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Test Drive: 2023 Toyota RAV4 Prime Review

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime / Photo Credit: Toyota
2023 Toyota RAV4 Prime / Credit: Toyota

Plug-In Hybrid Version Has Great Acceleration but a Breathtaking Price Tag

  • Trim Tested: RAV4 Prime XSE AWD
  • Price as Tested: $50,731 (including destination charge)
  • What We Like: Quick starts; easy to recharge on household outlet
  • What We Don’t: Pricey; noisy engine when the battery’s depleted

As more cars, trucks, and SUVs go electric, it’s a great time to test new models. The plug-in hybrid version of the venerable RAV4, the Prime, is no exception. It drives well (for the most part), it’s roomy, and it’s certainly fuel-efficient.

It’s also pricey: The version I tested ran more than $50,000, which is a lot – the base gas RAV4 starts under $28,000; even the regular hybrid RAV4 (no plug-in) starts around $31,000.

I drove one for a week and these are my impressions.

How It Drives

When the RAV4 Prime is in electric mode, it can go about 42 miles on a full charge and it’s a blast to drive. It offers instantaneous takeoffs, silent operation, and good handling. 

But things take a turn for the worse when the gas engine turns on. With the accelerator pressed down and the battery dry, there’s a caterwauling from under the hood, much of which gets into the cabin. Noise abatement has been an issue for the RAV4 in recent years, perhaps due to a desire to improve fuel economy. Luckily, the RAV4 Prime does well on the mpg front, especially when the battery is charged.

Toyota RAV4 Prime
Toyota RAV4 Prime / Credit: Toyota

One thing to keep an eye out for: Although the RAV4 Prime that we drove came with all-wheel drive (AWD), it also had low-rolling-resistance tires. One day, when there was a combination of rain and mist around, the RAV4 slid a bit (probably hydroplaning) during a sweeping left turn. There wasn’t a ton of rain at the time, but it’s a reminder that tires built for better fuel economy give up some level of grip in exchange. In addition, the brakes were a little mushy, as they often are in EVs and plug-in hybrids, and its turning radius was unusually large for such a small SUV.

Interior Comfort & Quality

The inside of the Prime is virtually the same as a typical RAV4. Both rows are roomy and comfortable. The materials are nicer than a “normal RAV4,” but they don’t feel like they’re worth the $50,000 price tag.

The controls are simple, although the knob to turn the temperature up and down is huge and just to the right of the driver. More than a few times, I tried to turn up the audio volume but instead turned up the heat.

Technology & Usability

Taking advantage of one of the RAV4 Prime’s greatest strengths, I was able to top off the battery easily overnight from just a regular household outlet. That should be the draw for motorists converting to an EV lifestyle: It doesn’t take much time or a special setup to replenish. And plug-in EVs can run on gas when the battery’s all used up.

The RAV4 Prime we drove had a head-up display, which was a nice touch for a small family hauler. In addition, it has the usual suite of advanced driver-assist systems that Toyota has made a key part of their new vehicles for quite a few years now.

Read our full Toyota RAV4 review for more specs and information about the entire RAV4 lineup. Carfax vehicle reviews let shoppers compare a vehicle’s specs against its competitors’. However, some aspects of a vehicle – performance, comfort, usability – can only be evaluated through actual driving. That’s why we evaluate as many vehicles as we can, so you’ll know what to expect.

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