Learning to Love Electric Driving in the Toyota RAV4 Prime

Toyota Rav4 Prime
Toyota RAV4 Prime featured image

You don’t have to give up your favorite features to go green.

Before you get all caught up in the EV discussion — is an EV right for me? Can I really live with an electric car? What changes will I need to make to my routine? — remember that you can have the best of both worlds: electric and gas. Oh, and an all wheel drive SUV. Meet the Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid SUV. 

Get to know this term: PHEV. That’s what the RAV4 Prime is and what makes it so special. 

To sum it up, the RAV4 Prime plugs in to provide 42 miles of all electric driving; when the battery power is depleted, the hybrid gas engine kicks in to run the car, giving you hybrid fuel economy of about 38 MPG. So either way, you win.

Related: The Toyota RAV 4 Hybrid SUV – Why My Best Hybrid Drive of 2018 is Your Best Bet for 2019!

Toyota Rav4 Prime

Our road trip took us to Johnson City for the holiday light display. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Baby Steps Lead to Giant Leaps 

The whole world is going electric — despite challenges from pundits and the shortcomings of the current power grid — and it’s a good thing. Electric cars are cheaper to produce, cheaper to maintain, and easier on the environment since they don’t produce tailpipe emissions. But right now, our infrastructure is set up for gas-powered cars. To get from gas driving to electric, we need some interim steps, and that is the role of PHEV.

As a PHEV driver you can choose your fuel source: Charge your car and drive only on electricity, use the gas engine for longer trips, or use the battery to assist the gas engine for better fuel economy. Along the way, you should learn the benefits of all electric driving. When EVs are the main choice for vehicles (and that day isn’t too far off) you’ll be ready. 

Related: What It Really Costs To Own An Electric Car

Toyota Rav4 Prime

The interior of the Toyota RAV4 Prime. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Toyota RAV4 Prime: What It’s Like to Drive 

If you think that electric cars might be a little less powerful than their gas counterparts, think again. Those are the electrics of yesteryear — yes, we are into a new generation of EVs. The trend now is to let electric vehicles do what they do so well: Accelerate. Quickly. 

The result is that the Toyota RAV4 Prime’s two motors—gas and electric—have a combined horsepower of 302. And when you press the accelerator you feel it. The RAV4 Prime moves fast; on the road it accelerates quick and easy, as you would expect from a solid SUV. 

Related: The Chic, Minimalist Electric Ford Mustang Mach-E Puts The Future in Your Hands—Right Now

Toyota Rav4 Prime

Driver feedback in the Toyota RAV4 Prime is designed to help you drive more efficiently. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The RAV4 Prime’s default drive mode is Auto EV, which shifts between battery and gas power depending on the demands of the drive. You can choose to operate in all electric until the battery charge is depleted, at which point the system switches to gas power. And there are several drive modes that regulate the drive experience: Normal, Eco, Sport, or Trail, the latter of which maintains all wheel mode for off roading or challenging road conditions. 

On our test drive, we took it out on the road, heading out to see holiday lights in the Texas heartland, the malls for holiday shopping, and the usual routine of errands, work and more. The RAV4 Prime was perfect for the drive out west, with comfortable seats and a confident command of the road for the long drive. Its size and agility made it easy jockey for a parking spot (and to capture a photo under the lighted trees), and because it’s a plug-in, we got a premium parking spot right up front. No walking blocks to the holiday display for us!

Toyota Rav4 Prime

The panoramic sun roof in the Toyota RAV4 Prime lets all the lights in. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Loved

  • A compact SUV with lots of space, a higher ground clearance, and off-road capability
  • All wheel drive is standard
  • You can choose when to drive in all-electric mode
  • Multiple drive modes: Eco, Sport, Normal and Trail
  • 42 miles to a charge 
  • SofTex leatherette seating in our test model
  • The panoramic sunroof in our test model
  • Apple CarPlay/Android Auto  
  • Live view digital rear view mirror
  • 5 USB ports AND a wireless phone charger
  • Lots of little storage spaces including a shelf in front of the passenger’s seat  
  • Plenty of cargo space 
Toyota Rav4 Prime

We got a premium parking spot, at a charge station, in Johnson City, TX. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Overall Experience is “Prime”—Starting with the Plug 

You might most feel the prime experience when you park this car, which is often primo for electric car drivers. Charging spots typically are up front and center or a short distance from your destination. They are rarely at the far stretches of a parking lot, and that’s nice. You can use these spots as long as you’re charging, but you will be, right? After all, the cardinal rule of all things battery powered is ABC: Always Be Charging. In this case, you can take one of those designated parking spots, pop the plug into the port, and be on your way (once you get the hang of it; keep reading for more on that).

