Rebates make plugging in more palatable
THE GOOD
  • Excellent powertrain
  • Equal fuel economy as the hybrid
  • Pricing and incentives
THE BAD
  • Dated-looking screens
  • Far from premium interior
  • Slight loss of cargo capacity


With a bigger battery and a charging plug, it’s easy to call the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime a simple evolution from the popular hybrid version to something more green.

But there’s something important about the Prime that bumps it up a notch. Where other versions of the popular crossover can feel average and drab, this new plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model changes it up enough to make the RAV4 feel special.

Power: 9/10

It’s the powertrain that gets the most changes from the conventional hybrid and deserves the most credit for the RAV4’s new persona. A little bit more power can go a long way, but the RAV4 Prime increases horsepower by 50 per cent over the standard gas-only model. With net output of 302 hp spread across its 2.5L engine and electric motors, the Prime feels far more confident and engaging than other models.

Much like the hybrid version that can’t be plugged in, this PHEV employs a pair of electric motor–generators up front and one in the back that’s dedicated to driving the rear wheels, as well an 18.1-kWh lithium-ion battery. It all adds a bit of weight, leading the Prime to tip the scales at 1,950 kg (4,300 lb). The extra mass doesn’t faze the electric motors, though, booting this crossover to highway speeds in under six seconds, which is sprightly for a vehicle in this class. In fact, the RAV4 Prime is now the quickest four-door vehicle Toyota has, stumping the V6-powered Camry TRD.

No, 300 hp isn’t exactly a surprising amount these days, but this much juice and how it’s delivered help change the persona of the RAV4 entirely. No longer just an average commuter, it feels lively and energetic to drive.

Fuel Economy: 10/10

With 68 km of pure electric range, the RAV4 can run gas-free for most short commutes. You can also save that electric range, allowing the vehicle to operate as a hybrid, where it returns 5.7 L/100 km in the city, 6.4 on the highway, and 6.0 combined. That fuel economy is equal to the regular hybrid version of the RAV4 and an improvement of 2.0 L/100 km compared to the gas-powered all-wheel-drive model.

When that electric range is depleted, it takes 12 hours to recharge the battery using a regular 120-volt household outlet. This charge time is cut to two and a half hours on a 240-volt outlet thanks to the included 6.6-kW charger.



Driving Feel: 7.5/10

The increased power goes a long way towards making the RAV4 feel more confident and capable on the road. While the gas-powered RAV4 feels just powerful enough to get out of its own way, it also sounds awful when pushed hard. The traditional hybrid fares a bit better, but the Prime excels. It’s also offered in SE and XSE trim variants, which include a slightly sportier suspension setup.

Unfortunately, while the motors can overcome the added weight, the suspension can feel like it’s less up to the task. Don’t expect the RAV4 Prime to be a sporty canyon carver and it’ll be fine. It handles well enough to glide through some corners or make a few quick lane changes without complaints. The responsiveness of the steering is decent, and there’s a limited amount of pitch and roll when driving aggressively.

Styling: 7/10

I’ll admit to being a fan of the rugged and boxy exterior styling with the RAV4. It reminds me of the Toyota Tacoma and 4Runner without being as old-school as those two. The Prime gets a few unique touches like the vertical LED daytime running lights and 19-inch wheels found on XSE models.

The interior is hard to distinguish from a traditional RAV4, which isn’t ideal. I wish Toyota could have used the Prime to update the cabin a bit to be more classy or modern. Large rubberized knobs and buttons seem like a good idea, but they also look a bit childish rather than rugged. And while those controls are big, there are a few slim buttons found around the infotainment and HVAC systems that run contrary to the rest.

You’ll find a few red accents within the cabin, but nothing flashy enough to catch your eyes. The upholstery of XSE models use a leather mix, while SE models make do with fabric seats – once again, begging for a bit of pizzazz in a cabin that feels out of date and unimpressive.

