2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime image courtesy of Toyota media support
John Goreham's picture

First Drives Of Toyota's 2021 RAV4 Prime - What Are Experts Saying?

We pulled comments from a variety of sources to see what expert testers are saying about how the new 2021 RAV4 Prime from Toyota drives. Here's what we have found.
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Torque News is fortunate to have outstanding support from Toyota. Generally speaking, one of our staff, or occasionally multiple members of our staff, get to drive the newest and latest models as soon as media drives are available. However, with the recent social distancing measures and business slowdowns and closures, our flow was interrupted just as the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime was released.

Related Story: Toyota RAV4 Prime Will Costs Buyers About Half What A Tesla Model Y Will Cost

This is an important model, and we know readers want to hear if it is as good as the specs indicate. To help provide readers with what they need to know, we have lifted the "driving impressions" sections from multiple reviewers' first drive reports and pasted them below. We hope to provide our own full week of testing report soon. Without further delay, here is what experienced vehicle testers are saying about how the RAV4 Prime drives. Note that you can click each link to read that publication's full article.

Related Story: Toyota's 2021 RAV4 Prime Solves These Three Problems For EV Crossover Buyers

Automobile - Connor Golden
"...the Prime feels impressively quick....the Prime is as exciting a crossover as you're going to find without a BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, or Alfa badge on the front snout...it handles and rides far better than anyone could ever ask of a non-premium SUV, period...it's composed, smooth, extremely quiet, and for daily plods around a very broken and bumpy Los Angeles, it retains fantastic suspension tuning."

Consumer Reports (Note that only members can view the report) - Reviewer is not named in the post
"Whether driven in full EV or Hybrid mode, the RAV4 Prime leaves the line with smooth and immediate electric power. EV mode—without any assist from the gas engine—has some gusto when accelerating at low speeds....In Hybrid mode—which constantly cycles between electric motor, gas engine, and a combination of the two—the RAV4 Prime has an extremely rich power delivery...But it’s the Prime’s relaxed nature that stood out the most for us. It always feels like it has good oomph in reserve, delivering its power with minimal noise or fuss most of the time...

Motor1 - Jeff Perez
"We can't say enough good things about the RAV4 (Prime)....the RAV4 Prime is genuinely quick – shockingly so...The Prime feels very much like a normal RAV in the turns, which is to say it’s fine...the steering is well-weighted and the suspension reacts nicely to tighter turns...the transition between gas and electric is totally seamless...it’s just very nice to drive."

CNET Road Show - Craig Cole
"With 302 horsepower on tap, it can zip from a standstill to 60 mph in as little as 5.7 seconds, a time that is legitimately swift. And thanks to ample low-end electric torque, it feels even fleeter...Driving the RAV4 Prime purely on electricity is a great experience. It's punchy, smooth and nearly silent...there's tons of low-end torque...This plug-in SUV's (brake) pedal has nice weight to it and is easy to modulate, with no discernible weirdness when transitioning from regenerative to friction braking....

We have primarily selected the statements from these stories that describe the tester's direct driving impressions of the RAV4 Prime. For a full overview, and a fair comparison to other vehicle options, watch for our upcoming full test report. If you are one of the RAV4 Prime's early adopters, please feel free to share your personal driving impressions below.

John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career to chase his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on the Torque News Facebook Page, and view his credentials at Linkedin

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime image courtesy of Toyota media support