Then, in the XSE top trim you can actually charge the RAV4 Prime faster. The Premium Package includes a 6.6 kW onboard charger. This system helps to supercharge your battery when plugged in, allowing the battery to charge about twice as fast. So with 240 V charging you can recharge the battery in just 2.5 hours instead of 4 or more. This is great option for drivers who will mostly charge at public charge stations and need to do it quickly. 

From there, the Toyota RAV4 Prime is pretty nicely loaded with premium features, including heated seats, a large touch screen infotainment system, smart key and of course, Toyota’s TSS 2.0 full suite of driver assist and safety systems. Buyers can add a small suite of upgrades or, in the XSE model, an even bigger upgrade including a panoramic moon roof and heated rear seats. 

Toyota Rav4 Prime

The driver’s information screen shows you your charge status while plugged in. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What it’s Like to Charge the RAV4 Prime 

So here’s the thing: to really take advantage of this car’s best feature, the battery system, you’ll need to make this a regular part of your routine. Think more ‘charge at home’ and less ‘charge up at a station’ the way we are used to with gas cars. Toyota includes a standard charge cord and when plugged into a standard household outlet it will take 12 hours to charge; upgrade to a 240 V plug (a clothes dryer- type outlet that you’ll likely need an electrician to install) and full charging time drops to 4.5 hours. If you opt for the XSE with the Premium Package, the 6.6 Kw onboard charger and all its benefits reduces charge time even further. 

To charge at public charging stations you’ll do what I did: download charging apps like ChargePoint and EVGo, set up an account, add a credit card and before you head out to a destination, look at the parking and  charging. Once there, open the app, tap your phone against the terminal and plug the charger into the car’s port. Once you lock the car, the charger is locked into the charge port so no one can toy with it. And when you return to your car simply unlock the car, cancel charging on your app, replace the charge cord into the terminal and be on your way. Your app will tell you how much charge you regained, the cost and the remaining charge level on your battery. 

Most PHEV drivers have found that with regular several-times-weekly charging they can mostly drive on battery power and rarely on gas. What a delight to only put gas in your car when you head out for a long drive! 

Toyota Rav4 Prime

The EV and drive modes are at your fingertips in the Toyota RAV4 Prime. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What This Car Costs 

  • The Prime SE base model with a 2.5L 4 cylinder 302 HP engine, all wheel drive, 2 years of scheduled maintenance, roof rails, fabric seating, heated front seats, leather steering wheel, smart key with remote entry and push button starter, 5 USB ports, 8” touchscreen, anti-theft system with engine immobilizer and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 driver assistance and safety system with pre-collision braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure assist, steering assist, lane tracing assist, automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control and road sign display, $38,100
  • The Prime XSE model adds SofTex leatherette seating, standard sized moonroof, paddle shifters, steering wheel with safety and driver assist controls, ambient lighting and an upgraded infotainment system, $41,850
  • The Premium Audio and Navigation package adds rain sensing wipers, premium JBL audio, a 9” touchscreen, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, WiFi, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel and rain sensing wipers with de-icer: $2,435
  • The XSE Premium Package adds heated steering wheel, height adjustable motion activated lift gate, panoramic moonroof, head up display, rain sensing wipers with de-icer, 360 degree camera, digital rear view mirror, power front passenger’s seat, front and rear park assist and a 6.6kW onboard charger: $5,760
  • Delivery $1,175
  • Price of our test model: About $48,785

The Toyota RAV4 Prime qualifies for federal tax incentives of $7,500 plus additional state incentives, which could essentially knock about $10,000 off the price of the car. Look also to local, electric company, employers and other entities for bonuses too. They exist and can make this car even more affordable. 

Toyota Rav4 Prime

The Toyota RAV4 Prime includes a spare tire and a charge cord for home charging. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Everything You Love in a RAV4 + Electric Driving

So, I’ll use the cliché here because it fits: This is the best of both worlds. An SUV with all wheel drive, folding rear seats, a roomy cargo area and all the things you love in a Toyota RAV4, from the familiar, comfortable interior to Toyota Safety Sense. And then, electric driving. Fast, clean, less expensive to operate, a quiet engine. The one caveat about the RAV4 Prime is if you do it, do it right. Pay attention to your driving skills to get the most out of a charge. Charge early and often. Use the heated seats rather than cabin heat to reduce the drain on the battery. You’ll be glad. When it’s time to go full electric, you’ll be ready. 

Disclosure: Toyota provided the RAV4 Prime for this review; all opinions are my own.

Toyota Rav4 Prime

Our road trip took us to Johnson City for the holiday light display. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss