2 240-volt charging at a public charging station whittles that down to as little as 4.5 hours. An optional 6.6 kW enhanced on-board charger on the XSE cuts Level 2 down to 2.5 hours.
Based on the 4th-gen model that arrived in 2019, the PRIME retains the boxy, rugged look in the redesign. My two-tone model stands out in Supersonic Red paired with a black roof. It’s also equipped with the PRIME’s first-ever 19-inch 5-spoke wheels, and they are also sporting some pretty colorful optional wheel locks. The PRIME’s unique black-diamond patterned front grille features a blue Toyota logo that designates it a hybrid. A new vertical lip strip replaces the fog lights on the standard model, telling you it’s the PRIME. This XSE trim has optional adaptive swiveling LED headlights and automatic high beams. There are LED taillights and dual exhaust tips in the rear and optional roof bars on top.
The RAV4 Prime’s XSE black and silver-trimmed interior features a soft-touch dash, door and armrests along with plastic in places. It’s nicely designed and user friendly. A Premium package features unique black, well-designed and comfortable SofTex leatherette seats with side bolsters and red accents along with an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with memory as well as a 4-way power passenger seat and heated and ventilated front seats.
When you press the push button start, you’re greeted by the sound of an electric vehicle, not a gas engine, provided you are starting in EV mode.
A bright, 7-inch digital driver display with a blue/green color theme offers standard driver info plus things unique to the hybrid like EV/HV range and EV drive ratio. Scroll through the menu using the controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters.
On the center stack you can control dual-zone climate with large, easy to grip rubber dials. On the center console there are controls for the electric parking brake, automatic brake hold and four drive modes: sport, eco, normal plus a trail mode.
The RAV4 PRIME XSE comes with a standard 9-inch touchscreen, the largest in the lineup. The touchscreen is responsive, easy to navigate with full screen maps and pinch-and-zoom capability. I also found it less reflective than the screens in other Toyotas. You can connect to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa. Voice command works great, too. One thing on my wish list - a higher resolution back-up camera. Wireless charging is standard and there are 5 USB ports.
The roomy RAV4 offers plenty of head- and leg-room throughout the cabin. The slightly reclined back seats are slightly raised due to the battery. A drop-down center armrest provides cupholders. The PRIME’s optional kick sensor power liftgate that operates quickly. There is plenty of trunk space though slightly less than the standard RAV4. A cargo cover hides your valuables.
The RAV4 ride quality feels great from the driver’s seat. It feels planted to the ground thanks to the weight and placement of the battery. At the same time you have a great ride height thanks to the XSE’s 8.3 inches of ground clearance. The suspension handles potholes with smoothness and ease. I found it just really comfortable and easy to drive with a great turning radius. Braking was confident. There was some road noise in the cabin, but that is not unusual for the segment.
A Premium package ($3,765) includes Toyota’s razor-sharp digital rearview mirror, the RAV4’s first color 10-inch head-up display, 6.6 kW on-board charger, panoramic sunroof, the adaptive swiveling headlights, kick sensor liftgate, and birds-eye view perimeter scan.
The Premium Audio package ($1,620) adds an 11-speaker JBL system and Dynamic Navigation package.
The Weather package ($375) adds a heated steering wheel and rain sensing wipers with a de-icer function.
The roof rack, mudguard, cargo mats and wheel locks are also optional.
Standard Safety Sense (TSS 2.0) includes Pre-Collision with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist. The PRIME notably adds standard Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic. Front and Rear Parking Assist with Automated Braking is optional.
The sticker price on this loaded model comes in at nearly $50,000, which may sound high for a RAV4. But when you consider its amazingly quick and sure-footed performance, it makes sense. Plus, you may be eligible for a federal tax credit.
Also prepare yourself to be patient. The RAV4 PRIME is a highly anticipated vehicle that will likely be hard to find this year, due to reported battery supply issues.
2021 Toyota RAV4 PRIME XSE Review
- What I liked most: Its jaw-dropping acceleration.
- What I would change: Improve the back-up camera’s resolution.
- MSRP: Base $41,425; As equipped $49,776.
- Fuel Economy: 38 city/hwy combined / 94 combined MPG.
- Fuel Tank: 14.5 gallons with filler on the driver’s side.
- Dimensions: 180.9” long/ 73” wide/67.2” high.
- Weight: 4,300 lbs.
- Trailer Towing: 2,500 pounds (vs 1,500 lbs Standard Hybrid).
- Miles When Tested: 370 miles.
- Official Color: Supersonic Red ($425).
- Spare tire: Yes.
- Final Assembly Point: Obu, Aichi, Japan.
- 2021 Toyota RAV4 PRIME in a few words: Pinch me, am I really driving a RAV4?
- Warranty: 36 months/36,000-mile Comprehensive; 60 months/60,000-mile Powertrain; 60 months/unlimited-mileage Corrosion Perforation; 96 months/100,000 miles Hybrid System; 10 years/150,000 miles Hybrid Battery (transferable across ownership);Complimentary maintenance plan with the purchase or lease of every new Toyota for 2 years or 25,000 miles.
- Manufacturers website: Toyota