Most powerful. Most expensive. But also possibly the most alluring.
At the top of the hybrid crossover tree for Toyota is the plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime. It's a recent addition to Toyota's lineup and has a lot to boast about. It's Toyota's first plug-in hybrid RAV4; its electric and gasoline powertrain combines to generate 302 horsepower; all-wheel-drive is standard; it gets 94 MPGe; it runs for 42 miles on electric power alone. For what the RAV4 Prime delivers on paper, including an above-average standard-feature set, Toyota's starting price of $40,300 still raises a lot of eyebrows, and it's close to $2,000 more expensive this year with no model changes since introduction.
In 2021, we declared the RAV4 Prime the best RAV4 we've driven, and given the RAV4 has been around since 1994, it's a lot of RAV4s. A year later, in a different state and with some exploring to do, we put the 2022 RAV4 Prime to the test to see exactly how it raises our eyebrows here.
Judging by its sales, Toyota customers generally like the look of the RAV4. Toyota wants people to know they are driving or looking at the top do in the range, though. The RAV4 Prime has a more purposeful look by way of its lower front bumper, unique grille, black accents all around, and chrome dual tailpipe tips. The Toyota logos also have blue highlighting as they do on the regular hybrid. There are two trims for the RAV4 Prime, and the SE gets 18-inch machined alloy wheels while the XSE gets oversized 19-inch alloy wheels. Our ride for a week was the XSE, and we didn't find the 19-inch wheels to have a detrimental effect on ride quality. They simply made the RAV4 Prime look better.
Much has been made, particularly by Toyota, over the fact that the RAV4 Prime makes 302 hp from its hybrid powertrain. That comes from the mix of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with permanent magnet synchronous electric motors and an 18.1 kWh PHV lithium-ion battery. The power is put down through a CVT transmission, which is lovely and smooth, but a little too much is being made about the RAV4's power figures. Please don't get the impression it's a traffic light racer. A 0 to 50 mph time of 5.7 seconds is decent but hardly about to set the world on fire. The power comes into its own in a better place, though. Press the accelerator hard at around 30 mph or higher, and the RAV4 Prime shows its energy precisely where we want our power on a daily family car. It's on an entry ramp to the freeway or pulling out to pass a slow driver where the RAV4 raises our eyebrows as the motors fill in the torque. Forget about traffic light blasts, this is real-world performance where it counts.
The RAV4 Prime might have more than 300 hp, but the suspension tweaks over the standard models are purely to account for the extra weight. It drives well with sharp enough steering for getting out of the city and into the mountains for the day, and the ride is perfectly adequate. Rough pavement isn't an issue, and there's an acceptable amount of lean through corners, meaning the kids in the back won't be spilling popcorn, fries, or soda everywhere. The brake regeneration system is well measured to start with, and it can be varied via the paddles behind the steering wheel. There's a nice lack of road noise due to the Prime's added sound-deadening materials, including thicker glass.
Most RAV4 Prime's will live their lives in the automatic mode that shifts between electric and hybrid propulsion, but the option is there to use EV Mode, Hybrid Mode, and Charge Mode. Our model also had an Off-Road Mode and, as per the automotive journalist code, that meant we had to find some dirt to play in. We wouldn't want to get the RAV4 Prime into rough terrain, but on the loose surface of local fire roads, the all-wheel-drive system kept everything stable.
We took things further by snaking our way through a 20-mile low-speed and tightly twisting road through some local canyons. The pavement is broken, and it's too tight to take a full-size truck through, and that's where the RAV4 surprised us. It was so easy to drive, ergonomically as well as in the accuracy of the steering, which added up to not tiring us out through the journey. The whole stretch was negotiated in Hybrid Mode, and the RAV4 Prime barely sipped at its gas reserve. Equally fun but in a whole different way was being caught in high winds crossing a mountain home late at night from Palm Springs. The dust brought visibility down to a car length in places, but the wind didn't catch the sides of the RAV4 to push it around dangerously. The bi-LED headlights cut through the mess in the air as well as could be for factory lights, and at no point did we feel in danger.
Build quality inside the RAV4 Prime is Toyota at its finest, and the cabin is laid out ergonomically while space is measured out well. A couple of tall adults in the back won't have much to complain about, and the driver and passenger won't be bumping elbows. A curious decision was made for the cupholders, and while it seems picky, they're deep but tight so if you regularly grab a small coffee on your way to work, frustration will build over the long term.
Drinks aside, standard features include but aren't limited to heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite. The XE trim comes with an eight-inch touchscreen, while the XSE comes with a nine-inch unit. The XSE can also be optioned with Dynamic Navigation and a JBL Audio system. We had the navigation and audio system on our tester, and the JBL sound was fine, while navigation was quicker and easier through the standard Apple CarPlay and likely the same for Android Auto. Amazon Alexa is also present and at no extra cost. The only package available for the XE trim is the Weather And Moonroof option for $1,665.
A $40,300 Toyota RAV4 is a tough proposition, particularly when you look at the recently updated Lexus NX hybrid. That lovely little premium crossover starts at $42,625, although if you want it with the RAV4 Prime's drivetrain, the price jumps to $57,225. In XSE guise as we tested it, prices start at $43,625. As the RAV4 Prime sits now, it's hard to recommend to price-sensitive hybrid shoppers that want the savings in gas to be meaningful versus the price of the vehicle. If you're not so price sensitive, or are betting gas prices stay as high as they are at the time of writing, the RAV4 Prime definitely worth taking for a test drive. There is the current benefit that it qualifies for up to $7,500 in federal tax credit, but that's about to be halved soon, so you'll need to buy one quickly to qualify.
We genuinely can't find a real fault in the balance of the RAV4 Prime, and it is still the best RAV4 we've driven. If that's worth over $40,000 to you, we suspect you'll be happy with your purchase for years to come.