We don’t write about plug-in hybrids much anymore here at CleanTechnica. When the topic comes up during our weekly tofu roast at CleanTechnica’s chromium and carbon fiber headquarters, people tend to snicker up their sleeves at the idea of a battery-operated car that needs a gasoline engine to keep it charged up.
5 years ago when public chargers were as rare as octogenarians at a Dead & Company concert, the idea had some merit. Banish range anxiety. If your battery goes flat on the road from Fargo to Minot, let those trusty pistons get you home safely. Today, PHEVs just seem like artifacts of the electric car revolution that got left behind on the side of the highway.
Now, Toyota has brought forth what may be the best plug-in hybrid ever — the 2021 RAV4 Prime. With electronic all-wheel drive standard, the car starts at $39,200 including a $1,200 destination charge. That makes it the most expensive RAV4 ever, but the onboard battery means it qualifies for the full $7,500 federal tax credit, bringing the post-incentive price down to $31,720.
For that amount of money, buyers get one of the quickest midsize SUVs on the road. Not the quickest, to be sure, but enough to put a smile on your face. Toyota says the RAV4 Prime will sprint to 60 mph (97 kph) in 5.7 seconds, which is pleasingly sprightly performance.
According to Autoblog, the drivetrain for the RAV4 Prime starts with the same 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle, gasoline four-cylinder engine as the regular RAV4 Hybrid, except in this case, it has been retuned for more grunt. Instead of 163 ft-lb of torque at 3500 rpm, the new engine has 168 ft-lb of torque at 2500 rpm. Horsepower is the same at 176. A new, more powerful electric motor brings total horsepower up to 302.
Toyota says the battery — whose size is undisclosed — provides 42 miles (68 km) of range, which is respectable and a far cry from the days when certain German manufacturers used to get all googly-eyed over PHEV models that could only travel 10 miles (16 km) or fewer on battery power alone. Of course, all that power on tap is only available if drivers remember to plug the car in at night. (We can almost hear all the angry people at Toyota service departments complaining their cars lost a bunch of performance after an hour or so of driving.)
The current RAV4 Hybrid, with 219 horsepower, has an EPA rating of 41 city/38 highway/40 combined (66/61/64 km). The RAV4 Prime is rated 94 MPGe (40 KPLe), but the EPA has not issued city and highway estimates yet. Suffice to say the Prius Prime, which has less performance, is rated 133 MPGe (57 KPLe), 55 city/53 highway/54 combined (89/85/87 km). The RAV4 Prime should come in somewhere between the Prius Prime and the RAV 4 Hybrid.
The new PHEV SUV will come in two trim levels. The SE is the base model but is no strippo special. It lists for $38,100 plus the $1200 transportation fee. The uprated XSE comes with a 9-inch touchscreen, upgraded audio, wireless device charging, a moonroof, and a two-tone exterior paint scheme. It lists for $42,545.
The SE comes with a wimpy 3 kW onboard charger, but customers can upgrade to a 6.6 kW charger. The warranty on the battery is 10 years/150,000, which should allay most fears among people who still worry about the cost of replacing a battery in an EV.
All in all, the RAV4 Prime offers substantial performance — it’s 2 full seconds quicker to 60 MPH (97 kph) than the regular RAV4 Hybrid — for an attractive price after incentives. Let the good times roll, or Motto tanoshimou ze, as they say in Japan. Look for it in showrooms this summer.