2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE Premium Review

Kinda embarrassing for the Prius e-AWD


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Seriously efficient, surprisingly quick, practical levels of room and cargo space, 42 miles of electric-only driving range, quiet and compliant ride.
Negatives: Not so great in the corners, numb steering, mediocre infotainment system.
Bottom Line: You have to ask yourself if the premium you'll pay for the RAV4 Prime is worth its added efficiency and power. We found it fun to punch the gas, but its driving manners have not been improved. We're just glad a more exciting version of the RAV4 is here and that it makes the Prius seem obsolete.
The RAV4 Prime is the antidote to tepid sales of the Toyota Prius. That makes complete sense given the fact that crossovers are killing sedans and hatchbacks, and it borrows the same notion as the PHEV Prius Prime but adds even more power and practicality. It combines the best of PHEV tech without sacrificing power and then throws in ample amounts of space that the Prius Prime doesn't offer. We drove it in sporty XSE trim for a week during one of the worst Chicago winters in recent memory. Read our full review below.
 

Driving Experience

8.2

 

There's no question the RAV4 Prime is quick. The 302-horsepower moves it with alacrity, but it's pretty much a straight-line thrill. Overall, the driving experience isn't all that much different from the rest of the RAV4 lineup, except that its acceleration is pretty impressive.

Ride Quality: The RAV4 prime is smooth and compliant over road surfaces and handles gaps well, even in sweeping turns.

Acceleration: 0-60 comes in 5.4 seconds, and throttle response is good. Keep in mind, this is the second fastest Toyota in the lineup, next to the 6-cylinder Supra.

Braking: The regen brakes don't feel all that confidence-inspiring, and braking distances are longer than average.

Steering: The steering feels disconnected and numb, so there's no feedback coming through. It turns in decently, and it's on center, at least.

Handling: There's some body roll and mild understeer, not much different from the rest of the RAV4 lineup.

Technology

6.5

 

We had hoped Toyota would make the Entune system visually more attractive and easier to use. It's somewhat improved, but it doesn't seem like a generational jump in terms of looks and operation. That being said, it works well and has really no major flaws. At least Apple CarPlay is now standard.

Infotainment System: The colors are muted like before, but menus look better. Overall, it's a pretty easy system to use, but the responsiveness could be better.

Controls: We don't like the tiny infotainment buttons that flank the screen. These should be larger and easier to reach. Steering wheel controls are now more intuitive and easier to use while driving. The large HVAC knobs are some of the best we've seen with textured rubber grips.

Styling

8

 

The RAV4 Prime doesn't look much different from the gas version, and that's a good thing. It still has the same rugged-looking exterior (although you'd never take it off-roading). Other than badging, the exterior appointments are pretty much the same.

Front: We certainly wouldn't call it a simple front end, but the RAV4 looks great from the front end with a nice downturned metal-look perforated grille, a faux skid plate, and some nice cutouts for the foglight housings.

Rear: The black bumper and valance help break up the visual height, and the complex taillights and wing-like chrome bar help dress up the back end.

Profile: Big fenders and blocky shapes give it a rugged look, which is a strong departure from the last-gen RAV4. The wheels on our tester are a little bit busy looking and present a challenge to clean.

Cabin: The cabin looks way better than before, erring on the side of sporty. We like the clean dashboard and the attractive seat stitching color and pattern.

Comfort

8

 

The previous RAV4 supplied occupants with a solid level of comfort, but the new one improves upon it with a bit more space for just about everyone.

Front Seats: The broad-shouldered seats in our tester were supportive and comfortable.

Rear Seats: Rear legroom is 37.8 inches, which is fine for six footers. It's down about three inches compared to the Honda CR-V Hybrid.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The RAV4 feels solid and well made, but you can definitely hear the four-cylinder engine under hard driving, along with the hum of the electric motors. It's a quiet ride at highway speeds, as well.

Visibility: Rear visibility is compromised by thick D-pillars, but otherwise views of the rear and sides are excellent, and the seating position is very good.

Climate: The automatic climate control system is responsive provided plenty of heat quickly.

Safety

8.9

 

The last RAV4 got top scores for safety, but the new one misses due to stricter criteria, even though its crash test performance was better.

IIHS Rating: The IIHS gave the 2021 RAV4 a Top Safety Pick rating thanks to excellent crash test scores and superior ratings in accident avoidance for both vehicles and pedestrians. It only lost the best rating due to marginal and poor headlights on some trim levels.

NHTSA Rating: Five stars from the federal government.

Standard Tech: Toyota Safety Sense 2.0: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beams, and Road Sign Assist; It also includes a Blind Spot Monitor w/ Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

Optional Tech: Our XSE trim test vehicle came with a Bird's Eye View Camera w/ Perimeter Scan and Overhead 360-Degree View in Low-Speed Drive & Reverse/Curb View, very convenient for tight maneuvering situations.

Storage/Cargo

7.9

 

Though the cargo space numbers drop a little bit, it's a small sacrifice to pay for the improvements in the cabin for small item storage. The last RAV4 had weird spaces for gear stowage, so this is a welcomed improvement.

Storage Space: The center cubby is nicely sized, and the twin cupholders and armrest provide similarly good small item storage.

Cargo Room: The Prime is a tad smaller than its gas counterpart. It offers 33.5 cubes behind row 2 and 63.1 cubic feet with the second row folded flat.

Fuel Economy

9

 

42 miles of all-electric driving means you may not have to actually ever use gas on your weekly commute if you can charge up at the office and at home. Even if you have to, 38 mpg combined is a pretty good figure for a crossover that can handle 5 people and cargo.

Observed: 36.3 mpg

Distance Driven: 67.5 miles

Audio

8.5

 

Our premium JBL system with 11 speakers sounded great, but it'll cost you $1,620 as part of the premium audio package that also includes a larger touchscreen and built-in navigation. Last year, you could upgrade just the audio system for a little over $500, but now it's part of a packaged deal. That said, we still think it's worth it.



Final Thoughts

The RAV4 Prime presents a strong case for those who want added efficiency and way more power. It's almost disconcerting for a RAV4 to move this quickly. It's just too bad the rest of the driving experience is just okay, with so-so handling and not-so-great braking. What you do get is great efficiency, plenty of interior space, and an efficient vehicle without having to look like a Prius. The RAV4 Prime is a smart choice if you're willing to pay well over the average price of a new vehicle.
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