Toyota RAV4 Prime: A Robust Move Toward Electrification

SOMEWHERE IN this stack of copy, very soon, we will be driving the lug nuts off a 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid version of the mega-selling compact crossover. It’s got legs. According to the EPA, a fully charged RAV4 Prime has an all-electric range of 42 miles. My more tangible metric: 25 minutes of hellbent, wife-in-labor speeding in near-freezing weather before the gas engine has to kick in. This is one robust little plug-in electric hybrid.

But first: In 2004 some wildcatters in Monrovia, Calif., reached out to me about their efforts to build a plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius. By enlarging the system’s battery and hacking the software, the eager minds at AeroVironment were able to make their little mule go for a few miles on electricity alone. Notionally, then and now, PHEVs would be charged nightly and commute mainly on electric power during the day.

Toyota’s lawyers did not like it, not one little bit. The engineers asked if I could help. I said, “Um, have you met Toyota?”

So all these years later, to be sitting in this superbly engineered PHEV, from none other than you-know-who, the materialization of just the sort of system AeroVironment was proposing.…Well, if irony powered seat heaters, my butt would be very warm indeed.

What follows is an argument with myself, of sorts. The RAV4 Prime does what it does very well, including the aforementioned hauling buttskie. The little sport-over can sprint to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and, unlike many such critters, it doesn’t run out of thrust at interstate speeds, even in EV mode. Answering the order to pass, the RAV4 Prime picks up pace like an iceboat catching a gust, accelerating on the glide. That’s nice. Also, 2,500 pounds of towing capacity, on-demand all-wheel drive, and a diet of 87 octane, not premium.


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