2021 Toyota RAV4

By November 6, 2020

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 compact crossover SUV adds a plug-in hybrid, called the RAV4 Prime, and not only that, but it’s the fastest RAV4 in the lineup.

All RAV4s start with a base 2.5-liter inline-4 making 203 horsepower mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, with front- or all-wheel drive. There is a regular Hybrid (not the plug-in Prime) that adds a hybrid battery pack and electric motors for a combined 219 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a continuously variable automatic transmission.

The 2021 RAV4 Prime adds bigger electric motors, a bigger hybrid battery pack, and bumps up overall output to more than 300 hp. Unlike other manufacturers’ plug-in hybrid crossovers, which don’t focus on performance, the RAV4 Prime scoots to 60 mph at an estimated 5.7 seconds. That’s a full two seconds faster than the regular RAV4 Hybrid. The Prime’s all-electric range is 42 miles.

The EPA rates the base front-wheel-drive RAV4 with its 2.5-liter inline-4 engine at 26 mpg city, 35 highway, 30 combined. All-wheel drive brings 25/33/28 mpg.

The RAV4 Hybrid manages 40 mpg combined, while the new RAV4 Prime earns 94 MPGe, which counts those 42 miles of electric range.

The 2021 RAV4 hasn’t been crash-tested yet, but the 2020 RAV4 earned top “Good” scores by the IIHS, which called the automatic emergency braking system “Superior” at avoiding forward crashes.

The NHTSA gave the RAV4 five stars overall, with four stars for front and rollover crash safety.

Every RAV4 gets automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitors are optional, and a good idea because the RAV4’s chunky rear roof pillars restrict rearward vision.

Model Lineup

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is offered in LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Limited, SE, and XSE trims. There are also Adventure and TRD Off-Road models. The RAV4 Hybrid comes in LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Limited, and XSE trims, while the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid is available in SE and XSE trims.
The 2021 RAV4 LE costs about $27,000, and comes with cloth upholstery, 17-inch wheels, a split-folding rear seat, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with smartphone compatibility software.

The XLE for less than $30,000 with all-wheel drive adds alloy wheels, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, keyless start, more USB chargers, and more available options including heated seats.

The RAV4 TRD Off-Road introduced last year comes with chunky tires on 18-inch wheels, twin-tube shocks, and a power liftgate.

The 302-hp RAV4 Prime is not only fast, it’s sporty, with exterior accents, sport suspension, an available 9.0-inch touchscreen, synthetic leather upholstery with red accents, subwoofer, and moonroof. Prices start at just under $40,000.


The RAV4 is especially good looking for a crossover, with a low and stylish roofline and chunky body sides. It resembles in a good way the larger 4Runner and even the Tacoma pickup truck; we can even see a little FJ Cruiser in there. It suggests an off-roader. But it doesn’t overplay its hand with windows that are too small.

The bigger fenders in TRD Off-Road and Adventure trims look good, and the sporty touches to the new RAV4 Prime are a win. The Prime gets a distinctive grille with a gloss-black bumper, and a contrasting roof color on the XSE.


Inside, the RAV4 is a mishmash of soft-touch materials and hard plastics, with a wide horizontal dash and touchscreen over the vents. Higher trim levels have contrast stitching, which is a nice touch. The RAV4 Prime goes further with red inserts and synthetic leather.
But the RAV4’s shape compromises cabin comfort. The low roof is felt by passengers, and even tall drivers. The optional sunroof makes it worse.

The front seats are snug for taller occupants, and the seat bottoms are thin. That’s not good for long hauls.

The rear offers a bit more head room, and the 37 inches of leg room is good, although some rivals have more. Three passengers can fit in the rear, but not ideally.

The RAV4 has 37 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, and 69 cubic feet with the seat dropped. Because of its big battery pack, the Prime has a bit less: 33.5 cubic feet and 63.2 cubic feet, respectively.

Driving Impressions

The base RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 that makes 203 hp, paired to an 8-speed automatic. It’s competent, but rough around the edges, and buzzy when pushed.

The all-wheel-drive systems offered on the RAV4 aren’t all the same: LE and XLE versions get a front-based system that moves the traction rearward when needed.
The RAV4 TRD Off-Road, Limited, and Adventure get a more sophisticated system that shuttles power front to back and side to side at the rear, via a torque vectoring system for better traction but lower gas mileage.

The RAV4’s stiff frame and four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson struts in front with multi-link, trailing wishbones in the rear) give the RAV4 a supple ride over rough bumps. Some rivals, such as the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V, are a little softer.

The RAV4 Hybrid adds a battery and electric motor to the 2.5-liter inline-4 to make 219 horsepower. The engine and front electric motor typically drive the front wheels for better efficiency, while a separate rear electric motor can spin up the rear wheels when more power is needed. The RAV4 Hybrid’s all-wheel-drive system is geared for all-weather confidence, not off-road driving.

The RAV4 Prime uses a larger 18.1-kwh hybrid battery and electric motors to make 302 horsepower and zoom from a standstill to 60 mph in less than six seconds. It rides on a sport-tuned suspension but it’s not only about performance; in its EV driving mode it can go 42 miles on electric power alone. It can also be recharged in a few hours on a J1772 plug.

Its rear electric motor gives it full-time all-wheel drive—but the bigger battery makes it about 500 pounds heavier than the regular RAV4 Hybrid, and this negatively affects the handling on winding back roads. However it’s still the most refined of all RAV4s, though, with a hushed EV drive mode thanks to more sound damping and thicker laminated side windows.

Final Word

The new RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid costs more, but it makes the 2021 RAV4 special. Its speed is awesome. Its unique trim adds to the already stylish looks of the RAV4, though that style cuts into cabin space of all models. We’d choose it or a Hybrid for the most efficient crossover with the most ruggedly SUV-like of shapes.


—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection

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