A plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) model to complement the sales-leading RAV4 Hybrid, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime delivers electric-only driving for commute-worthy distances, and excellent fuel economy when powered by its combustion engine. Adding to the car’s appeal, it has the highest range of any plug-in hybrid crossover on the market, terrific performance, and a sleek exterior design. It’s good enough that it even gives SUVs outside of its segment a run for their money, making it a worthy recipient of our Editors’ Choice award.
Features, Trims, and Design
The plug-in hybrid 2021 RAV4 Prime mimics its hybrid cousin under the hood with a 2.5-liter, 177-hp inline 4-cylinder engine. The Prime utilizes Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system along with two permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor-generators for 179 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. The separate electric motor to the rear wheels enables on-demand all-wheel drive, providing power on acceleration and in reduced-traction conditions. While heavier, the Prime still leads the competition with a total of 302 horsepower.
Starting at $39,220, the SE trim comes standard with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights with automatic high beams, LED daytime running and taillights, a black diamond-patterned front grille, heated power side mirrors with turn signal and blind spot warning indicators, front door handles with a touch sensor lock/unlock feature, black roof rails, a power liftgate, tinted glass, variable intermittent windshield and rear window wipers, and a roof-mounted shark fin antenna.
Standard interior features include power front driver and front passenger heated fabric seats, a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and a leather-trimmed tilt/telescopic steering wheel with embedded audio controls. Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 features include automatic high beams, front collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear cross alert, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and lane trace, and road sign assist.
A leather-trimmed shift lever, black fabric-trimmed headliner, pushbutton start and remote keyless entry, power liftgate, and remote illuminated entry are all standard. The center console holds a covered storage compartment and a drive mode button, while a front storage tray houses two USB ports and a media port. Two additional charge ports for rear seat passengers are located on the back of the center console.
The Prime SE’s tech includes Bluetooth for hands-free phone use, an 8-inch touch screen, a six-speaker audio system with AM/FM HD Radio and USB ports, and Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa compatibility. You get a one-year trial of Toyota’s Safety Connect, as well as one year of Service Connect, which includes emergency assistance, a stolen vehicle locator feature, roadside assistance, and automatic collision notification. You also get a three-month trial of Sirius XM, as well as Wi-Fi with up to 2GB of data.
The XSE trim we tested starts at $41,425 and adds touches like two-tone color with glossy black exterior outlines, a panoramic moonroof, heated power mirrors with turn signal and blind spot warning indicators, cross traffic alert and front and rear parking assist, LED accent lighting, and 19-inch wheels. Interior upgrades include heated and ventilated front synthetic leather seats with power-adjustable front seats, a heated leather steering wheel, intermittent windshield wipers, a foot-activated power liftgate, a wireless charging pad, and paddle shifters.
Our test vehicle also tacked on premium audio and tech packages including a 9-inch touch screen, 11-speaker JBL audio with a subwoofer and amplifier, and a 10-inch color heads-up display. A bird’s-eye-view camera and a digital rearview mirror with Toyota’s Home Connected Services round out the upgrades. After adding à la carte items including mud guards, a cross bar roof rack, carpet and cargo mats, and a door sill protector, the total sticker came to $49,776, including a $1,120 delivery and handling fee.
On the design front, Toyota’s RAV4 models were already head turners. The fifth-generation Prime continues to steal the spotlight with its sporty handling and bold exterior lines.
The view from the vehicle is expansive, but sitting inside, a taller passenger may feel a bit squeezed. Despite having 11% less space with up to 63.2 cubic feet of cargo space than combustion and hybrid RAV4s, there is plenty of storage available in multiple compartments.
Plenty of Infotainment and Connectivity Options
Infotainment is identical to the RAV4 Hybrid, with a screen flanked by four buttons on each side and rotary power/volume and tuning/scroll buttons. Embedded in the dashboard below the screen are large climate control knobs that are easy to access while driving.
Customizable to your preference, the home screen layout and individual feature icons are easy and intuitive to use. While the interface is dated, it accesses the latest in features and convenience, such as a customizable charging schedule.
Toyota’s 10-inch HUD that shows the speedometer, navigation, driver assists, and hybrid system indicator features is one of the best on the market today. We also like that you can adjust the sensitivity of the driver assists via the 7-inch digital instrument cluster, which also displays fuel efficiency and other vehicle functions. And if epic tunes matter to you, the impressive JBL premium audio system cranks out excellent sound and solid bass.
The My Room mode on the cluster, a very cool and convenient feature if you like car camping, allows you to use audio, air conditioning or heat, and monitor battery depletion while the car is off. When My Room mode activates, the remaining charge for the hybrid battery appears on the instrument cluster and continuously monitors the power balance between electricity supply and consumption. On a full charge, My Room can keep you cool and rocking for approximately nine hours, and it will turn off any power killers when the battery hits a certain level of depletion.
The spirited and sporty RAV4 Prime performance CU is fun to drive. It delivers a class-leading 42 miles of electric-only range and can maintain EV mode at high speeds.
It takes 12 hours to replenish the battery on a 120-volt outlet and delivers an EPA-estimated 94 combined MPGe. The Prime comes with a 3.3-kW, 120V Level 1 charging cable that can recharge the battery overnight from home. XSE trims offer an option that replenishes the battery in 2.5 hours on a Level 2 charger. With the gas and electric combined, total driving range peaks at 600 miles.
The Prime’s all-wheel drive lets you choose between four modes to enhance traction on different surfaces that can be dialed in via center console knob. A separate Trail mode sends power to the wheel that has the most traction, while the EV mode provides electric-only operation that can cover a daily commute (42 e-miles) without ever tapping the fuel tank.
As with most quiet alt-fuel vehicles, the ambient sound added to alert you of pedestrians and cyclists takes some getting used to, and the regenerative brakes are a bit jolty. The Prime either stops suddenly or is unresponsive upon pressing down hard on the brakes.
A Compelling Crossover
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is a terrific crossover, and one worth considering over similarly equipped SUVs. Compared with the fully electric Tesla Model Y, for instance, which starts at $49,900, we’d dish out our dollars for the reliable, rugged, and rewarding Prime. Thanks to its best-in-class electric-only range and performance, speedy acceleration, and sleek design, it stands out in the crossover category, and earns out Editors’ Choice award.
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Specs
|Fuel Type||Plug-in Hybrid|
|Engine||2.5L 4-Cyl. Plug-in Hybrid|