- 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 in at about $50,700. The model starts at $40,300.
- It’s a great choice for people who want a zero-emission electric car, but only for part of the time.
The Toyota RAV4 is America’s favorite SUV. But even if an electric revolution is sweeping the world, you can’t get one that runs entirely on batteries.
Toyota does sell a RAV4 that is partially electrically yes. And after driving for a week, I’d say it’s even better suited to many drivers than an all-electric vehicle, especially at a time when charging infrastructure is still lacking.
The RAV4 Prime – a plug-in hybrid that combines the best parts of electric and gas cars – is a perfect choice for anyone curious about EVs, but not quite ready to give up fossil fuel utility.
Plug-in hybrids are a mix between a traditional hybrid and a fully electric car. While regular hybrids pair a gas engine with an electrical system to increase fuel economy, plug-in hybrids offer the added benefit of larger batteries and greater electric range. As their name suggests, you need to charge them to take full advantage of their benefits.
The 2022 RAV4 Prime has been rated by the Environmental Protection Agency to travel 42 miles without using a drop of gas, and that’s about the range I’ve observed. That may not sound like much compared to Teslas over 300 miles and the like, but it means owners can do most of their daily drive cheaply and without spreading planet-warming emissions. According to government data, Americans drive an average of 40 miles a day.
On occasional longer road trips, RAV4 Prime owners can hit the highway without having to hunt for EV charging stations, have broken plugs or wait for their battery to charge – all challenges that are hard to avoid in an electric car. In hybrid mode, the SUV gets a healthy 38 miles per gallon combined, according to the EPA. (Only under electric power does the Prime earn 94 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent.)
I experienced a piece of this lifestyle during my week with the RAV4 Prime.
I took it on a trip of about 350 miles from New York City to northern Vermont, a drive long enough to cause a headache in an EV. I was then able to float around the area in electric mode for short day trips. Every night I plugged the RAV4 into a regular outlet in the garage; it took about 12 hours to charge and was fully topped up and ready to go every morning. (A higher voltage connection can charge the SUV in a few hours.)
By default, the RAV4 Prime starts up in EV mode and runs out of battery before turning on the engine. But you can manually switch between electric and hybrid modes if you want. There’s also a hybrid setting that charges the battery as you drive, gradually increasing battery range.
Another advantage of the RAV4 Prime: it is the most powerful RAV4 yet. Between a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motors, the four-wheel drive SUV produces 302 horsepower. It accelerates to highway speeds faster than the gas RAV4 or the regular RAV4 Hybrid.
Further reconciling the deal, through October, the RAV4 Prime is eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in vehicle purchases. That lowers the effective starting price from $40,300 to $32,800.
While electric cars are increasingly looking like the inevitable path of the future, the reality is that they don’t work for everyone yet. People living in densely populated cities and rural areas cannot access charging stations, although President Biden has a $5 billion plan to change that. The average electric car sells for almost $70,000 today, putting them beyond the reach of most Americans.
It will be years before EVs really catch on and become a viable option for everyone. Until then, the RAV4 Prime is a great choice for those not ready to take the plunge.