2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Good Addition to U.S. PHEV Roster

The RAV4 Prime is the first plug-in RAV4, joining Toyota’s existing Prius Prime and a companion to the RAV4 Hybrid already in U.S. showrooms.

Christie Schweinsberg, Senior Editor

July 2, 2020

7 Min Read

ROYAL OAK, MI – Plug-in hybrids remain the best way to enjoy electric propulsion while not having to shell out money for a Level 2 home charger or visiting a public Level 2 or 3 charging spot.

Those are some things you really need if you own a modern battery electric vehicle, which take days to charge on a standard 120V outlet due to bigger battery packs giving them longer ranges.

While some automakers are retreating from PHEVs, Toyota isn’t one of them. New this summer is the Toyota RAV4 plug-in CUV, officially dubbed the RAV4 Prime.

It has an EPA-estimated 42-mile (68-km) range per full charge and, in a strange twist, is the most powerful RAV4 yet, with 302 combined system horsepower. That’s way more than the 219 net hp in the ’20 RAV4 Hybrid and gives the PHEV a 0-60-mph (0-97 km/h) time of 5.7 seconds

The RAV4 Prime has nearly the same powertrain as the RAV4 Hybrid, an Atkinson-cycle 2.5L 4-cyl. using Toyota’s D-4S direct and port fuel injection system, slightly retuned to raise output a tad, along with three motor-generators – two in front to charge the battery pack and drive the front wheels and one in the rear to drive rear wheels and power the electronic all-wheel-drive system.

Boosting output in the Prime is a brawnier front drive motor-generator borrowed from the new Highlander Hybrid, rated at 179 hp (134 kw) and 199 lb.-ft. (270 Nm) vs. the 88-kW (118-hp) motor-generator up front in the RAV4 hybrid making 149 lb.-ft. (202 Nm).

The Panasonic battery is bigger in the PHEV and lithium-ion vs. nickel-metal hydride in the hybrid.

After charging our XSE tester at home overnight on a 120V outlet in our garage (taking about 12 hours as Toyota estimates on a 12-amp line), we take the RAV4 Prime up north and around town and discover, like most PHEVs, its fuel economy basically is as good as you make it.



Our 42 miles of range one Saturday is robust. We travel 100 miles (161 km) north, depleting our battery somewhere around Grand Blanc, MI. That’s good because:

a) That’s roughly 42 miles from home

b) We’re travelling at 70 mph (113 km/h)

c) The outside temp is about 85 degrees F (29 degrees C) and we have the AC set at 72 degrees F (22 degrees C) with two bars of fan speed

d) It’s tough to rein in our desire to enjoy the gobs of low-end torque and ultra-fast-but-silent acceleration. After all, EV mode tops out at 84 mph (135 km/h).

We rely on the RAV4 Prime’s standard adaptive cruise control to keep our lead foot in check; the few times we take over driving duties to pass, our acceleration is gentle.

On the return trip south with an empty battery, we activate the blinker and floor the pedal to launch impressively past a slower-moving vehicle and keep the pedal down for a bit to experience every one of those 302 horses. Engine noise is present but drowned out by tire and wind noise.

The route home is entirely in hybrid mode and, at the end of our journey, the RAV4 Prime’s cluster display tells us we achieved 41.9 mpg (5.6 L/100 km) for our 1/5 electric, 4/5 gas roundtrip, besting the highway and city rating of the vehicle: 36 and 40 mpg (6.5 and 5.9 L/100 km).

The next day, with the fully charged battery and again showing 42 miles of range, we use gentle braking and acceleration to meander our way through the Woodward Avenue suburbs. When our 90-minute jaunt is over we travel 16 miles (26 km) but use only 13 miles (21 km) of electric range thanks to frequent braking.

Range disappointingly doesn’t grow via regenerative braking (or via the RAV4’s weak regen paddle, which barely slows us in a few 20-mph (32-km/h) turns), and we don’t get a better-than-estimated charge, both things we experience while testing a competing plug-in hybrid that same weekend. This reviewer’s own ’17 Chevrolet Volt also regularly tops its’ estimated range of 53 miles (85 km) in the summer, often by as much as 15-20 miles. It has about the same size lithium-ion pack as the RAV4 Prime, 18.4 kWh vs. 18.1 kWh, but charge is heavily dependent on driving style and speed. Perhaps in its short life our pre-production test vehicle has spent most of its time on the highway.

Nevertheless, we still like our result and can say the RAV4 Prime lives up to its range claim.

The ride of the relatively heavy vehicle is comfortable and soft, steering is nicely weighted and doesn’t feel artificial. Brakes aren’t grabby, with an inconspicuous transition between friction and regenerative.

The straight routes we travel don’t allow us to realize the vehicle’s AWD capability, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it.

As with most plug-ins during low-speed driving, the RAV4 is a den of quietude on electric…until the engine comes on. Then it’s like a hospital nursery with a few screaming infants. The engine’s on just once during our urban route: when we test EV Charge mode, which turns it on to recharge the pack while driving. We immediately shut it off to recover some tranquility.

The RAV4 Prime XSE’s interior is comfortable and roomy, heavily sharing a look with that of the standard and hybrid models. For instance, the same starburst-design texture is used in the open bins on the instrument panel, as well as in cupholders and on door speaker grates.



High-quality materials are generously applied. All upper doors, including those in back, are covered in soft-touch and cushioned materials. The optional red-accented faux leather seats in our XSE grade (pictured above) are stylish. There’s tons of USB ports and outlets, including an optional 120V in the cargo area.
The PHEV’s infotainment and advanced-driver-assist-system technologies largely work well.

Adaptive cruise control does a good job recognizing vehicles ahead and adjusting our speed automatically, or even bringing us to a complete stop behind them. Lane lines are detected most times, and the vehicle steers us for roughly 20 seconds in two separate instances when we remove our hands from the wheel on a straight road.

Voice recognition is great, with commands given in relatively natural speech and results returned quickly. It also appears to have some artificial intelligence. We accidentally give the wrong house number in an address search, but the navigation system routes us to the correct street anyway.

That said, the touchscreen and cluster-display menus need work. We struggle to figure out how to view the main audio display for each SiriusXM station (tip: after selecting the station from the station list, hit “presets”) and how to adjust the vehicle’s head-up display (settings section of the cluster menu).

While we like the RAV4 Prime, we do question the appeal of a performance hybrid. They haven’t done well in the U.S. The rival PHEV we test the same weekend is more eco-oriented and we see better real-world range and fuel economy, which is what most plug-in hybrid buyers seem to be after.

The RAV4 Prime also is priced higher on paper than some grades of the forthcoming Ford Escape PHEV, and Ford already has a discount available. Then again, Ford lacks the reputation for high quality and reliability Toyota enjoys, so the pricing issue may be moot.

The Prime starts at $38,100 for an SE grade and the XSE grade we test begins at $41,425, before any federal tax credits are applied (if one is purchasing and not leasing the vehicle).

But don’t run out to your dealer just yet: Toyota has said this year’s allotment for the U.S. will be severely smaller than expected, 5,000 vs. 50,000, due to demand in Japan, where the RAV4 PHEV is assembled at affiliate Toyota Industries’ Nagakusa plant, and battery-supply issues. Thus, only dealers in states following California’s zero-emission-vehicle rules will be selling them. That doesn’t electrify us. Hopefully next year will see 50,000 state-side as planned.

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2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE spec box.png

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE spec box

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