This is the vehicle GM should have built and named the Volt back in 2010. Instead they chose to go with a low slung hatchback limited to four seats and never expanded the offering to a format with greater mainstream appeal. People loved the fact that they could drive forty-something miles without using the gasoline engine at all but if they did need it to travel further, it was there and ready to go. Toyota then did something similar (yes, yes, the actual mechanicals were different, I mean conceptually) a couple of years later when they introduced the first Prius Plug-In Hybrid, one with a larger battery allowing it to run on electric power alone for real distances, but not as far as the Volt.
However Toyota learned and progressed from its second generation of that car in 2016 (named Prius Prime) by now for 2021 introducing what would seem to be the real missing link between gasoline hybrids and the fully electric cars that a good portion of the populace just isn’t ready for yet. A vehicle that combines a well-regarded company’s top seller, offers AWD in a CUV format, is nominally a Hybrid but packs a large enough battery to provide 42 miles of legit, usable, electric-drive-only range via a standard household plug overnight. Oh, and the cherry on top? When both propulsion systems are used in unison, it provides a combined 302hp and ends up as Toyota’s second quickest car on sale here (behind the Supra).
Toyota has a long history of electrifying its RAV4, starting with a homegrown first generation fully electric version of it sold in California in very limited numbers (a good number of which are apparently still in operation). Following that, a version of the third generation RAV4 was equipped with a drivetrain and battery provided by Tesla back when Toyota was still invested in them (I’ll bet they wish they hung on to some of those shares), also in somewhat limited numbers starting in 2012.
But with the fourth and fifth (current) generations, a hybrid version has been a popular and commonly seen part of the mix. Now, this one builds on the Hybrid by going one step beyond with the Prime, that being Toyota’s moniker for hybrid cars able to run on electric power alone for a useful distance without babying the throttle or other considerations.
What it really does is enable those that may be “EV-curious” to get their feet wet with a vehicle that looks completely normal/familiar, runs on gasoline whenever you’d want or need it to, however can be plugged in and fully charged overnight in a standard 120V wall outlet, and thus gives the full electric feel when in EV mode along with all of its benefits, i.e. no gas station visits, silent operation, bags of instant torque, and zero pollution, all lasting easily the distance of an average commuter’s day.
We’ve reviewed the current generation RAV4 twice already, once by Petrichor who sampled an XLE Hybrid version as well as Ed Snitkoff who sampled an XSE Hybrid version last year. Both liked the car in general while both had a few nits to pick in their respective reviews, but the Hybrid part of the deal found favor with both.
As with Ed’s tester, mine was an XSE model as well, this is the “sportier” top model in the range. The styling was butched up significantly a couple of years ago and has apparently found favor with the buying public. Available in various trim levels, gasoline or hybrid forms, the RAV4 has grown a bit over the years and is now at the point where it is a real entrant as a family car.
With plenty of space for a family as well as their cargo needs it is refined enough to now be taking business away from historically somewhat larger vehicles such as the Highlander, it’s certainly worth comparing and contrasting to see if it might fit the need.
In XSE trim, the cabin is filled with conveniences and quality materials of a higher level than in the lower trims. In this pretty much fully loaded model, the seats are covered in Softex (Toyota’s name for its vegan leather option), they are heated as well as ventilated, powered and equipped with memory settings for multiple drivers.
While supportive and very adjustable, the seats weren’t the most comfortable for me, the width was fine, however I found the bottom cushion a little short and the backrest didn’t provide as much support as I prefer even with the lumbar support engaged all the way. This is a very subjective issue though, and best sampled by oneself instead of taking anyone else’s (i.e. my) word for it.
The dashboard is covered in soft materials as is the majority of the door panels’ surfaces (at least the parts that you’d realistically ever want or need to touch), all the controls are arranged in a format that quickly becomes familiar, the now ubiquitous touchscreen but in a 9″ format mounted near the top of the center stack can display multiple menu items at once, just like in most other Toyotas, and all knobs and buttons operate in silky smooth fashion.
The knobs on the audio and HVAC systems are topped with a rubber surface that ensures a solid grip, and at the bottom of the stack is a wireless charger. A very normal shifter is placed where one would expect along with a couple of cupholders as well as a small button bank to control operational modes (EV, HV (Hybrid) or auto EV/HV). There’s also a knob to engage Sport, Economy or leave it in Normal drive mode.
