As plug-in hybrid cars start to slowly pop up in driveways across Canada, it was only a matter of time until the best-selling crossover caught the bug. After a successful launch of the plug-in hybrid technology with the Prius Prime, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE is here, and ready for the limelight. We Canadians already love the current generation RAV4 Hybrid, a model that has consistently had a months-long waiting list since it was launched in 2019. Does adding a wall plug and some EV buttons make this even better, or sully the name?
From the outside, the RAV4 Prime looks exactly the same as any other RAV4, with the only difference being a second fuel door on the opposite side of the car, a very subtle “Prime” badge on the back, and the words “Plug-In” added to the hybrid badge. Nevertheless, wherever we parked the Prime, we came outside to find someone taking a picture of this rare unicorn and desperately wanting to know how it drives, how we got it, and when they could get one.
The answer to that should come as no surprise; the RAV4 Prime is amazing. Take the already great chassis that underpins all of our favorite Toyota models, cut out the raspy four-cylinder engine noise, toss in a pile of torque and you have yourself a winning formula. EV range during our week with the RAV4 Prime was consistently showing over 50 kilometers, in temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. This range was plenty to go about and do errands without ever having to hear the gasoline engine kick on.
Around town, there is absolutely no need for the engine to come on; the electric motors put out more torque than you need. Merging onto the highway in pure EV mode is perfectly sufficient, you won’t be outrunning some of the other dedicated EVs on the road from a stop, but you’ll certainly be up to speed faster than most anemic econoboxes out there. And then, of course there is always that small button you can hit to let the gas engine fire up for significantly more gusto. In Hybrid mode, the RAV4 Prime can go from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds.
The interior of the RAV4 is the same as the others, save for a few extra buttons and some EV specific changes to the instrument cluster. Logically laid out, with a utilitarian styling and easy to use switchgear. The Softex seats are well bolstered and firm, with all four outboard seats equipped with heaters. All of the other usual goodies are present, as most crossovers have these days. A panoramic roof, wireless phone charging, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, and the full Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system are all present, just to name a few.
To get into some specifics, the electric motors are biased towards the front wheels, with the front motor outputting 179 horsepower and 199 lb-ft. of torque, and the rear rated at 53 horsepower and 89-lb-ft. of torque. Once the 2.5-liter four cylinder motor adds its 177 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 165 lb-ft. at 3,600RPM it all comes together using funny hybrid math to achieve a peak output of 302 combined net horsepower. No official peak torque rating is given, but there is no shortage of it any way you slice it. The Prime’s powertrain handles mixing the motors and engines together flawlessly, as is to be expected from the Prius-derived system. Nobody does it better than Toyota, and the Hybrid Synergy Drive system has been doing fit perfectly for decades.
A neat feature of the Prime is that the key fob can be used to start the climate control while the vehicle is still plugged in, to maximize range. Speaking of range, with a fully charged battery and full tank, the RAV4 can go almost 1,000km before needing to fill up. The RAV4 is rated officially for 5.7L/100km city, 6.4L/100km highway, and 6.0L/100km combined. Your mileage will obviously vary depending on charging conditions and usage.
All in all, if you can get your hands on a RAV4 Prime, there is really no drawback to having one over the regular RAV4 Hybrid, save for one irritating nuisance, dealing with the charger. Most EVs put the charge port on the drivers side or at the front of the vehicle so that you can conveniently plug it in as you walk away. Toyota decided to put it as far away from the driver as possible, the rear passenger corner.
To add insult to injury, the door is thin flimsy metal and does nothing to seal out inclement weather like other cars do, so you have to remove a rubber plug every time, and there’s nowhere to hang it other than letting it dangle and rub against the paint. Lastly, if the trunk or a rear door are opened to put something in the car before unplugging, you have to lock the car again, and unlock it to release the charge cord, as it only stays unlocked for a few seconds after unlocking the vehicle. This seems minor, but it starts to add up and is not as effortless as other EVs make it.
Toyota prices the RAV4 Prime from $44,990, in SE trim. At the base trim it still includes 68-kilometers of full EV range, heated front and rear seats, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, all-wheel-drive, and more. The XSE starts at $51,590 and adds a moonroof, 19-inch wheels, wireless charging, remote climate start, and a power tailgate. A $4,000 Premium Technology Package adds cooled front seats, paddle shifters, heads-up display, premium JBL audio, navigtation, and more.
At the time of this writing, the RAV4 Prime qualifies for a $5,000 rebate in Canada. The below-$60,000 plug-in hybrid crossover segment is still small, but the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE is set to dominate it for years to come. The longest standing contender here is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which is fairly terrible. The new Jeep Wrangler 4xe is a new player, though more focused as an off-roader. Things are starting to get interesting, with the RAV4 right on top.