The past few years have seen Canada’s green vehicle segment grow from a mere handful of choices to a veritable cornucopia. For 2022, AutoTrader’s jury of more than 20 automotive experts considered every single alternative-powertrain or eco-conscious car, truck, or SUV available for Canadians to buy and voted on the best ones to win this award. In this budget-friendly Green Vehicle Under $50K category, 35 hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and full electric vehicles were eligible.
For the second year running, when the final votes were tallied, it was Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime that got the most votes for being the Best Green Vehicle Under $50K, beating out a field of pure-electric finalists that included the Hyundai Ioniq5, Kia Soul EV, Tesla Model 3, and Volkswagen ID.4.
Key to the success of the RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime is that both models provide a green option that’s effortlessly usable by regular Canadians on a day-to-day basis. The RAV4 Hybrid and Prime might not be “pure” electric vehicles on the forefront of innovation, but their combination of a reliable electrified drivetrain backed up by an efficient Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine can tackle Canada’s long distances and cold winters with all the ease of their conventionally-powered cousins, all while delivering exceptional fuel economy and practicality. “You can forget any worries about range anxiety since the gas engine is always there for longer trips,” noted AutoTrader’s Sami Haj-Assaad in his review of the RAV4 Prime.
The RAV4 Hybrid and Prime are based on Toyota’s popular Canadian-built RAV4 two-row crossover SUV. Excluding pickup trucks, the RAV4 is Canada’s single best-selling vehicle, and winner of AutoTrader’s Best 2-Row SUV award in 2021 (it was a finalist again this year, but the Subaru Outback claimed top spot).
The RAV4 Hybrid and Prime variants retain all of the RAV4’s practicality, versatility, and feature-rich comfort, but they replace the conventional drivetrain with Toyota’s proven Toyota Hybrid Drive system, adapted from the Prius lineup.
In the RAV4 Hybrid, the powertrain combines a 2.5L four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine with a continuously variable transmission and a pair of electric drive motors – one for the front wheels and one for the rear (all-wheel drive is part of the package). A 1.6 kW/h nickel-metal hydride motive battery self-charges from the regenerative brakes and gas engine (you never need to plug the Hybrid in, but you can only drive a very short distance on electric-only power before the gas engine kicks in). The system makes 219 hp and gives a combined fuel efficiency rating of 6.0 L/100 km, which is both more powerful and more efficient than the conventional RAV4, and quieter as well (in all-wheel drive trim, the conventional RAV4 produces 203 hp and uses a combined average of 7.9 L/100km).
In the RAV4 Prime, the 2.5L Atkinson-cycle engine is backed up by bigger electric motors and an 18.1 kW/h lithium ion battery that can be recharged by plugging it in. The Prime’s battery can still self-charge from the brakes and gas engine, but if you plug it into a charge outlet, you can get approximately 70 km of electric-only driving before the gas engine kicks in – enough to meet the daily driving needs of most Canadians and wean you off the gas pump for all but the longest of trips. Total power output for the RAV4 Prime is 300 hp, making it a seriously quick SUV. Combined fuel consumption remains at 6.0 L/100km when operating in gas-electric hybrid mode.
Just like the conventional RAV4, the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime offer plenty of comfort and tech. The seats are generously accommodating and there’s plenty of in-cabin storage and 1,059L of cargo capacity, increasing to 1,977 with the rear seats folded (the Prime has a slightly smaller 949L behind the rear seats due to its larger battery). All trim levels come with an Apple CarPlay/Android Auto-compatible infotainment system, plenty of USB ports, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats (most trims get heated seats front/rear plus a heated steering wheel), front windshield de-icer, and much more.
Toyota has built a reputation for safety, and the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime are no exceptions: blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert is standard, as are Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 and Star Safety Systems (these include features such as auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian/bicycle detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, smart stop technology, vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS and more). Combined with excellent crash test ratings, these systems earned the RAV4 a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) when the conventionally powered model was tested.
Since 2022 pricing wasn’t revealed at the time of writing, 2021 pricing for the RAV4 Hybrid lineup ranged from $32,950 (not including freight/PDI) for the LE AWD to $43,350 for the Limited AWD, which overlaps with the conventionally-powered RAV4 range (the mid-trim RAV4 XLE AWD started at $34,290 in 2021). The RAV4 Prime comes in SE trim ($44,990 in 2021) or XSE ($51,590 in 2021), less any available government green vehicle subsidies. Either way, it represents great value, and means that going green needn’t cost more than conventionally-powered options, even before fuel savings are factored in.
For Canadian drivers, the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime offer the best of both worlds. “If you’re on the fence about electric driving, either of these gas-electric options might just make the ideal compromise,” summarized AutoTrader Road Test Editor Dan Ilika when announcing last year’s awards. The RAV4 Hybrid and Prime’s ease-of-use, practicality and excellent value provide an exceptionally low barrier of entry into greener driving, and that makes them AutoTrader’s pick of the litter.