The dashboard also features a handy shelf ahead of the passenger and a very small version of the same on the driver’s side, however it could maybe hold a few coins on that side, it’s not large enough for a smartphone (but not meant to be, either). In general it’s overall a significantly nicer place to be than the prior generation of RAV4, the soft materials across the dashboard and doors have far better texturing and feel much thicker and richer.
The touchscreen has the same interface seen across most of the Toyota line with graphics that are perfectly acceptable if not cutting edge, especially the camera resolution at night could be better and even in the daytime is on the lower side of high resolution compared to some other makers’ systems.
In front of the driver is a decently comprehensive gauge package with a speedometer in the middle, an eco-meter on the left, fuel and state of charge gauges on the right as well as a large center area within the speedometer where various information is displayed and can be changed to whatever is of interest via steering wheel buttons.
The left and right portions are physical gauges, but the center section is all digital – pictures seem to show the items as very distinct elements, however with real eyes looking at it everything looks seamless with a common black background and no obvious delineations.
The eco-meter on the left kind of shows how much power is being called for and how gentle one is with the throttle, it also shows if the car is regenerating power back into the battery via braking or simply letting off the throttle. Interesting but not particularly useful really. There is a function that displays how eco-friendly your driving is so I suppose the gauge helps to get that “score” higher.
The backseat area is finished as well as the front, the door panels are exactly the same as far as materials go (an area often skimped on), the two outboard seats also get seat heaters controlled by buttons in the door panels, and there is enough space for me to be comfortable behind the driver’s seat adjusted for myself (6’1″ with 32″ inseam).
Even with the panoramic sunroof (the front section can open, and all of it can be covered or left uncovered by an electric sliding sunshade) headroom was good in front and back for myself. The rear seats can be lowered in a 60/40 split but do not recline or slide. When folded down, they provide a continuous fairly flat surface to the cargo area, with no step at the junction.
The cargo area was surprisingly spacious, makers such as Toyota have gotten good at packaging the batteries where they don’t take up any space although the rear drive unit does necessarily impinge on the overall space somewhat, but not in any readily discernible way.
The floor can easily be lifted to access the full size temporary spare underneath and the left side wall features a subwoofer for the JBL Premium Audio package. The right side wall offers a standard household outlet (120V, 1500W) for powering whatever you might want when stationary. Of course the rear hatch is power operated but the rear glass is fixed in place as is the standard in this size class. All four doors are equipped with touch sensitivity for both unlocking/opening them as well as locking them without using a key.
Enough about the generalities of this RAV4 though, let’s get to the prime piece of equipment here, the powertrain. In this case it is equipped with both a 2.5l 4-cylinder engine as well as two permanent magnet synchronous electric motor generators at the front end. Using an 18.1 kWh lithium-ion battery the car powers all four wheels via yet another motor at the rear axle, albeit without all of them connected to each other mechanically.
The rear axle is electric only and comes into play as/when needed. As I experienced in snow with the recent Venza Hybrid which operates similarly in this regard, this system works very well. Transmission duties are handled by what Toyota calls an Electronic CVT system, which is nothing like a belt driven CVT with which you may be familiar, it’s really simpler and more reliable.
The gasoline engine produces 177hp and 165lb-ft of torque, the front electric motor generators combine to put out 179hp and 199lb-ft of torque and the rear motor can add another 53hp and 89lb-ft. Now, that doesn’t all occur at the same peak, hence the maximum 302hp number.
However, 302hp adds up to a vehicle that can easily chirp the tires, or do a one-wheel peel out of a corner when deliberately pushed to do so before it reins itself back in. 302hp in a RAV4 is a fun number and not something I ever would have expected to see. For reference, that’s 83hp more than the standard hybrid RAV4 and equates to an estimated 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds. Who needs a Hellcat?
To assuage those worried about the battery running out of juice, there is zero requirement for it to actually be charged, the RAV4 will simply operate as a normal hybrid vehicle it it isn’t. However to charge it there are a few options. The easiest, cheapest, and simplest way is to use the cord that comes with the car and plug it into the port located on the opposite side of the vehicle from the gasoline filler. That port has a little courtesy light that comes on in case it’s dark in your garage so that you can see what you are doing. It slots in easily and clicks/locks into place and then a small green light comes on to indicate it is charging.
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