It only takes one look at the spec sheet for the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime to pique my interest. This compact crossover has a plug-in hybrid powertrain, 302 horsepower, 42 miles of all-electric range, all-wheel drive and a starting price under $40,000. Color me intrigued.
More than anything, what impresses me right away is that this RAV4 is quick. A 134-kilowatt electric motor sends 199 pound-feet of torque to the front axle, while a smaller, 40-kW motor pushes 89 lb-ft to the rear. Combined with a 2.5-liter gas engine, Toyota rates the RAV4 Prime's net output at 302 hp, resulting in a 5.7-second 0-to-60-mph sprint. That's sports car territory.
Of course, once you've launched the RAV4 Prime, the fun really fades. The steering is numb, the suspension is tuned for comfort above all and the brakes are kind of mushy and hard to modulate. The drone of the continuously variable transmission isn't exactly enjoyable, either.
Still, the RAV4 Prime is quite good at its intended purpose. The 42-mile electric range is what you'll actually get in the real world and, using that to its full advantage, the EPA says you should return 94 miles per gallon equivalent. (With only gas engine running, expect to see 38 mpg.) Leave the RAV4 Prime in its standard drive mode and the gas engine and electric motors work seamlessly, though there's also a full-EV mode as well as a charge setting, where the gas engine is used for both propulsion and battery charging.
Speaking of charging, the RAV4 Prime takes 12 hours to charge its 18.1-kWh battery on a standard household plug. If you have a 240-volt Level 2 outlet, you can charge the RAV4 in 4.5 hours. Opt for the more powerful 6.6-kW onboard charger -- a costly option that's only available with the $5,760 XSE Premium Package -- and Toyota says you can replenish the RAV4's battery in just 2.5 hours.
The RAV4 Prime comes standard with Toyota's Safety Sense suite of driving aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, road sign recognition and automatic high-beam headlights. The adaptive cruise control is smooth, at least at higher speeds, and can be initialized at slow speeds for those times when stop-and-go traffic sneaks up on you. It can be a little herky-jerky when you're crawling along, though. Curiously, blind-spot monitoring is not included in the Safety Sense package, though it's still standard on the RAV4 Prime. My Prime XSE tester also has rear cross-traffic alert and both front and rear parking assist.
Standard cabin tech includes an 8-inch touchscreen running Toyota's Entune infotainment system, but my XSE tester has a $1,620 Premium Audio Package that bumps the screen up to 9 inches. But honestly, Entune is so bad that the extra inch hardly makes a difference. The tech is quick to respond to inputs, but the interface is clunky and it takes way too many steps to access certain functions. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, so you can just skip the whole Entune mess most of the time.
An optional 10-inch head-up display is nice, but even at full brightness it's hard to see if you wear polarized sunglasses. The biggest tech issue, however, is the backup camera, which is grainy and blurry, which actually kind of makes it a hazard. At least the available rearview camera mirror offers a crisp, clear, wide-angle view of what's behind the car.
The rest of the RAV4 Prime's interior is generally fine, with SofTex faux leather on the seats, accented with some red contrast stitching. The cabin is spacious, nicely organized and the materials are all of high quality, and there are myriad ways to charge your devices, including an optional wireless charging pad up front.
Thanks to its battery and plug-in drivetrain, the Prime takes a small hit in cargo space compared to a standard RAV4. With the rear seats up the Prime has 33.5 cubic feet of space. Fold them down and that expands to 63.2 cubes. Meanwhile, the standard RAV4 has 37.5/69.8 cubic feet -- enough for 17 extra 12-packs of Diet Dr. Pepper. Then again, you may be able to just throw those 12-packs on a trailer. The RAV4 can tow 2,500 pounds.
As far as competitors go, the RAV4 itself competes with a ton of other compact crossovers. The Prime, meanwhile, really only rivals the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and recently delayed Ford Escape PHEV, both of which offer less EV range and worse interiors. If you aren't ready to take the plunge on a plug-in, Toyota offers the RAV4 with a more conventional hybrid powertrain, too, which is rated at 40 mpg combined.
Because of its complex powertrain and higher level of standard equipment, the Prime is a pretty expensive RAV4. The SE starts at $39,275 while the XSE comes in at $42,600 (both prices include $1,175 for destination). Fully loaded, you're looking at just under $49,000.
On the other hand, no other compact crossover is as well-rounded as the Toyota RAV4 Prime. It's roomy, efficient, packed with tech and super quick. It might be a little pricey, but it's a plug-in CUV I have no trouble recommending.