Wednesday, November 30, 2022
First Reviews 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime First Drive Review: Plug-In Hybrid Shows Its Full...

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime First Drive Review: Plug-In Hybrid Shows Its Full Potential

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is more comfortable and refined than your typical RAV4, and it's quicker too

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Pros

  • Very comfortable
  • Very quick off the line
  • Great towing capacity
  • Useful all-electric range

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Cons

  • Light steering
  • A little less cargo capacity than its RAV4 siblings
  • Expensive without incentives

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid takes what Toyota does best and improves upon it while offering SUV-loving consumers the versatility they either need or think they need.

The market’s obsession with sport utility vehicles isn’t going away, and the path to electrifying North American cars will have to go through SUVs. The RAV4 Prime is the perfect bridge.

The Toyota RAV4 has become the best-selling non-truck vehicle in both Canada and the US. Buyers like its comfort, its safety, and its above-average versatility in the compact SUV segment.

It also feels like an SUV with a slightly boxy design and higher driving position than many of its direct rivals. Now the Prime version takes all of that and adds impressive all-electric driving range that’s more than just a marketing gimmick.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

You get 68 kilometres (42 miles) of electric range on paper, and you don’t really have to change your driving habits to reach that figure as I’ll get into in a second. That means that most owners can actually use the RAV4 Prime to get to and from work or run errands without using a single drop of fuel.

Imagine going a whole week, maybe a whole month, without putting gas in your SUV. That’s what the RAV4 Prime can offer that the RAV4 Hybrid can’t. It also has double the range of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the pioneer of plug-in hybrid compact SUVs that proved to Toyota that they could work.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime vs 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Spec Comparison

The only real competitor to the RAV4 Prime is the new Ford Escape PHEV that offers 61 kilometres of range (37 miles), but the Ford is front-wheel drive only, a death sentence in the SUV world.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime comes with all-wheel drive standard and its posted range, unlike many plug-ins, is actually conservative. I was able to go 72 kilometres (45 miles) on all-electric power alone, and I didn’t change how I drive. A colleague managed to reach 92 kilometres (57.5 miles).

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

The Same Toyota RAV4 People Know

 Driving the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, the first thought that crosses the mind is that it doesn’t feel any different from a regular RAV4. Aside from different menus in the instrument cluster, the interior is the same.

There are no quirky materials or trims like we find in most electrified vehicles (looking at you, Prius Prime), it just feels like a regular SUV.

Like any RAV4, it’s more comfortable than your typical compact SUV, and quieter too. The seats feel great, there’s plenty of storage space and plenty of room as well. It’s the kind of vehicle that makes the driver more confident behind the wheel.

The Toyota RAV4 Prime’s suspension was tweaked to improve comfort over the RAV4 Hybrid’s already smooth ride, and although I didn’t compare each side by side, I can confirm the Prime is the more refined SUV of this size you can buy.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

It’s also the quickest, at city speeds at least. The RAV4 Prime has 302 horsepower of combined electric/gasoline power under the hood and it shows when you take off from a stop light. That’s enough to reach 100 km/h in 6.0 seconds and 60 mph in 5.7 seconds.

The only compact SUV that can rival these numbers would be the Mazda CX-5 with the turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine (250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque), and the Prime feels smoother than the turbocharged CX-5. It also feels a lot faster than the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

On the highway, you lose some of that low-speed performance. It doesn’t feel any quicker than a RAV4 Hybrid.

The brakes do take some time to get used to, especially at low speeds where the brake pedal feels a little soft. This is something RAV4 Prime owners will notice in the first few days and forget about.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

Moreover, unlike many EVs and hybrids, there’s very little regenerative braking feel. Take your foot off the gas and the RAV4 Prime coasts as opposed to slowing down.

The steering is very light, but I’ve been struggling to identify this as a problem. I’m guessing the only people who will actually notice how light the steering wheel feels are auto journalists who alternate between RAV4s and Porsche 911s.

For most consumers, a light steering will actually be appreciated. That said, if you like how the Volkswagen Tiguan or Mazda CX-5 feels, or you generally prefer a sportier ride, the RAV4 Prime will feel soft.

Interior space is identical to traditional RAV4 models, but the larger battery does impede on cargo space a little. The RAV4 Prime still has a larger cargo area than the Outlander PHEV and Escape PHEV. It just loses about 100 litres (4 cu.ft) of space compared to the RAV4 Hybrid.

On the other hand, it can tow up to 2,500 pounds which is higher than any RAV4, save the RAV4 Trail.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

How it all works on the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

The 302 horsepower generated by the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime come from a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder gas engine paired with more powerful electric powertrain and an 18.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

The battery pack can be recharged in 2.5 hours with a 240V outlet with the 6.6 kW onboard charger, but if you just want to plug it into the wall you’ll get full range back in about 12 hours.

Drivers can switch between various driving modes including EV mode, auto/HV, and EV hold. The EV mode will keep you in electric power only, even if you floor the accelerator. The middle mode will switch the gas engine on when extra power is needed. You can also avoid the electric powertrain all together to keep your range for later, something you would do on the highway, for example.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

Aside from a slight grumble when the gas engine activates, the RAV4 Prime uses its complex powertrain efficiently and each mode works as intended. Most buyers will simply switch on EV only mode and go about their day with an electric vehicle.

When the battery is depleted, you still enjoy a very efficient sport utility vehicle. I averaged 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres, or 52 mpg across my drive covering over 200 kilometres.

It’s not cheap

Pricing for the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is unique. In Canada, it starts at $44,990, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s eligible for the full $5,000 iZEV rebate while its competitors only get $2,500. It’s still more expensive, however.

If you are in Quebec where the RAV4 Prime will go on sale first, you get an extra $8,000 from the provincial government. In British Columbia, you get an additional $1,500.

That means that in Quebec, the RAV4 Prime base model is actually cheaper than a RAV4 Hybrid.

In the US, the Toyota RAV4 Prime starts at $39,220 which is $10,000 more than a RAV4 Hybrid.

Ultimately, in most markets the Prime is a very expensive Toyota RAV4. It does make up for it with a long list of features coming standard and of course, that extra power under the hood.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Trims And Specs Overview Canada

And being able to complete your daily commute without using any fuel is noteworthy. It also justifies its luxury SUV price by being as comfortable as a premium compact SUV, even more so in certain instances. I’d take this over a BMW X3 for a long highway drive.

But, I think in the US where Toyota expects to sell 5,000 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime units across 50 states, a $50k RAV4 may be a tough sell. Same goes for provinces like Ontario where there are no EV incentives except the federal iZEV program.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

In Quebec, however, dealers can’t get enough RAV4 Primes and the wait to receive one if you order today is over a year. Toyota is well aware of the excess demand over supply, and say they are working on getting Primes to Quebec sooner.

Still, with the incentives it offers, the RAV4 Prime is now head and shoulders above its competition in Quebec and BC.

Putting incentives and pricing aside and just looking at the vehicle, this is a quick, efficient, spacious and very refined SUV that is very hard not to like. Toyota proves once again it understands and builds hybrids better than any other automaker.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Photo: Toyota

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Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur was studying to be a CPA when he decided to drop everything and launch a car website in 2012. Don't ask. The journey has been an interesting one, but today he has co-founded and manages 8 websites including and as General Manager of NetMedia360. He also sits on the board of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Send me an email


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