Skip the Cord with the Toyota RAV4 Prime

The RAV4 Prime is the plug-in hybrid with a strong incentive.


Toyota RAV4 Prime front fascia


The Toyota RAV4 is a compact crossover utility vehicle with room for five. It’s Toyota’s best-selling model and even outsells the Camry sedan we featured here last week.

Toyota offers the RAV4 in gas, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid variants, the latter is marketed under the Prime umbrella. Toyota prices the 2021 RAV4 Prime from $38,100 (SE) to $41,425 (XSE), plus a $1,120 destination charge. Shoppers should be aware that this model comes with a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, depending on your income. If eligible, you’ll claim the credit on your tax form, reducing your burden accordingly.

New for 2021

The Toyota RAV4 Prime is a new model. This one seats five and comes with standard all-wheel drive. Check out our January 7, 2021, issue for a review of the standard RAV4 Hybrid.


Toyota RAV4 Prime profile


RAV4 Prime Model Highlights

As previous owners of three RAV4s, we’re unusually familiar with this model. The current version is larger and boxier than before. It borrows design cues from the Tacoma pickup truck and 4Runner SUV for a more muscular stance.

Inside, the RAV4 is clean and comfortable. A layered dashboard wrapped in quality materials adds visual interest. We found numerous pockets, cubbies, and storage areas throughout, and were happy that one alcove charged our cell phone without a plug.

The standard SE edition supplies seats wrapped in fabric trim. The available XSE utilizes imitation leather that passes for the real thing. We found the front seats comfortable and supportive with ample back, hip, and thigh support. As for the rear seat, two fit very comfortably, although a third person isn’t out of the question.

All expected tech features are present, including a color 8-inch touch-screen display, Bluetooth, five USB ports, smartphone compatibility, a 110-volt power outlet, and six speakers. Upgrade to the XSE for a 9-inch screen and the wireless charging pad. An 11-speaker JBL audio system is available.

On the safety front, Toyota supplies everything from lane departure warning to blind-spot monitoring. Adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and automatic high beams are included. The only spend-up option here is front and rear parking assist with automatic braking.


Toyota RAV4 Prime front seats
Toyota RAV4 Prime rear seats


RAV4 Prime Performance

Every 2021 RAV4 comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine. It’s what Toyota does with each engine to round out the powertrain that makes the gas, hybrid, and Prime editions different. Indeed, the engine is tuned for efficiency in the two hybrids, with the standard power down by about 20 percent to improve mileage.

Fortunately, the hybrids come with electric motors to add power to the engine under certain circumstances. For the RAV4 Prime, this model has two electric motors. The first one works with the gas engine to turn the front wheels, the second motor powers the rear wheels when needed, such as when slippage is detected. Under full throttle, the motors also kick in to join the gas engine, producing a net 302 horsepower. That’s more power than every other Toyota model other than the GR Supra sportscar.

Now we did mention that the RAV4 Prime is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. This means to replenish the battery, it needs to be connected to a power source. You might use your home’s standard 110-volt outlet for a slow charge, or you could invest about $1,000 to upgrade to an installed 220-volt outlet for fast recharge times. Once fully “juiced,” the Prime has a 42-mile electric-only driving range. Theoretically, if your trips are always short, you may use little to no gasoline, saving you money.


Toyota RAV4 Prime dashboard


Plug In…or Not

But plugging in a vehicle isn’t always convenient, especially if you don’t own your place. Happily, Toyota developed an alternative that’s worth exploring and one that we used except for an all-to-brief visit to a public charging station for a connection. That alternative is to allow the Prime to replenish itself, something it will do when choosing the right mode switch to send some power from the engine to the battery system itself while driving. In doing so, you’ll consume slightly more fuel, but you’ll also watch the charge meter gradually climb until it tops out at 100 percent. Here, you’ll get about 32 miles of range, but at least you won’t have to worry about finding a connection.

The RAV4 Prime is not just an efficiency expert, but it is a performance beast. Under most driving conditions, this crossover starts, then silently moves forward. It’s when you press the “pedal to the metal,” where all systems go – you’ll zoom down the road faster than you might expect. Take it from 0-60 mph at full throttle and this vehicle will get you there in just 5.7 seconds.

We give the Prime positive marks for its laudable steering, handling, and braking response. The ride is comfortable too; we’ve seen improvements over the past few generations that make this a solid contender in the segment.


Toyota RAV4 Prime rear


Our Recommendation

The $7,500 federal tax credit may ultimately reduce your cost for the RAV4 Prime as you file your taxes. It will also defray some of the costs of upgrading to the XSE, our test model. We think the XSE with its imitation leather seats, available panoramic roof, and heated outboard rear seats make it the best choice here, but you won’t go wrong with the well-equipped standard SE trim.


See AlsoThe Toyota Sienna Minivan is Now an Efficient Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

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