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Loyal Prius Owner Explains Why So Many Drivers Are Switching to the 2020 RAV4 Hybrid AWD

This very detailed account provides all the insight any automaker or shopper needs to understand why green cars are out and green crossovers are in.


The Torque News staff are active administrators of many online fan clubs and Facebook vehicle clubs. One that three of us are active in is the Facebook Prius Owners Club. With over 20,000 active members, this is one of the largest green vehicle car clubs on Facebook, and we like to think, one of the best.

Toyota Prius Image by Jamie Hoskins for Torque News

This week, member Jamie Hoskins put a goodbye post and explained that he had left the Toyota Prius community after trading in his beloved 2017 Prius hybrid for a new vehicle. That vehicle is a 2020 RAV4 Hybrid AWD. Here at Torque News, we have watched as the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid became one of the top-selling green vehicles in America and the single best-selling green crossover. We have also tracked the Prius's decline in sales. That decline spans two decades now, and the RAV4 Hybrid certainly not the only reason the Prius has seen sales slip from its pinnacle. However, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is now one of Toyota's hottest vehicles. We were interested to find out exactly why so many happy loyal Prius owners have been switching. Read on and you will find out what made Jamie choose. We think his story is representative of why many owners are making this switch.

Related Story: The Toyota Prius Outsells Every Car Model At This List of Major Brands

Q: Tell us about your Prius. What year and model was it and what did you like about owning it?
Our Prius was a 2017 in the base Canadian trim level (Shown in black above with Jamie's family). Our friends jokingly referred to it as "the porta-potty", the jokes often stopped when I took them out for their first ride in our newer generation Prius - they quickly got a sense of why I loved the car so much. Thanks to all of the available torque from the electric motor at starting speeds, the car had quite a bit of pull and felt much faster and more spirit than one would expect. I took great pleasure lining up at stoplights alongside the luxury cars that were very common in our North Vancouver neighborhood and watching their drivers' jaws drop as I beat them off the light. Though some complain about the whir of the CVT transmission and harshness of the engine at full throttle, I grew to really love the sound and it was a major factor in my decision to get another Toyota hybrid. It is a lot like the way I enjoy the sound of a turbo chirping. I was also extremely impressed with the abundance of tech and safety features that came stock in even the base model. We got the adaptive cruise, lane assist, auto headlights, push start, touchscreen display, and other modern conveniences that are often only available at higher trim levels. A few final things that I really loved about the Prius were the durability of the interior which showed very minor wear at lease end despite heavy use, the surprising amount of cargo space in the boot which allowed to transport much more than one would expect and even to sleep two people and a dog on improvised camping adventures, and its overall reliability which was astounding - no repairs required over our four years of ownership except scheduled maintenance.

Related Story: Climate Scientist Chooses the Toyota Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

Q: Tell us more about your past vehicles. What did your family have before your Prius?
Prior to the Prius, I was a pretty committed Subaru guy. We only switched to the Prius after our gas-guzzling 2008 Forester XT blew a turbo on a road trip in the mountains of Vancouver Island and we needed a new car, FAST. I don't know if it was the stress of blowing my first turbo or the crazy gas prices at the time, but I felt like I was done with 16L/100km avg mileage and just wanted something reliable for our next car. I had been eyeing the Prius and decided to pull the trigger. Prior to the Forester XT, I had a 1998 Forester S, a 2005 Impreza hatchback, a 2001 Legacy hatchback, and a few random dailies in between. I have always been a huge fan of Subaru's AWD system, consideration for ground clearance, and boxer engine (when the head gaskets weren't blown) since they all fit really well with the types of driving that I like to do.

Q: Tell us why you and your family decided to change vehicles when your lease was up. What things did you need that the Prius really wasn't perfect for due to its design?
While I loved the Prius, I often found myself daydreaming of getting back into a crossover vehicle. The number one pain point for me was ground clearance. With only 13cms of ground clearance, I often found myself cringing while driving on anything but the best roads. When you consider that, as a family, we do a LOT of rock climbing, backcountry hiking, and exploring, we were often on roads that terrified me in Prius. The lack of AWD was another limiting factor in the Prius. As we have always lived in quite rainy mountainous areas, there were many times where the car was just not able to hold the road or perform as I needed it to. I took a few backward death slides downhill when the traction control shut down the engine on me (even with winter tires) and got a lot of front wheel spin when starting on rainy roads. Really, the combination of these two things had me in a position where I often felt like the car was curtailing my ability to go places rather than facilitating it. Before any adventure, we had to consider a heap of factors (road condition, amount of snow/water, clearance, grade, etc) just to ensure that we could get to where we wanted to go. Even when things weren't ideal, I'd often throw caution to the wind and go anyway - leading to some interesting experiences. We were really hoping to get a new car that gave us back a sense of control and freedom to go where we wanted instead of just where the car would allow.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid image by Jamie Hoskins for Torque NewsRelated Story: Toyota RAV4 Dominates In Sales - A Short List of the Entire Brands It Outsells

Q: What did you like about the RAV4 Hybrid? Feel free to state the obvious if the fuel economy and lower emissions were a major draw.
Alright, I'll give you the obligatory fuel economy and emissions piece. We always wanted to get back into a crossover or SUV, but just couldn't justify the fuel costs - particularly after our experience with the Forester XT which only ran on premium. Before the recent economic changes, gas prices for regular petrol in our area were sitting at roughly $1.70/L or roughly $6.50/gal. That is quite a hit on the pocketbook when driving a gas guzzler. As a result, we couldn't honestly consider anything but another hybrid. Given our excellent experience with the Prius and the amount of fun I had driving it, I was convinced that the Toyota hybrid system was a perfect fit for me. I had really gotten used to it and fallen in love with the feel of the Toyota Hybrid. It just seems more tight and spirited than other hybrid systems I have tested and I wanted to continue to have that experience when driving. Add to that our need for additional clearance and cargo space that I mentioned before and the case for the RAV4 was even more solid. The other main draw of the RAV was the AWD system. While it is not a mechanical AWD system like in the Subaru, it seemed to perform well enough for most of the things that I anticipate doing in the vehicle. The electronic controls for the system are quite responsive and I haven't been able to make it slip to much in my testing over the last few days. I had a moment where it slipped on me while driving some loose gravel on a logging road on Saturday, but I was in sport mode and it didn't happen again once I threw it into trail mode and gave a bit more priority to the back engine. Other than those big things, a few final selling features included: More rugged/masculine styling than previous RAV4 models, modern interior with a wide variety of tech and convenience options, a wide range of safety features come standard, decent horsepower and torque, and a great driving experience.

Q: Did you consider waiting for a RAV4 Prime (Plug-in hybrid RAV4 Hybrid)?
I definitely did, but there were a few reasons I decided against it. One was the time pressure. Our lease was coming due this summer. In addition to that, I realized that I wouldn't benefit that much from the Prime model since I would often be driving it in regular hybrid mode. The main reason for this is that charging it would be difficult for us. Hydro costs are quite high here (especially since the house we are renting is not as efficient as it could be) and the cost of charging at home would be quite high. Since we live in a more rural area on Vancouver Island, there are also challenges with accessing high-speed chargers in the community. They are here, but not necessarily convenient. While I would love that extra 80+ horsepower and increase efficiency, it just wasn't worth it for us at this time.

Q: Now that you have the RAV4 Hybrid, what do you like most about it? Feel free to list a few things, not just one.
I am really loving the overall experience of driving it. In many ways, The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD feels like driving a bigger Prius. I hear many of the same sounds, have many of the same features and am not seeing a huge difference in fuel economy. In fact, I think I am getting slightly better economy since I am driving this vehicle in a different way. In the Prius I was almost always in sport mode because I liked the punchiness of it. Because of the RAV's increased horsepower and AWD, I don't have to gun it as hard to get the pushback in the seat so I am driving more efficiently. It's stable, has great pickup, and is a really nice ride. Last night we had a decent rainstorm so I took it out on a nighttime test. On my drive, I noticed significant improvements in Toyota's automatic headlight sensing (no more twitchy indecisiveness) and much better traction and control on wet roads over the Prius. The new infotainment system is more responsive and has a better layout than the previous software we had in the Prius, and I am loving the interior styling. On the outside, it looks pretty badass. My 12-year-old son took a look at the front yesterday and noticed that it has a stormtrooper mask quality to it. Then we saw the patterns on the seat and realized that they are very similar to the imperial crest from Star Ways. Coincidence? Maybe, but still pretty cool. Then we get the clearance and AWD. I was able to take it down some pretty mangled logging roads and it handled great. Comparable to my Forester XT and much better than a Hyundai crossover I took out a few weeks ago. Took decent potholes and washboard no problem and didn't have any issues with loose rock. I wasn't doing anything extreme (this is not the car for that), but I put it through its paces on a road that would be at the limit of what most normal drivers would ever take it on.

Q: Was the innovative and novel dual-motor AWD system of the RAV4 Hybrid important to you?
Absolutely important - if not the most important thing next to clearance. I was really concerned that the system would have significant weaknesses when compared to a mechanical AWD system like in a Subaru, but it did quite well. I have been driving it with the AWD monitor on so I can see how it is operating and it is much better than expected. It is providing braking on inside wheels when cornering, turning on at the right time when I need additional traction to accelerate or stay in control, and, well, just doing its job. Since the car is in FWD mode most of the time, it does not feel like a normal AWD vehicle (again, Subaru), but, when it kicks in, it feels good. You can definitely feel the push when the back engine kicks in and it gives a good sense of power and torque. I'm still very hesitant to lift a wheel and see how the locking works so I haven't gotten to that test yet.

