Auto123 reviews the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime.
Toyota’s update of its uber-popular compact SUV for the 2019 model-year was one of the most-successful revisions in recent times. Even before it got renewed, the RAV4 was a top choice among Canadian consumers, to the tune of 55,385 units sold in 2018. The revised edition drew in an astounding 65,248 buyers in 2019, becoming the top-selling model in Canada outside of the big pickups.
The success of the RAV4 is no accident, of course. Canadians have good reason to flock to this model that benefits from its maker’s legendary reputation for reliability, great quality of construction, interior versatility and comfort, fuel economy and overall bang for buck.
So from Toyota’s point of view, what do you get the SUV that has seemingly everything? Why, a plug-in hybrid variant of course! The RAV4 Prime has been a long time coming and much anticipated, and now it’s finally here. And demand is such that the first random comment I got from a passerby after parking the vehicle at home was how lucky I was to have gotten my hands on one, the wait for it at dealerships stretching weeks if not months.
The RAV4 Prime runs on a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine. But in this case it’s not working alone, of course – also present is a 134 kW motor located in the rear, and another 40 kw unit in front. Total output of the PHEV is 302 hp, 83 above that of the RAV4 hybrid model. Officially, range on a full charge is 68 km, and Toyota says you can go 979 km between refills of the gas tank; that’s factoring in the energy regeneration of the braking system. Recharging the battery pack from empty takes 2.5 hours on a fast-charging 240-volt outlet, and a leisurely 12 hours on a regular 120-volt plug.
Here’s what I experienced: it did in fact take 12 hours and change to get the battery back to full charge on my home plug. As for the range, at that point the onboard computer gave me 78 km. Which is great, but keep in mind that the range you actually get can vary wildly depending on where you take your RAV4 Prime on a particular day. In one case, I took it on the highway for 15 km and saw my 78-km range melt away to under 30 in almost no time at all. In the city, however, you can really stretch it out, particularly when in traffic and so regularly braking.
The upshot is that owners will likely figure out the true range of their RAV4 Prime according to the use they make of the vehicle. The battery will allow for most typical commutes that cover, say, 20 km each way. Beyond that, you’ll have to dip into the gas tank. But only just dip, which is the important point. My average fuel consumption for the week I spent in the RAV4 Prime was… 1.0L/100 km. I spent a grand total of $2.40 on gas.
Meanwhile, that 68-km range compares favorably to other PHEVs now out or just arriving on the market, for example the Ford Escape (61 km), Subaru Crosstrek (27) and Mitsubishi Outlander (35). Even the battery packs of hoidy-toidy models like the Range Rover (51 km) and Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e (49 km) conk out before the RAV4 Prime’s does.
It’s worth noting that the configuration and capabilities of the 2021 RAV4 Prime mean that it’s eligible for the full federal government electric-vehicle rebate (as well as Quebec’s and British Columbia’s incentives).
On the road
I particularly liked my power of decision over the use of electricity. The SUV comes with a full EV mode, which allows you to stick exclusively with electric power for as long as there is some; or, you can switch it off on a long stretch on highway to save the juice for when you get off. And so it was that my in-city driving was done exclusively on battery power. And because of that, off-the-line acceleration is supremely satisfying. It’s still a bit jarring to be at the wheel of a decently large vehicle that is so quick on its toes, at least one that doesn’t have a BMW or Porsche badge on it, and that makes almost no noise while it’s at it. By the way, Toyota gives the RAV4 Prime an official 0-100 km/h time of 6 seconds.
I should point out that even in gas-engine mode, the RAV4 Prime is sprightly – less lumbering ox than fleet fox. I’d honestly say it gives the Mazda CX-5 a run for its money as the most drivable affordable compact SUV on the market, though I also can’t say it quite gets there. For one, the steering isn’t as crisp as I’d like, and the chassis and suspension are more concerned with providing a comfortable ride than hugging corners tightly. The all-wheel-drive system, meanwhile, does its job competently.
I haven’t touched on the looks of the Prime yet, and that’s because it’s pretty much the regular RAV4, with a few doodads to remind your neighbours you own the hot-item PHEV version. And so the RAV4 Prime features a different black front grille, LED accent lights and headlamps and, as an option, 19-inch wheels.
Inside, there are no big changes to the cabin, though of course there’s a big battery pack to fit in. Its placement under the floor means you have as much room in the cabin as in the RAV4 itself. As mentioned, comfort is a top priority, and so headroom is generous, the seats are plush-ish, and visibility, particularly for those in the front row, is great thanks to the relatively upright stance of the model.
The centre console is not exactly a paragon of sleek design, the boxy shaped screen seemingly stapled onto the top section of the console as if the designers realized late in the game they'd forgotten something. But to be fair, Toyota is hardly alone in being unimaginative in this regard.
The PHEV configuration does mean you lose a bit of cargo space in back, but at 948/1,790 litres (rear seats up/down) it still holds its own versus the other main protagonists in the segment. In comparison, the regular RAV4 offers 1,065 and 1,976 litres. I’d say that to obtain something like 1.0L/100 km in fuel consumption, that small sacrifice is worth it.
The 2021 RAV4 Prime SE base version (MSRP $44,990, before government incentive(s)*) comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels and a fair amount of stuff, namely heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, dual-zone climate control 8-inch floating touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and the Toyota Safety Sense 2 package.
*Current federal government incentive is $5,000 for the RAV4 Prime, in addition to $8,000 in Quebec and $1,500 in British Columbia).
The XSE ($51,590) is the only other trim offered, and it brings in 19-inch wheels, 9-inch touchscreen, power moon roof, power liftgate, auto-dimming rearview mirror, wireless device charging, Softex/fabric upholstery, black interior with red stitching and illuminated entry. This version also comes with a different-colour black roof. The two-tone approach always seems to elicit a mixed reaction from folks I encounter, but here as elsewhere I personally like the look just fine, particularly in the case of my tester where it contrasts nicely with the Supersonic Red finish of the body. Personal taste…
To the XSE, it is possible to add the Premium Technology Package ($5,400), which delivers additional… premium technology. And so you get an 11-speaker JBL Premium audio with navigation, 5-door smart key system, auto headlamp leveling and the adaptive front lighting system, all-Softex sport seats, driver’s seat memory system, 4-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated and ventilated front row seats and kick-sensor activated power back door. Plus you get a large panoramic sunroof, head-up display, Bird’s-Eye view monitor, something called intelligent clearance sonar and rear cross-traffic braking.
At $39,440 (after federal iZEV incentive), the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime with AWD requires a larger investment at the outset than either the regular 2021 RAV4 AWD ($32,529) or its straight-hybrid variant ($34,689). But depending on how much you use the SUV on highway vs city, you’ll make up for that in savings at the pump before too long. And other than sacrificing a bit of cargo space, it’s hard to see what you’re losing in choosing the Prime.
Fantastic fuel economy
Full EV mode
The two-tone exterior finish
Decent range on a full charge
All the expected qualities of this uber-popular Toyota SUV
We like less
Could be nimbler on the road
Clunky design for the screen on the console
Price point of range-topping model ($56,990, before incentive) is a little daunting