What’s most stunning about the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, a sporty plug-in hybrid, is not the exceptional mileage figures or the good looks.
It’s the giddy-up: This thing sprints to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. That ranks second in the Toyota lineup only to the Supra, which races to 60 mph in 4 seconds flat. The Prime, for the record, is not a Supra. In fact, it’s not even particularly agile, partly due to a softer suspension and 4,372-pound heft.
The RAV4 Prime is about shrinking carbon footprints and doing it in style. It starts with a true 42-mile range on electric alone, easily enough to handle errands and short commutes. And for those who worry about where the next charge is coming from, the Prime’s gas engine is ready to kick in to complete the trip.
The Prime, like the RAV4 hybrid, has a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that’s capable of 177 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. But this compact crossover also is mated to two electric motors and a CVT (continuously variable transmission) up front, and another motor at the rear axle for extra kick. The battery pack, stored under the rear seats, is far bigger than the regular hybrid’s (18-kWh vs. 1.6-kWh), enabling the 42-mile range.
When everything works together, the Prime has a total output of 302 hp, compared to 219 hp in the regular hybrid. On the road, that translates to an amazing 5.5-second run to 60 mph and the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds.
But few will call the Prime athletic. The softer-tuned suspension means some body roll on corners and curvy roads. The standard all-wheel-drive does improve grip and maintains ride comfort when the road gets bumpy. It’s tow-rated at 2,500 pounds, more than enough to pull a Jet-Ski or motorcycle.
Two drive modes (EV/HV) allow driving under electric power only or with the gas engine adding an assist. Additional modes — Sport, Trail and Eco — allow tuning tweaks for more fun or to save a few bucks.
Juicing it up takes 12 hours from a 120-volt outlet, 4.5 hours with a 240-volt outlet. That’s with the standard 3.3-kW onboard charger. Opt for a more capable 6.6-kW charger and get a full charge in just 2.5 hours when you plug into a 240-volt outlet.
So what’s the net benefit? The EPA estimates 94 combined mpg-e, the calculation of mileage from a full electric charge plus gas operation. Gas-only travel still gets 40 mpg city, 36 highway and 38 combined.
The Prime gets all the exterior upgrades of the fifth-generation RAV4, including its boxier and more aggressive look. The Prime sports 19-inch wheels, flashing LED running lamps that encircle the headlights, and dual exhausts at the rear. Two-tone schemes are striking: Six colors from Supersonic Red to Blizzard Pearl match with a Gloss-Black or Midnight Black roof.
The five-seat cabin has ample head- and legroom even for taller folks. Seats are heated, ventilated and trimmed in a synthetic leather fabric, with accent stitching, that looks and feels like the real thing. The driver gets lumbar support, while rear seats recline — but not too much.
A 7-inch digital instrument display is flanked by analog gauges. The top-line XSE includes paddle shifters along with a moonroof and ambient lighting. Available within options packages are rear-view mirror-camera, surround-view camera and head-up display.
A 9-inch infotainment screen sits atop the center stack, within easy reach and easy enough to use. The resolution, however, isn’t on par with others in the market. On the plus side, the system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an options package ($2,435) adds navigation and 11-speaker JBL premium stereo.
Since the battery pack is situated under the rear seats, more cargo space is made available. An optional hands-free lift gate accesses 33.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row, 63 with second row folded (nearly flat). There’s a household-like power outlet in the rear, too, for camping or tailgating paraphernalia.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Prime good crash-test scores, and it comes with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic braking, pedestrian detection and lane-keep assist. Optional are adaptive headlights and parking sensors.
With its cool look and flashy two-tone color schemes, folks will take gawk at the RAV4 Prime at the stoplight. But its eye-opening quickness when you pull away might be what they remember.
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE
As tested: $49,800 (Includes navigation, premium stereo and heated seats and wheel, $2,435; Premium package with power seats/memory, 4-way adjustable passenger seat, surround-view cameras, hands-free lift gate, panoramic roof and upgraded on-board charger, $5,760)
What’s all the excitement about? RAV4 Prime turning heads with snazzy two-tone bod, startling quickness. Oh, and a $7,500 hybrid tax credit
Powertrain: 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine good for 177 hp and 165 pound-feet of torque; mated two electric motors and CVT transmission; total output of 302 horses
How’s the performance? Strong acceleration with 0-60 mph in a quick 5.5 seconds, quarter-mile in 14.1. Handling is uneven
Fuel economy: 94 mpg-equivalent with electric/engine use; 40 mpg city, 36 highway, 38 combined if you never plug it in
Photos courtesy of Toyota/TNS