2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Review Update, Pros & Cons
In my RAV4 Prime Review, I focused mainly on child passenger and vehicle safety. Now that a Prime is part of our long-term fleet, I will add some more general comments to expand the Pros and Cons list at the end of the review. Many of these issues are common with the Limited, XSE and other premium trims of the RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid models. Some are things you may not notice on a test drive. Even an observant reviewer might miss a few of them over a typical week of driving.
I’ll start by saying the RAV4 Prime (R4P) is an excellent vehicle. I’ve driven it now for almost two months and 1700 miles, including an interstate road trip of nearly 700 miles. For some, the duplicity of a gas and electric powertrain makes no sense, and they could justify saving more money or more environment with a regular RAV4, a Prius, a Chevrolet Bolt or some other vehicle. Fair enough, there will always be another car that is quicker or cheaper or greener. Still, the R4P does a lot of things very well, from decent all electric range to solid hybrid fuel economy, from long total range to quick refuels at almost any town or exit, from safety features to fast acceleration, from towing capability to modest off-road prowess. It’s a fun and flexible vehicle.
Like any vehicle, there are many things I like and a few things I dislike after some experience driving the Rav4 Prime XSE with Premium Package (PP). Most may seem trivial, but at this price, buyers should know even the little things. The $50K sticker price tag is hefty, but if you qualify for the full federal tax credit, then the cost is only marginally higher than a similarly equipped RAV4 Hybrid. The R4P feels very solid and offers a very wide array of features, even compared to some higher priced competitors. That said, the price mainly buys the excellent powertrain and does not put it into the luxury segment or give it Lexus-quality appointments. Note: The OEM Yokohama Avid GT tires were replaced with Michelin CrossClimate2 treads.
- Efficiency. I see up to 54 estimated and actual EV odometer miles around town with a modest foot, at 3.4 miles/kWh overall. I get over 40 mpg on hybrid mode around town and observed 34-35 mpg at highway speeds. These numbers will be lower with climate control in very cold or hot temps. For hyper-milers, I’ve seen reports of ~60 EV miles on a charge, presumably in ideal conditions with a light foot and no climate control. This is an excellent powertrain and really the main reason you would buy this over another hybrid or plug-in hybrid compact SUV.
- Pep and Power. Expanding on the last point, you also get performance. Even in pure EV, it feels quick because it is so quiet, but switch to HV mode and it’s quite fun. Plus, AWD and modest towing capability if needed. These will all take a toll on efficiency, of course.
- Quality. No defects, no gaps, no rattles, no squeaks, no problems. The paint quality is also good. Zero complaints and no reliability issues yet to report. Our Prius and Highlander Hybrid personal vehicles proved to be very high quality and extremely dependable after 10 years and 100K miles. I expect the same for the RAV4.
- Controls and gauges. A real gauge cluster, an easy-to-use infotainment system with real buttons and knobs for all the basics, and a gear shifter as well. The information displays on the gauge cluster and the main screen are customizable to some extent. The Heads-Up Display (HUD), steering wheel controls and voice interface have all the essentials to help keep your eyes on the road.
- Ride comfort. This is not a sporty vehicle. The suspension is tuned for providing a smooth, quiet, comfortable ride and it does so very well. Seat comfort is subjective, but it feels above average for the class and did not give us sore backs on a 5-hour trip. Some reviews are hyper-focused on handling, body roll and steering feel. Many overlook harsh, sport-tuned suspensions because of their superior performance. If you’re not taking your family out on the track in your SUV and don’t like being rattled by every rut, bump, and pothole, then the R4P is a very nice cruiser for real-world driving.
- Car Seat improvements. Covered in my review, but it’s nice that Toyota improved the rear seat configuration starting in 2019 for a better chance of seating three children across. As a typical compact SUV, legroom and width are not at all generous but there are options.
- Safety. Also covered in my review and worth mentioning again that the XSE w/PP has just about every safety feature you could want, and the adaptive headlights qualify it for the top IIHS safety rating. In particular:
- Blind Spot Monitor & Rear Cross Traffic Alert/Braking. Should be standard on every vehicle. Handy in parking lots and for that random bicycle that zooms up on the sidewalk!
