2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Jul 07, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Toyota deals!

The RAV4 is the number-one-selling Toyota model and will be the fourth-best-selling overall in the United States this year, following the FordChevrolet, and Ram full-size pickup trucks. Introduced nearly 25 years ago, the diminutive RAV4 was the brand’s first passenger-car-based SUV in a segment then defined by rugged-but-clunky truck-based designs.

While keeping its passenger-car origins and related driving refinement, the RAV4 has since grown up and become the centerpiece of Toyota’s SUV lineup. It dominates sales in the compact SUV segment, including the Ford EscapeHonda CR-VHyundai Tucson, and Nissan Rogue.

The current-generation RAV4 was all-new for the 2019 model year, introduced with a choice of conventional gas or gas-electric hybrid powertrains. The Prime version with its first-ever plug-in battery application in the RAV4 debuted for the 2021 model year.

Aside from the “Plug-in Hybrid” badges on the front fenders and a charge-port door on the passenger-side rear fender, there’s not much that visually distinguishes the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime from a regular-issue RAV4 Hybrid. Yet, there’s nearly $7,000 separating the considerably more-dear Prime version from the Hybrid when looking at comparably equipped all-wheel-drive (AWD) trims.

Compared to the 2021 RAV4 Hybrid, here are the nuts-and-bolts upgrades standard in the 2021 RAV4 Prime:

  • Larger lithium-ion battery
  • Plug-in battery charger
  • More powerful front traction motor
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Larger brakes
  • Larger wheels and tires

The 2021 RAV4 Prime is available in two trims: the base SE at $39,425 and the sporty XSE at $42,750. Pricing includes the $1,175 destination charge. It is noteworthy that the RAV4 Prime qualifies for the $7,500 federal tax credit while the regular RAV4 Hybrid does not.

Standard SE fare includes:

  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • An 8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa
  • Cloth seat trim
  • Heated front seats
  • Power driver’s seat
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter
  • A power liftgate

In comparison, the XSE upgrades to a 9-inch infotainment screen, wireless charger, faux-leather seat trim, 19-inch alloy wheels, paddle shifters, and two-tone paint.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2020 Toyota RAV4 and 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. This review focuses on the 2021 RAV4 Prime’s upgrades compared to the RAV4 Hybrid and how they potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Toyota RAV4 - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 51 percent of Toyota RAV4 buyers are male, and the median age of a RAV4 owner is 59 years. Both demographic measures exactly match the overall compact SUV segment.

Buyers say their favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Fuel economy
  • Getting in and out

Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) the:

  • Driving comfort (in a tie with Interior design)
  • Setting up and starting
  • Powertrain
  • Infotainment system

In the 2020 APEAL Study, the RAV4 ranked number 11 out of 15 compact SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Toyota RAV4 Prime - Find the best Toyota deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a RAV4 Prime AWD XSE equipped with the following options:

  • Premium package (head-up display, wireless charger, panoramic moonroof, overhead-view camera, heated and ventilated power front seats, digital rearview mirror with HomeLink, Smart Key, adaptive headlights, a hands-free power liftgate, front and rear parking assist with automatic braking)
  • Premium Audio package (embedded navigation, JBL premium audio, Toyota connected services)
  • Weather package (heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers)
  • Special Supersonic Red/Black 2-tone paint
  • Mudguards
  • Roof rack crossbars
  • Carpeted cargo and floor mats
  • Wheel locks
  • Rear bumper applique

The price of the test vehicle came to $49,782, including the $1,175 destination charge.

Much Larger Battery than the RAV4 Hybrid

The RAV4 Prime’s 18.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery dwarfs the 1.6 kilowatt-hour unit of the RAV4 Hybrid, enabling the Prime’s extended electric-only range and lively acceleration. It also adds more than a quarter ton of weight.

But behind the wheel, the driver doesn’t feel the extra 545 pounds of mass when accelerating. The underfloor battery imparts a Weeble-like stabilizing low-center-of-gravity dynamic on the road. The Prime gets larger tires and brakes to handle the extra mass. A side benefit is the RAV4 Prime’s 2,000-pound tow rating doubles that of the RAV4 Hybrid’s.

A bigger battery does, however, mean longer charging times. I charged the big, 18.1-kilowatt-hour RAV4 Prime battery in 12 hours overnight using a 120-volt Level 1 outlet in my garage. That drops from 4.5 hours (using the standard 3.3-kilowatt onboard charge cord that comes standard) to just 2.5 hours using the optional 6.6-kilowatt charge cord in the XSE and a 240-volt Level 2 outlet. The higher-capacity onboard charge cord is available only with XSE trim in the $3,765 Premium package.

With the Prime’s larger lithium-ion battery underfloor, there are 33.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 63.2 aft of the front seats with the rears folded. That’s approximately 10 percent less cargo capacity in the Prime than the regular-issue RAV4 gas and gas/electric hybrid versions, but a small price to pay for the Prime’s extra electric-only range and added accelerative ability.

Under the cargo floor, around the spare tire, there’s also some space to hide valuables such as a small purse or camera.

Access to the cargo hold is via a height-adjustable power liftgate. Optional with XSE trim only is a hands-free liftgate, openable with a foot kick under the rear bumper if the key fob is on your person.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Red Plugged In and Charging

Significantly More Powerful Front Traction Motor

Although the RAV4 Prime uses the same 177-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and 53-hp rear traction motor as all-wheel-drive-equipped versions of the RAV4 hybrid, the Prime gets a much larger, 179-hp front traction motor. Compared to the standard RAV4 Hybrid, the Prime’s front traction motor has 50 percent more horsepower and 34 percent more torque. The total system output for the Prime is 302 hp compared to the Hybrid’s 219. The added juice enables the Prime to scoot from rest to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. That makes the RAV4 Prime the quickest four-door Toyota and the third fleetest of foot in the entire Toyota lineup after the turbocharged GR Supra 3.0 and 2.0 two-seat sports cars.

In addition to aiding foul-weather traction, the Prime’s standard on-demand AWD system also helps keep the tires from spinning under brisk acceleration. Would you believe a hybrid that does burnouts? Yes, the RAV4 Prime is that powerful.

Up to 42 Miles of All-Electric Range

Unlike the RAV4 Hybrid, which relies on the engine to charge its hybrid battery, the RAV4 Prime has a charge port that allows the user to plug into the grid to top off the hybrid battery. When fully charged, the Prime’s big 18.1-kilowatt-hour battery can be operated in a charge-depleting mode that provides up to 42 miles of electric-only range.

For a vehicle used for short commutes or errands around town and charged at home, it may be possible to avoid purchasing gasoline for weeks at a time. Yet, unlike pure electric vehicles, the RAV4 Prime will switch to conventional gas-hybrid charge-sustaining operation and keep going after the initial electric-only range is used up. This means much more convenience and shorter pit stops for fuel on long trips.

The EPA gives the RAV4 Prime a 94 MPGe rating, a somewhat confusing number that takes into account both the initial 42-mile all-electric and subsequent gas-electric operation for the first 100 miles on a full charge. It’s helpful, really, only when comparing the RAV4 Prime with other plug-in hybrids such as the Ford Escape (100 MPGe) and Hyundai Tucson (70 MPGe) plug-in hybrids.

The EPA rating for the RAV4 Prime in combined city and highway driving once the initial electric range is depleted is 38 mpg. Over 185 miles of driving consisting of 70 percent interstate and rural highway and 30 percent residential roads, the test vehicle indicated an average of 37.9 mpg. That figure included 40 miles of all-electric driving on a full battery charge. Even with the RAV4 Prime’s relatively small 14.5-gallon fuel tank, the indicated 37.9 mpg would result in an estimated driving range-topping 540 miles.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Red Instrumentation

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Only RAV4 Model Eligible for the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit

Sometimes, things can appear too good to be true. Performance and energy efficiency are usually mutually exclusive. The RAV4 Prime ably offers both in one tidy package. As this is written, the RAV4 Prime is in very short supply, despite the near $7,000 price premium over the non-plug-in RAV4 Hybrid.

So it’s a no-brainer. Taking the $7,500 federal tax credit into account, the RAV4 Prime is less expensive than the basic RAV4 Hybrid. Of course, the buyer must qualify for the federal credit and have a tax liability meeting or exceeding the $7,500 threshold to make the transaction worthwhile. But the credit helps shed light on why the RAV4 Prime has been in extremely tight supply. Who wouldn’t want a super fuel-efficient SUV with an EPA-rated 38 mpg in combined city/highway driving and up to 42 miles of electric-only range plus acceleration worthy of a performance sedan for about the same price (after the credit) as a regular hybrid?

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Toyota deals!

With everyday fuel economy in the high-30-mpg range and up to 42 miles of electric-only propulsion, the surprisingly quick-accelerating Toyota RAV4 Prime offers roominess, comfort, and up-to-date infotainment and safety tech in a tidy package. The RAV4 Prime can hypermile with the best of the hybrid compact SUVs, operate fossil-fuel-free for short hops around town, plus squirt through traffic with a quick burst of electric-motor torque. No wonder the 2021 RAV4 Prime is in short supply.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Red Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer websites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals, and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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