This Is Why The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Is The Best RAV4 Yet

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And why it's worth the cost over a standard RAV4 Hybrid.

When the current fifth-generation RAV4 was launched back in 2018, Toyota made the interesting choice to position the hybrid as the "performance" option. Now, Toyota has upped the ante with a new plug-in hybrid model that offers even greater performance. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime arrives as the fastest and most powerful RAV4 yet and in our opinion, it is the best RAV4 model that Toyota has ever offered.

This new PHEV variant of the RAV4 is not expected to be a volume seller but we believe that if you can afford the price premium over a RAV4 Hybrid, the Prime is worth every penny. After spending a few days driving a Prime in SE trim, here's why we love it more than any other RAV4 model.

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More Aggressive Styling

The RAV4 Prime's styling remains familiar but adds a few interesting touches to help differentiate it from other models. Black accents on the fenders and bumpers add a sportier appearance while available 19-inch wheels (a RAV4 first) dial up the aggression even further. We particularly love the available Supersonic Red color available on the higher XSE grade, which can be combined with a black roof.

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Improved Performance

Toyota says the RAV4 Prime's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motors combine to produce 302 horsepower. Not only is this drivetrain more powerful than the V6 engine found in the Camry and Avalon, but it also makes the RAV4 Prime the second-quickest Toyota model behind the Toyota GR Supra. Even in EV-only mode, Toyota says the RAV4 Prime can hit 60 mph in 9.2 seconds; quicker than a Prius even when using its gasoline engine.

With the gas engine and electric motors working together, the RAV4 Prime pins you back into your seat with a 5.7-second 0-60 mph time. This time ties the Volkswagen Golf GTI, a performance-oriented hot hatchback. RAV4 Prime owners will be leaving plenty of sports car owners baffled at a set of lights.

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EV-Only Range

The best part about the RAV4 Prime is its ability to drive silently on electric power alone. Unlike the RAV4 Hybrid, which can only travel as an EV for short distances at low speeds, the RAV4 Prime can travel up to 42 miles at highway speeds over 80 mph. During our short test period, the car's computer only showed a range of around 28 miles. We attribute this to only using the car's built-in charge mode, which uses the engine to charge up the batteries on the go. The additional 14 miles of range might only be possible when plugging the car into a charger to attain full charge levels.

Toyota says you can charge the RAV4 Prime in 12 hours on a traditional 120-volt wall outlet. With a 240-volt outlet, this time is reduced to 4.5 hours, and with the XSE model's optional 32-amp charger, a full battery can be reached in just 2.5 hours.

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Quieter Cabin

Since the RAV4 Prime costs significantly more than a standard RAV4 or RAV4 Hybrid, Toyota was able to pack in some unseen details like additional sound deadening. The side windows, for example, are thicker than you'd find in most Toyota models and help keep the cabin insulated. This means the RAV4 Prime is quieter than other RAV4 models and even when cruising on the highway in EV mode, the road noise is not overwhelming.

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Federal Tax Credit

Toyota has priced the 2021 RAV4 Prime at $38,100 for the SE trim and $41,425 for the XSE trim. With options, the price can balloon to over $47,000. But if you are considering the Prime model over a standard RAV4 Hybrid, you must also factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit. While this incentive does not lower the purchase price of the vehicle, it does reduce your taxable income for the year and it can be factored in to lower your monthly lease payment.

The credit effectively pulls the price of the RAV4 Prime down to $30,600 for the SE or $33,925 for the XSE, which is much closer to the price of a RAV4 Hybrid. If your commute is shorter than 21 miles each way, you can also factor in the fuel savings from being able to complete the entire trip without using the gasoline engine. So long as you can afford the up-front cost, we think the RAV4 Prime is easily worth the upgrade over a RAV4 Hybrid.

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