- Birds-Eye camera system. I always thought this was a novelty when reviewing vehicles, but I really appreciate this feature after extended time in vehicle equipped with it. Makes parking easier even if you didn’t have trouble parking before, whether parallel or backing into a garage.
- Ground clearance. Our Honda Insight is a very nice vehicle overall, but like many vehicles, it is very low to get in and out and is too easy to scrape the underside, especially on standard curbs. The R4P has generous clearance (8.2″) and seat height, making it very easy to get in and out.
- Range Extender. This is perhaps the main case for PHEVs if you live in the Midwest or other areas where charging infrastructure isn’t as prevalent as California and other states. 40+ EV miles and 500+ miles on gas after 5 minutes for refueling at almost any exit or town is the tradeoff for having the extra complexity of gas and electric powertrains.
- Compact spare tire. A feature often omitted in hybrids and EVs to save weight. Instead, many competitors offer an inflator and sealant.
- Design. Personal preference, I know, but I really like the gloss black trim with the XSE wheels and black roof. The black interior with red stitching looks great. The LED headlights, DRLs and accent lights look sharp and illuminate well.
- Miscellaneous likes: Panoramic roof that has a full shade and allows the front section to tilt up or open. The retractable cargo area cover is handy, and the OEM cargo mat covers the floor and seat backs. HomeLink works perfectly every time, unlike the quirky one in our Honda Insight. The phone holder locations in the center console (with wireless charging) and on passenger side dash are handy. Sunglass holder in roof. Full power 1500W AC outlet in cargo area. I normally charge overnight on the included 120V charger, but the 6.6kW option is nice for extra juice at the few free Volta and other chargers I use from time to time. Insurance costs are much lower than expected, and considerably less than some other vehicles I considered.
- Seat Ventilation. A great feature in theory; I hesitate to buy any vehicle with dark leather/pleather that lacks seat ventilation. In practice, the system on the R4P is just OK. It helps some on hot, humid days vs. typical black leather. To save power, it’s just ventilation and doesn’t engage the A/C for cooling. That’s a reasonable compromise for an EV or PHEV, but the air flow is unfortunately limited to the upper back and thighs, with no ventilation to the lower back or butt. Once the A/C is on and the cabin air is cold, it works better. The fan is a little noisy at full speed.
- Rearview Mirror Camera. I love this feature and the viewing angle is so much better than a typical mirror. In ideal lighting, it works great and further minimizes blind spots. The low contrast display is an issue that causes it to be washed out frequently.
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These are great features and being able to use Google Maps is a huge upgrade from the OEM navigation system. Even so, on an all-new vehicle, I wish wireless CarPlay and AA had been included so I could leave my phone in my pocket or just set it on the wireless charger.
- Handling. The steering and handling are decent for the class of compact, mainstream SUVs. No, it’s not going to have the handling or road feel to compare to a lower-riding Tesla Model Y or even our Honda Insight Touring sedan. It is stable and corners relatively well, and will perform more than adequately for most drivers. For a sport sedan, my impression would be different. For this segment that lacks adjustable/adaptive suspensions, it’s a fair tradeoff between ride comfort and decent handling.
- Lane Keep Assist. It works well but can be twitchy and is not as smooth as the system on our Honda or other vehicles I’ve driven.
- Dual chrome tipped exhaust pipes. Sure, they look sharp on a performance car, but this is more of a green vehicle. How about a single, somewhat discreet exhaust?
- Passenger Seat. Comfortable, but as I noted in my review, it should really have the same adjustments as the driver seat in the Premium Package.
- Paddles. I know they are completely unnecessary, but hey, I like the paddles. I use them a lot in EV mode which is basically all the time for me, except for road trips. On the other hand, they are all but useless in HV mode. I wish they simply increased regeneration in HV mode like they do on some hybrids, rather than simulate gear shifts by changing engine revs. Leave that for the “manual” function on the shifter.