Q: We are all fans of Toyota and hybrids here at Torque News. However, please tell us if there is a feature your RAV4 Hybrid lacks that you wish it had.
This is just nitpicking here since I really love the car and most are a result of the fact that I only have the XLE trim. First, I wish that it had LED fog lamps and LED interior lights instead of halogens and standard bulbs. It's not a huge ask on a car at this price point. I also wish that the seat material was a bit more durable. I can already tell that I am going to have significantly more wear than I had in the Prius. As a result, I had to pick up some durable seat covers yesterday to protect them. Camera quality is pretty low resolution and seems dated for a car in 2020 and I wish I had the bird's-eye view in my model. The driver's display is also a bit small in the XLE. Rain sensing is a bit weak and doesn't always turn on when it should or stays on when it shouldn't. Crossbars on the roof should come stock in a vehicle of this type and the cost from Toyota ($450) is a bit steep for what they are. I can pick up Yakimas or Thules cheaper(Read a review of the Yakima bars here). Finally, I would love to see a flatter cargo space with the seats down. It is close, but not close enough for sleeping. I am going to need to build a removable sleeping pad or get a rooftop tent if I want to camp in the vehicle. Other than that, there's not much to complain about.

Q: Part of any new vehicle is the ownership experience. Did Toyota Care, the 2-years of free maintenance help sway you back to Toyota?
Honestly, that was not part of our decision. We knew the reliability of our Prius and were confident that the RAV4 would be the same. We did end up purchasing 5 years of coverage, though as it covered the first three years of scheduled maintenance for us and took us through to the end of the lease on everything else.

Q: May we ask how your phone gets along with the RAV4 Hybrid? Have you used Android Auto or Apple CarPlay?

We have tried Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in the RAV4 Hybrid and they both seem to be working fine - one issue with receiving texts over Android Auto on the first day, but I got that resolved. Setup is easy and it's pretty straight forward. Entune still sucks, but we don't use it anyway. I would love to have a wireless connection to both Android Auto and CarPlay as the USB method seems dated - especially since I am automatically connecting to the car with Bluetooth anyway. One nitpick is that Google Maps look a bit janky on this system. Not nearly as nice as on other vehicles I have tried.

Q: Please feel free to offer any upcoming adventure ideas you have. Where are you planning to go in your RAV4 Hybrid aside form the normal day to day driving?
If the social distancing mandates end before summer we will definitely be back out exploring. We were planning on taking a trip to the Eldred Valley on BC's Sunshine Coast to climb some big walls, do some more climbing in exploring in Strathcona Provincial Park near where we live (where the iTunes show "See" with Jason Momoa was filmed), and definitely throwing some Kayaks onto the roof racks to do some ocean paddling since the orcas and gray whales are all in the neighborhood these days.

Our thanks to Jamie Hoskins for his time and for helping us to explain the success of the RAV4 Hybrid. If you had a Prius and switched to a green crossover, please tell us in the comments below why you made the leap.

Read More From Jamie Hoskins: Shopper Explains Why Buying a Toyota During COVID-19 Social Distancing Mandates Is Easy

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 Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin.

Images courtesy of Jamie Hoskins. Please don't reproduce or re-use these images without permission.


Mike Aplet (not verified)    April 28, 2020 - 3:38PM

My New Year resolution this year was to green up my carbon footprint. I started out by opting into an all renewable electricity supplier for our home. Because our trusty, 10 year old, 175k mile Subaru Forester was due for replacement, I also decided to go with a hybrid vehicle to continue making good on my NY resolution. The Rav4 hybrid was a no brainer for me given Toyotas long experience with hybrid tech and the fact that a Rav4 pretty for the most part duplicates the abilities of our Forester. We like to camp and hike in back country utilizing a small teardrop camping trailer for creature comforts. The Rav4 easily pulls our teardrop.

A word of warning about ordering the tow option from your dealer after the fact. The service tech told me that he put 20 hours into installing the electrical harness alone. My 4hr appointment turned into 3 days LOL! Thankfully for me, I ordered the factory hitch and wiring at purchase for a stated price with the dealer assuming this to be a standard installation timewise. It was the dealer took it in the chin on that installation. This was their first install in a hybrid. I doubt that they will offer to install trailer wiring on new purchases in the future for a price that I would want to pay.

Overall we love our Rav4. We kept our old 2010 Forester around as a second car because we loved it so much as well.

Steve (not verified)    April 29, 2020 - 11:51AM

For safety sake, if you find that your front wheels are spinning allot during a rain, accelerate at a slower pace. Having front wheel drive, rain, and a painted crosswalk can combine to cause this problem. I agree that that the low clearance is a annoying feature and often scrapes the floor. But please be safe and take the extra 2 seconds to accelerate a little slower in wet conditions, your family riding safely in back will thank you.