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Exterior view of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

The Toyota RAV4 is credited with starting the crossover craze when it was launched in 1994, and this small family hauler continues to innovate almost 30 years later. Fresh off its redesign for the 2019 model year, Toyota updated the fifth-gen RAV4 once again with the introduction of an all-new plug-in hybrid model, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime.

Just based on fuel numbers alone, the RAV4 Prime promised to be a great addition to the RAV4 lineup right out of the gate, but I was most intrigued by Toyota's claims that this Prime model is also the quickest, most powerful and most efficient RAV4 ever built. To find out for myself, I spent a week in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime decked out in the stylish and sporty XSE trim level.

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2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Exterior

Exterior view of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

Starting with the exterior design, it seems that the overall theme of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime was to limit the styling differences between this ultra-fuel-efficient model and the rest of the RAV4 lineup.

That means no special grille treatment or aero-sculpted wheels that you'll find on other plug-in hybrids. Instead, the RAV4 Prime gets the same exterior styling as the standard RAV4 with the exception of fender badges, the liftgate badge, and the Hybrid's signature blue Toyota logo front and rear. Hinting at the type of style and performance the RAV4 Prime delivers, this model is only offered in the RAV4's two sportiest-looking trim levels: SE and XSE. Since my tester was the XSE, it featured a stunning two-tone paint job with a Midnight Black Metallic roof over a Supersonic Red body and 19-inch alloy wheels. In addition to all the other claims, I think it's easy to say the current RAV4 shows off the boldest lines in this crossover's 26-year history.

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Exterior view of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Interior

The inside of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is identical to the RAV4 Hybrid, and when it's decked out in the XSE trim level, it's a very stylish cabin. The driver gets a large digital gauge cluster, and this tester was equipped with the upgraded nine-inch touchscreen navigation system as  part of the $5,760 XSE Premium Package. This package might be a pricey one, but it throws in all the options, including a 10-inch head-up display, panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats, a heated leather steering wheel, a foot-activated power liftgate, a digital rearview mirror, and the 11-speaker JBL audio system. All XSE trim levels get Toyota's leather-like Softex material on the seats, and the Premium Package adds a little more style with a two-tone pattern which features red accents with contrasting stitching.

Unlike some other hybrids and plug-in hybrids, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime doesn't lose any passenger space with the added battery capacity. The front seats have excellent support and are ultra comfortable, and there's plenty of headroom and legroom for adults in the rear. The RAV4 Prime does give up a little cargo space compared to the standard RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid, but the 33.4 cubic-feet behind the rear seats and 63.1 cubic-feet with the rear row folded flat is still a respectable amount for a compact crossover.

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2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Performance

Exterior view of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

Just like the RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder under the hood, but this model backs the gasoline engine with a continuously variable transmission, a pair of electric motors, and a 18.1-kWh lithium-ion battery. This system features a net output of 302 horsepower, and the use of electric motors helps this plug-in hybrid scoot from zero to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds.

To reiterate Toyota's words, these figures make the RAV4 Prime the most powerful and quickest RAV4 ever. And since PHEV buyers are mostly concerned with efficiency, this crossover has EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 94 MPGe** in combined city/highway driving with a fully charged battery, 38 MPGe* once the battery has been depleted and 42 miles** of all-electric driving range. Best of all, the plug-in hybrid doesn't use a smaller fuel tank, so the standard 14.5 gallon tank allows the RAV4 Prime to deliver 600 miles of driving range (according to the EPA) with a full tank of gas and a full battery charge.

Especially given the thrill of instant torque, there really aren't any trade offs when it comes to driving the RAV4 Prime versus a conventional compact crossover. Even though it weighs about 700 pounds more than a comparable RAV4 AWD, the ride is still impressively smooth and responsive. One cool thing about this plug-in system is that there's a button that allows the battery to hold its charge, which is ideal if you're going to be driving on the interstate and want to save the EV power for city driving. It's a neat feature that allows drivers to maximize their EV driving experience.

The XSE Premium Package also includes a 6.6 kW onboard charger for quicker EV charging. The standard household 110-volt cord that comes with the vehicle is perfect for an overnight charge, while a 220-volt charger takes just 2.5 hours to replenish the battery (almost twice as fast as the standard 3.3 kW onboard charger). When it comes to the capability that people expect from a compact CUV, the RAV4 Prime comes standard with Electric On-Demand All-Wheel Drive, and it has up to 8.3 inches of ground clearance.

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Exterior view of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Safety

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime has not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but both the standard RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid have already received five-star crash ratings.

The RAV4 Prime comes standard with eight airbags as well as the Toyota Safety Sense and Star Safety System suite of safety features, and this tester added the XSE Premium Package, which includes a 360-degree camera, Rear Cross-Traffic Braking, Front and Rear Park Assist, Adaptive Headlights and Automatic High Beams.

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Exterior view of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Overall

Many say that electric vehicles might be the future of transportation, but until the charging infrastructure gets better (and more accessible), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles like the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime are a more appropriate purchase decision for most buyers.

Even better, the RAV4 Prime provides all of the benefits of a PHEV without sacrificing any space or capabilities that buyers expect from a compact crossover. While you can get a 2021 RAV4 for $26,250* and a RAV4 Hybrid for just under $29,000*, opting for the plug-in RAV4 Prime bumps the starting to $38,100 - that's just under the starting price of the full-electric 2021 VW ID.4 I recently had the chance to check out. Factor in the XSE trim level and the optional Premium Package, and the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime used for this review had an as-tested price of $47,760.

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Jeffrey N. Ross | May 03, 2021


2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Specs

Layout

4-door, 5-passenger, AWD

Engine/Transmission

PHEV; 2.5L I4, electric motors, 302 hp
CVT automatic

Mileage

40/36 mpg (city/hwy)

NHTSA Safety Rating

N/A


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*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.