- The Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid offers the best qualities of gas and electric cars.
- I drove the 2022 RAV4 Prime XSE, which came out to roughly $50,700. The model starts at $40,300.
- It’s a great choice for people who want a zero-emission EV, but only some of the time.
The Toyota RAV4 is America’s favorite SUV. But even as an electric revolution sweeps the globe, you can’t get one that’s fully battery-powered.
Toyota does sell a RAV4 that’s partly electric, though. And after driving it for a week, I’d argue it’s even better suited for many drivers than a full-blown electric vehicle, particularly during a time when charging infrastructure is still lacking.
The RAV4 Prime — a plug-in hybrid that mixes the best parts of electric and gas cars — is a perfect choice for anyone who’s curious about EVs but isn’t quite ready to give up the practicality of fossil fuels.
Plug-in hybrids are a mix between a traditional hybrid and a fully electric car. While regular hybrids pair a gas engine with an electric system to boost fuel economy, plug-in hybrids offer the added benefit of larger batteries and longer electric-only range. As their name suggests, you need to charge them up to fully reap their benefits.
The 2022 RAV4 Prime is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency to travel 42 miles without using a drop of gas, and that’s roughly the range I observed. That may not sound all that significant when compared to 300-plus-mile Teslas and the like, but it means owners can do most of their daily driving cheaply and without spewing planet-warming emissions. According to government data, Americans drive around 40 miles per day on average.
On occasional longer road trips, RAV4 Prime owners can hit the highway without hunting for EV-charging stations, dealing with broken plugs or range anxiety, or waiting around for their battery to top up — challenges that can sometimes be tough to avoid in an electric car. In hybrid mode, the SUV gets a healthy 38 miles per gallon combined, according to the EPA. (Under electric power only, the Prime earns 94 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent.)
I experienced a slice of this lifestyle during my week with the RAV4 Prime.
I took it on a roughly 350-mile journey from New York City to northern Vermont, a drive that’s long enough to cause a headache in an EV. Then, for short day trips around the area, I was able to bop around in electric mode. Each night, I plugged the RAV4 into a regular garage outlet; it took around 12 hours to charge and was all topped up and ready to go each morning. (A higher-voltage connection can charge the SUV in a few hours.)
By default, the RAV4 Prime will start up in EV mode and deplete its battery before turning on the engine. But you can switch between electric and hybrid modes manually if you so choose. There’s also a hybrid setting that charges the battery as you drive, gradually boosting battery range.
Another benefit to the RAV4 Prime: it’s the most powerful RAV4 yet. Between a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and electric motors, the all-wheel-drive SUV produces 302 horsepower. It’ll zip to highway speeds quicker than the gas-powered RAV4 or the regular RAV4 Hybrid.
Further sweetening the deal, until October, the RAV4 Prime qualifies for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in vehicle purchases. That drops its effective starting price from $40,300 to $32,800.
Although electric cars are increasingly looking like the inevitable way of the future, the reality is they don’t work for everyone yet. People who live in dense cities and rural areas lack access to charging stations, though President Biden has a $5 billion plan to change that. The average electric car sells for nearly $70,000 today, putting them out of reach of most Americans.
It’ll be years before EVs truly catch on and become a viable option for everyone. Until then, the RAV4 Prime is an excellent choice for those who aren’t ready to take the leap.