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2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime review: Stereotype breaker

Toyota pioneered the hybrid powertrain. With the Prius, Toyota introduced the world to the benefits of electrification and the improved efficiency it brings. Now, the company is taking its hybrids in a new direction while retaining their miserliness. With the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, compromise is no longer a word associated with hybrids or plug-in hybrids because this crossover aims to prove you can have nearly everything.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime exterior

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime front 02 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Distinguishing the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime from the standard RAV4 Hybrid is pretty easy. In front, you get a blacked-out grille with a chrome surround, vertical LED fog lights, and a lower front fascia with a silver strip running the width of the car instead of a trim piece that looks like a skid plate. Our XSE test car gets black cladding, black side mirror covers, and a black roof. The rear adds a black bumper accented by dual exhaust tips. Other than the red Prime badge, blue Toyota badges, and plug-in hybrid badges on the front fenders, the RAV4 Prime doesn’t flaunt its electrified nature.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime interior

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime interior 02 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Inside the RAV4 Prime, you’ll find a spacious cabin that seats five comfortably. Supportive front seats provide generous bolstering while the rear bench has plenty of head- and legroom even for tall people. Thanks to the squared-off cabin, there’s a lot of usable room. Versus the RAV4 Hybrid, the extra powertrain components on the RAV4 Prime cuts into the overall interior volume. With the rear seats up, the Prime has 33.4- to 33.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity that you can expand to 63.1 to 63.2 cubic feet depending on whether your car has the optional panoramic moonroof. That’s 4.1 to 4.2 cubic feet less than the RAV4 Hybrid with all seats up or 6.6 -to 6.7 cubic feet less when you fold the second row.

Fit and finish lands squarely in the mainstream territory. Although Toyota used generous amounts of soft-touch materials and padding, they feel more utilitarian than luxurious. Like the rest of the RAV4 lineup, there are interesting patterns and textures on the knobs, cupholders, and speaker grilles. The integrated tray on the dash and cubby under the center stack, which also houses the wireless charger, gives you easily accessible storage for mobile devices. However, we wish the RAV4 Prime had more sound deadening because of excessive wind noise at highway speeds

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime tech features

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Toyota’s latest infotainment system is a welcome improvement over the previous iteration. It’s more responsive and has a straightforward layout. The version with the 9.0-inch touch screen, as found in our test car, doesn’t have too many submenus like the larger 12.3-inch display in the Venza and Highlander. Better graphics would go a long way in improving the interface because its graininess makes it look dated. An optional head-up display projects information clearly in your line of sight, allowing you to monitor your driving style without needing to go into the Eco menu on the main display. The available 11-speaker JBL audio system is clear but could be more immersive since it doesn’t cover the cabin as evenly as the units used in its competitors.

PLUG-IN TOYOTA: 2021 Toyota Prius Prime review

Every RAV4 Prime gets the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 driver assistance suite as standard equipment. Its components operate subtly and don’t get annoying. Lane centering gently re-centers and will help you take turns on the highway as long as it’s not too tight. As with most Toyota models, adaptive cruise control is tuned conservatively, meaning it slows down early. In traffic, the system accelerates more cautiously when following other vehicles or when starting from a standstill. The distancing component is also calibrated on the safe side, leaving more room than usual between you and the vehicle ahead even if you select the closest setting.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime driving impressions

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Put your foot down and you’ll experience something you never thought a Toyota RAV4 would do to you: push you back into your seat. The RAV4 Prime accelerates effortlessly and will quickly get to triple digits if you’re not careful. Unlike the RAV4 Hybrid, the RAV4 Prime uses an 18-kWh lithium-ion battery mounted under the floor and a front electric drive motor rated at 179 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque. Together with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 177 hp and 165 lb-ft, a rear electric drive motor with 53 hp and 89 lb-ft, and a planetary gear set, the RAV4 Prime has 302 hp combined. You get instant power regardless of the drive mode selected, allowing the crossover to feel lighter than its 4,300-pound curb weight might suggest.

Thanks to a tighter suspension calibration, the RAV4 Prime possesses composed handling while remaining comfortable. Credit the low center gravity for keeping body roll in check. However, this rig isn’t a full-on performance variant because pushing hard causes excessive understeer. The car soaks up road imperfections without getting floaty, minimizing secondary and tertiary vertical motions. You know you’re going over bumps, potholes, and ruts, you just won’t feel the impacts as much. Accurate steering allows you to place the RAV4 Prime precisely on the road, which is helpful since the car doesn’t shrink around you.

Thanks to seamless transitions between regenerative and mechanical braking, slowing down smoothly is a cinch. You won’t get jerked around if you have to execute an emergency stop. A linear yet progressive pedal operation adds a natural feel and removes any unevenness. Having two electric motors also provides more energy recuperation than your average, which is helpful when navigating through traffic and driving at city speeds.

Charging the RAV4 Prime’s 18.0-kWh battery via a level 2 or 240-volt charger takes 4.5 hours using the standard 3.3-kW charger or 2.5 hours with the optional 6.6-kW unit in the XSE model. Using a level 1 charger or wall outlet will take 12 hours to fully charge the battery.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime pricing

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime starts at $39,425 for the base SE grade. Our XSE test car with the Premium package, Weather package, upgraded multimedia system with the larger 9.0-inch touch screen, and several dealer-installed accessories cost $49,776. The 2021 RAV4 Prime is eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit plus state incentives.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Think of the 2021 RAV4 Prime as a showcase of Toyota’s hybrid leadership. No, it’s not the sporty crossover, nor does it need to be. The fact that the RAV4 Prime has so little compromise shows how far ahead Toyota’s hybrid powertrains are. Between its blend of range, power, and space, the RAV4 Prime is a fitting flagship for Toyota’s bestselling crossover and proof that electrified vehicles are no longer just for maximizing efficiency.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Toyota
  • Model: RAV4 Prime
  • Trim: XSE
  • Type: 4-door compact crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 302 hp
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 40/36/38
  • EV mode range: 42 miles
  • Pros: Excellent efficiency, strong acceleration, comfortable ride
  • Cons: Noisy interior at highway speeds, less cargo space than the RAV4 Hybrid, grainy infotainment system graphics
  • Base price: $39,425
  • Price as tested: $49,775
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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