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Comments

Additionally from Consumer Reports' review: "Excessive front wheelspin: When the front tires lose traction, Toyota’s electronic all-wheel-drive system doesn’t transfer power to the rear wheels as instantly as most mechanical AWD setups. If you floor the throttle from a stop, it easily spins the front tires, a trait that will likely be magnified in snow or rain. This could make some owners think the system isn’t working properly, and lose confidence in its abilities in inclement weather." So, 302hp that can't be accessed due to wheelspin - brilliant. Other negatives: CVT automatic and 4-cylinder engine. Toyota: for a performance oriented SUV follow the Supra formula, take a BMW X3 M40i and slap an RAV4 emblem on it.
Notice that the tester who wrote that did not drive the vehicle in rain or snow. They write, "Will likely be..." I have tested the RAV4 Hybrid in winter conditions in including 4 inches of unplowed snow and it handled it with ease. Testing will reveal how the RAV4 prime handles snow and winter conditions. I'm not sure where the BMW comparison comes in. The RAV4 Prime is less than half the price of the last BMW X3 I tested and has an MPGe rating four times as high. You can cut and paste the RAV4 Hybrid AWD winter test report here: The comments section does not support links: https://www.torquenews.com/1083/can-2016-toyota-rav4-hybrid-s-odd-awd-system-really-handle-snow
The online video reviews are not particularly kind to the RAV4 Prime, indicating that it feels less then the 300 hp Toyota indicates. The eAWD system is also a compromise. In the end, Toyota should just drop in the 3.5L V-6 from the Camry for some improved power for the buyers that don't want the hybrid route, nor the buzzy 2.5NA 4 cylinder. After all, the RAV4 and Camry share the same platform. As it stands, Toyota left us little choice except to look at other manufacturers.
I hear your arguments, and an up-powered RAV4 would be great for some buyers. But let's step back for a minute. The current generation RAV4 is the top-selling vehicle model in the United States. Only the entire F-Series of trucks, which is a grouping of three separate vehicles tops it. So, how many people have actually moved away from the RAV4 by it not having an up-powered trim? Then consider the Subaru Forester. When it dropped the up-powered XT trim, sales continued to match production output. Hybrid RAV4 outsold conventionally-powered RAV4s in July. A rare event for sure, but Toyota's product plans are hard to call unsuccessful.
Once-upon-a-time tulip bulbs sold well also – doesn’t prove much. In this instance, Toyota is doing well in sales, which is great for Toyota, but doesn’t reflect the product desires of knowledgeable auto enthusiasts. Vehicle sales today are to consumers who mostly don’t understand the product, which is produced complying with forced bureaucratic mandates. What knowledgeable consumer would clamor for auto stop/start, CVT automatics & 4-cylinder engines?
For some consumers of crossovers, the power of the drivetrain is only a secondary consideration, or perhaps it falls lower on the desires list. Some knowledgeable crossover buys might research their crossover's efficiency and see that the last V6 RAV4 earned a 21 MPG rating. Today's version with the CVT and stop-start earns a 40 MPG rating in one version and a 98 MPGe rating in another. And the 98 MPGe-rated version is just as quick to 60 MPH as the old V6 was. That efficiency may be more important to some consumers.
Fuel usage rating for my 2012 RAV4 V6 4WD - combined city/hwy 22 MPG, city 19, highway 26 on REGULAR. If my desire was for fuel economy I'd be driving a Prius or Corolla - no thank you – life/driving should be more interesting than fuel economy numbers. Desirable higher performance options should be available for enthusiasts, or sales may falter.
Take good care of your RAV4, Toyota has left you little option when it is time to replace unfortunately.
It is hard to argue against the success of the RAV4, the best selling compact crossover. My theory though is that the enthusiasts, while a minority of buyers, are an important group as they influence many other buyers. Short term Toyota will be fine, but long term this important group will gravitate to other manufacturers willing to offer the performance that they want. Fuel economy is important to some, but not everybody. As long as my SUV can get in the high 20's for MPG, a higher fuel economy would not be a decision point in buying. While the raw 0-60 of the RAV4 is certainly impressive, the performance in EV mode is lackluster, and the driving dynamics overall (watch the Savage Geese YouTube video to see how it really drives, for example), shows me why I would rather have this vehicle with a V-6, and an 8 spd auto. Overall, Toyota sales dropped 22% last month, so they need to look at this, as others did not do as poorly even in these challenging times.
A number of owner reviews of the 2020 RAV4 Hybrid identified persistent issues with the battery failure and filling the fueling tank with more than 10 gallons -that Toyota did not satisfactorily resolve for them. Have these problems been fixed or designed-out of the 2021 RAV4 Prime Hybrid?
That is a question only time will answer. The new RAV4 Prime does not share a battery pack with the RAV4 Hybrid.