- JBL Audio. I’ve put in nice aftermarket systems in previous vehicles. I know JBL isn’t going to satisfy audio purists, but it’s quite reasonable for me. The subwoofer enclosure doesn’t have a large enough size or speaker to play really low or really loud but does just enough in the compact space it occupies. For touting something like 11 speakers, 8 channels and 800 watts, it deserves a graphic equalizer with subwoofer level control, rather than an economy car bass/treble adjustment.
- Heads-Up Display. It has all the essentials to keep eyes on the road. A worthy safety feature for teen drivers, for people who are easily distracted and really for everyone. I mention HUD again here only because it is somewhat polarized, and the orientation is such that it is difficult to see on a sunny day if you are wearing polarized sunglasses. This is inherent to typical LCD projectors being reflected off the windshield from the dash, so many HUDs have the same issue.
- App. If you are coming from a vehicle that has great app with lots of remote features, this one will disappoint. Plus, it’s slow and buggy. Most notably, many owners are not able to lock or unlock the doors on the XSE w/PP, especially on Android devices. This is compounded by the fact that the doors must be locked to engage the remote start for the climate system. The functionality clearly exists in the vehicle, since the option is there and reportedly works for some iPhone users. On the plus side, if everything is closed and locked, the remote climate control works most of the time.
- Infotainment, camera and graphics quality. The backup cam in particular is not nearly as sharp as others I’ve used recently, including our Honda Insight. The resolution and low light capability are merely adequate. It’s easy-to-use and handles the basics but appears outdated and could be better at this price point. I’ve had issues switching between paired phones and temporarily disconnecting a phone.
- Availability. Even though R4P sales have increased recently, the nationwide new car supply issue is still a problem. Sadly, the vast majority of deliveries are still in ZEV “Section 177” clean air states on the west coast and in the Northeast. Some dealers are gouging for well above MSRP or requiring pricey aftermarket packages. I am very thankful one became available locally at MSRP with no add-ons and also for an excellent local dealership. Thank you to everyone that helped with acquiring our long-term vehicle, including Ryan and Zeke at Toyota of Naperville (IL).
- Miscellaneous dislikes: Door & roof switches really need backlights. Charge port would have been handier at the front driver side to avoid having to back into spots to access chargers with shorter cables. Automatic rain-sensing wipers could use a manual override variable intermittent adjustment to get it just right in light rain.
Certainly, many of my gripes above may not bother other buyers. Similarly, I have read various complaints that don’t really bother me or that I haven’t observed yet. For example, some owners have keyfob issues, while others dislike the brake feel, heat pump noise (in cold temps) or the electronic backup sound.
Honestly, the R4P has been great so far and I thoroughly enjoy driving it. Of all these seemingly nit-picky complaints, the app is the biggest annoyance and is likely fixed with a software update. I also wish the seat ventilation had been more robust. Combined with a light-colored and more breathable seat fabric, it would be more comfortable and therefore easier to conserve range by keeping the A/C off. Notably, these are mainly XSE Premium feature issues and will not be a factor for buyers of the great value SE trim that should also benefit from more breathable cloth fabric. The rest of the stuff is only an occasional nuisance or is relatively minor for me.
I think many complaints I see about the RAV4 Prime are due to high expectations relating to the high price tag. When people are spending nearly $50,000, some may expect a Lexus or luxury-class vehicle and the RAV4 simply isn’t that. Obviously if the dealer charged more for add-ons or markups, expectations may be even higher. It really is just a RAV4, a mid-range compact SUV, but with a $10,000 powertrain boost. That’s not a bad thing, since RAV4 is very competitive in its class and has been the best selling vehicle in the USA that isn’t a full-size pickup truck. If you qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit, it’s still a legitimate value compared to other RAV4 trims. At an MSRP of nearly $50K, the XSE w/Premium package has plenty of features but just not luxury-class ones.
Hopefully, this helps if you are considering a Prime and get the luxury of a test drive! If you have kids in car seats, be sure to also read my RAV4 Prime Review and about a narrow car seat option for the RAV4. I have not driven the R4P in the winter, so I can’t yet comment about snow/ice traction, heated seats or steering wheel, heat pump, etc. Stay tuned for more long-term updates in the RAV4, including more car seat compatibility information!
Do you have more loves, likes or dislikes about the RAV4 Prime? Feel free to comment below.