Toyota may be a bit behind the curve when it comes to fully electric vehicles, but with hybrids, they’ve always been at the top of their game. With the recent announcement of the 2021 Toyota Rav4 Prime, the company is taking the plug-in market much more seriously. And they’ve just put everyone else on notice. Even the Prius Prime should be embarrassed. Tesla Cybertruck? Ford Mustang Mach-E? Those are groundbreaking vehicles, but given the current state of the still-developing charging infrastructure, many Americans would probably be better off with something like this plug-in hybrid. Regular hybrids work too. And for Toyota, they’re selling the non-Prius hybrid models as fast as they can.
With EVs being all the rage at the moment, hybrids, specifically the ones from Toyota, are quietly gaining traction with car shoppers. The Corolla and Rav4 hybrids are in high demand. Although the company hasn’t broken out exactly how many they’ve sold this year, they’re doing very well:
While many of its competitors are walking away from hybrids and plowing billions into battery-powered cars, the Japanese automaker has seen demand surge for its 14 gasoline-electric models. Toyota’s hybrids accounted for 13% of total Toyota and Lexus brand sales in the U.S. last month and made up nearly a quarter of the volume for its top seller, the RAV4 compact SUV.
For November 2019, Rav4 and Corolla sales were up 26% and 17%, respectively. The Prius, which had been in a sharp slump, saw sales increase by 12% compared to last year. The hybrids are no doubt a big reason why Toyota’s bread-and-butter products are thriving. At this point the only thing preventing Toyota from selling more of them is their inadequate supply of batteries.
They should definitely figure out how to solve their battery deficit before the launch of the plug-in Rav4 though, because based on the specs, it should be a home run.
What makes Toyota’s newest plug-in so noteworthy? How about a 5.8 second 0-60 mph time? Yes, you read that right. Toyota estimates the Rav4 Prime will be roughly two seconds faster to 60 mph than the regular hybrid variant. And even if the company is way off their projection, a 6.8 second figure would still be impressive. The Prime will use a slightly altered version of the 2.5 liter four cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine found in the regular hybrid. That engine is rated at 176 horsepower. Paired with two electric motors, the system will make a projected 302 horsepower. These numbers bring to mind the days when buyers could order a Rav4 with Toyota’s 3.5 liter V6. That powertrain was quite potent, and Toyota even saw fit to mention it in their press release for the Prime:
A comparison with an older RAV4 offers a vivid illustration of the march of technology. The 2006-2012 RAV4 offered an optional 269-hp, 3.5-liter gas V6 engine that reached 0-60 mph in 6.3-seconds, which is a half-second slower than the RAV4 Prime. And, that model’s 21 combined MPG fuel economy rating simply pales in comparison.
With the new Rav4 Prime, Toyota seems to have developed a vehicle with very few compromises. It’ll go an estimated 39 miles on a single charge, which would make it the longest range plug-in hybrid crossover upon its debut next summer. Additionally, the Prime will also be equipped with the same all-wheel drive system found in the Rav4 and Prius hybrids. The system employs a separate rear-mounted electric motor in the rear end. That limits the amount of torque the Rav4 can send to both rear wheels, and in the event of a depleted battery, owners could lose all-wheel drive completely. In the Prius, the electric all-wheel drive is good for 7 horsepower and 40 lb-ft of torque and can only provide 100 percent of its power up to six mph. That’s not great compared to a mechanical system but it should be able to get owners out of a parking spot.
Toyota apparently packaged the lithium ion battery in a way that leaves passenger space unaffected, which is a plus, although we’ll have to wait and see if that is actually the case once non-Toyota people get the chance to drive one. More believable is the regular gasoline requirement for the 2.5 liter engine. Crucially, Toyota equipped the Prime with a heat pump. In a hybrid or EV, heat pumps allow the vehicle to use the heat coming from the battery or outside air to warm the cabin. That may not sound like much, but using battery power directly to heat up an EV or PHEV with resistance heating can significantly decrease battery performance.
In any event, the Rav4 Prime is uh, primed (sorry) to take the plug-in hybrid segment by storm. The upcoming Ford Escape plug-in hybrid will allow an estimated 31 miles of electric range but will not offer any type of all-wheel drive, mechanical or otherwise. And the related Lincoln Corsair will have an electronic all-wheel drive system but only 29 miles of range per charge. Additionally, the combined output of Lincoln’s system is 266 horsepower, a full 36 horsepower behind the Toyota.
In the opening salvo of the plug-in hybrid efficiency/performance war, Toyota looks set to handily win the first battle. And it’s entirely possible they already won the regular hybrid war too.