User Friendliness: 7/10

The relatively sparse cabin leads to an easier experience when acclimating to the space and getting used to the vehicle. Nothing is too far out of reach, although the smaller buttons can be tricky. Aside from that, the Prime is easy to interact with.

The Prime comes standard with an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, while my XSE tester featured a nine-inch screen. The colour palette and design make the system look dated, but fortunately the vehicle has support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. While the gauge cluster still looks a bit old-school with needles over large screens, I’m disappointed that the eco-driving coach isn’t more intuitive. Then again, not much else can be done with a simple set of dials. There’s also a head-up display to present some information in a clear and easy-to-read manner.

Features: 8/10

While the cabin leaves a bit to be desired, the vehicle is loaded with all the features and niceties you’d want on the road. Standard equipment includes a push-button start, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, front and rear heated seats, and dual-zone climate control. The XSE gets a power tailgate, wireless phone charging, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and a sunroof. An optional Premium Technology pack for XSE models adds paddle shifters, ventilated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, rear-view mirror with video display, and an upgraded 11-speaker stereo. This package also adds a 110V outlet in the cargo area and upgrades the seating materials.

Safety: 8/10

The regular RAV4 packs plenty of safety features, and that continues with the Prime. Standard on the Prime models is lane-keeping assistance, automatic high-beam headlights, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic warning. The XSE model with the premium package also adds a few fancy safety aids like auto-levelling headlights, parking sonar, and an upgraded camera array that provides a bird’s eye view. These features all worked as advertised, though sometimes the driver aids can feel a bit uneasy in traffic, with delayed responses to the actions of the vehicles ahead.

Comfort: 7.5/10

With plenty of space and a large sunroof that helps prevent any feelings of claustrophobia, the RAV4 Prime is a comfortable crossover to sit in. And since it’s a PHEV, you can forget any worries about range anxiety since the gas engine is always there for longer trips.

Beyond that, the seating is soft, although not the most supportive. The ride is relatively comfortable as the extra weight helps the vehicle feel robust and confident. The larger rims on the XSE models means you get a bit of a firm ride, but it’s nothing too worrying. Noise is better handled in the RAV4 Prime, considering there is much less disruption from the typically buzzy 2.5L. However, the boxy shape of the vehicle leads to more wind noise, which is noticeable at highway speeds.

Practicality: 7/10

The RAV4 Prime features the same head- and legroom as the gas models, which is enough in both the front and rear seats. The cargo capacity takes a hit in the transition to a plug-in, with 949 L of storage compared to 1,059 L in the hybrid and gas models. Fold the rear seats down and there is 1,790 L of storage which is down slightly from the 1,970 L in other models. It’s spacious enough, especially when compared to the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which has a bit less space for gear.

Value: 8/10

Starting at $44,990, the RAV4 Prime SE is just $2,000 more than the top-trim RAV4 Hybrid Limited, although it lacks a few features by comparison. The XSE model is $51,590, while the Premium Technology package is an extra $5,400, bringing the loaded price to $56,990 before the $1,840 destination fee. This price also lacks the $5,000 federal rebate, and potential provincial incentives available to buyers, which can add up to $13,000 for those in Quebec or $6,500 in British Columbia. That makes the RAV4 a relative bargain.

The Verdict

The Toyota RAV4 is a fairly average compact crossover, but it seems like that’s enough to make it one of the most popular vehicles with buyers. Now that it has the power to go with its excellent fuel economy, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime shines where its compatriots can’t. When you add the financial incentives the government is throwing into the mix, picking this gas–electric version is a no-brainer.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE
Engine Cylinders I4 PHEV   Base Price $51,590
Peak Horsepower 302 hp combined   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 168 lb-ft torque (gasoline engine only)   Destination Fee $1,840
Fuel Economy 5.7 / 6.4 / 6.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb; 68 km electric-only range   Price as Tested $58,930
Cargo Space 949 / 1,790 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$5,400 – Premium Technology Package, $5,400