Toyota RAV4 Prime Compared To Tesla Model Y & Others — Which Is Best For You?

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Toyota RAV4 Prime
Image courtesy Toyota

Some people say you shouldn’t compare a plug-in hybrid or a gas car to a pure electric vehicle, but I like to compare vehicles I would consider buying, and although I’m biased toward electric cars, I still look at gas and hybrid vehicles, especially when advising friends and family.

The Tesla Model Y is a great car, as I first wrote about a year ago. We have written a lot on the Model Y, and I wrote about it most recently when I was able to test drive one. The Tesla Model Y even recently received glowing praise from the Wall Street Journal, including this juicy quote:

“We have this car, this one program, beating the competition on core technology like a drum. … [E]very competitor in the category (Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, Range Rover Evoque, Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan) feels like a sluggish, sloppy antique.”

We don’t cover Toyota (until recently, the world’s most valuable automaker) as closely as Tesla. Frankly, because although it makes a lot of cars, it isn’t that interesting to us because it has been dragging its feet as far as fully electric vehicles. Toyota still doesn’t have one!

I recently wrote that Toyota is doing a lot to move us to electric vehicles in an odd way, by taking away our option of buying a minivan without an electric motor. Considering that it appears that Toyota has made the mistake (in my opinion) of not securing a very large supply of batteries for the next few years, I would prefer that it make millions of hybrids with those batteries instead of a relative handful of pure electric vehicles. It will save a lot more fuel and reduce a lot more carbon. Do I wish Toyota had secured more batteries? Yes, but that doesn’t really do anything productive at the moment.

In a recent article, “The PHEV Era Needs To End, Now,” we noted our wish that Toyota would quit wasting resources on building hybrids. What I think that article missed was two important points.

  1. As stated above, Toyota doesn’t have the batteries to build many EVs, so wishing they did doesn’t accomplish much.
  2. Every transaction requires a willing buyer and not every buyer is willing to go full EV yet. I have purchased two used Ford C-Max Energi plugin hybrids and advised my sister to buy a used Chevy Volt. In cases where the buyer isn’t willing or able to buy an electric vehicle, if there is no PHEV available (a real risk now that the Volt is gone), the buyer will end up buying a gas car.

I am hopeful that the success of the RAV4 Prime shows Toyota that if you make a good car with a big battery, it can be a big success — and not only make money, but do a lot for Toyota’s brand image. We recently wrote about the Toyota RAV4 Prime, and since this is an important vehicle, I wanted to write an opinion and analysis article to give you my take.

Specifications Comparison

I pulled up the spreadsheet I use for my Model Y comparisons, added another column for the Toyota RAV4 Prime, and started my research to fill in the rows.

First, let’s cover how the cars are similar. The interior room and seating space are very close in all dimensions. Even though the RAV4 is a few inches shorter, since it is a few inches taller, it has similar cargo capacity. The towing capacity is similar, at 2500 pounds for the RAV4 vs. 3500 pounds for the Model Y. The mileage for the 42 miles that you are using the battery is 94 MPGe, pretty close to Tesla’s class-leading 121. When the battery runs out, I expect the RAV4 Prime to get close to the 38 MPG the RAV4 Hybrid is rated for. Both the Tesla and Toyota come with a full array of safety and driver convenience features.

Tesla will continue to send over-the-air updates to improve the vehicle over time. Toyota has not announced they are doing that yet. Even the acceleration between the RAV4 Prime and the non-performance Tesla Model Y is less than a second apart. This will likely not be noticeable in everyday driving.

The RAV4 Prime has several advantages over the Tesla:

  1. Slightly higher ground clearance will come in handy in deep snow or during the light off-roading that the vehicle is capable of.
  2. Controls and the buying experience will be familiar to most people. I’m very comfortable with Tesla’s radical redesign of the interior, but many people aren’t ready for that. Many people say they hate buying from dealers, but many people also aren’t comfortable buying over the internet.
  3. The price after tax credit is the elephant in the room. The Toyota crossover is available at a savings of more than $20,000 — $20,000 cheaper than the cheapest Model Y. This will be the item that brings most people into Toyota’s corner. They can make the case they have 80% of the Tesla experience for a little more than half the price.
  4. The total range (including gas range) will likely be close to 600 miles, an advantage for those who like to make long trips without stopping to charge or fuel their cars.

Don’t feel sorry for Tesla. It has many advantages:

  1. The lower center of gravity and the large low-mounted battery should give more car-like handling than the RAV4 has.
  2. The acceleration (especially of the performance model) is superior.
  3. For those who drive more than 42 miles a day, the ability to drive all your miles on electricity gives you a smoother and quieter ride.
  4. The ability to take long trips without using any gasoline will be appealing to many environmentally concerned buyers.
  5. The promise of Full Self Driving and over-the-air updates are the big item for me, but I have to admit the cost is significant.
  6. I like the sporty look of the Model Y over the boxy look of the RAV4, but some will disagree.
  7. The availability of the Tesla Model Y is expected to be much better than that of the Toyota RAV4 Prime. There are rumors that many dealers (especially in non-ZEV states like Florida) will only get one RAV4 Prime this year. One. The demand may be 10 times that, so expect either long waiting lists or large markups on the RAV4 Prime, or both.

A side note is the Lexus RX doesn’t look very competitive to the RAV4 Prime in this comparison. The RAV4 Prime has similar size and quality and much better acceleration and economy for half the purchase price, which means that Lexus will have a problem if its customers cross-shop with Toyota. If most Lexus customers just care about luxury and image, Lexus will be safe, but I think many Lexus customers will figure it out.


If your daily commute is fewer than 40 miles (or you have the chance to charge during the day), you don’t make lot of long trips, and you are not a tech geek like me that is eager to drive the car of the future or an EV purist, the Toyota RAV4 Prime might be the best car for you, and also a very environmentally sound choice. A lot of people don’t have an extra $20,000 laying around or the earning power for the higher monthly payment. The Tesla’s fuel savings won’t help with this price difference until gas prices go up considerably.

I’m still more interested in the Model Y, mainly due to the promise of Full Self Driving. I don’t take enough trips more than 40 miles that I would use much gas in the RAV4, but Tesla’s promise of being able to sleep in the car while “driving” is just too appealing for me to leave the brand, even though the date of the fulfillment of the promise is uncertain.

Now, for those who have two cars, this might be the a perfect second car to a pure electric vehicle. Lot’s of room and you don’t have to use any gas since you can use your EV on your longer trips. On the other hand, if you travel to somewhere with poor charging infrastructure, you can take the RAV4 and leave your EV at home. It costs about the same as a Nissan Leaf and has more capability and total range. You could use this car like I used my Nissan Leaf for 7 years, but instead of not taking it on any trips, you could take the RAV4 on a trip when you have to.

Let me know in the comments if this car fits into your life.

If you decide to order a Tesla, use a friend’s referral code to get 1,000 miles of free Supercharging on a Tesla Model S, Model X, Model 3 and now the Model Y (you can’t use it on the Cybertruck yet). Now good for $250 off either solar panels or a solar roof, too! If you don’t have any friends with a Tesla, use mine:

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Paul Fosse

I have been a software engineer for over 30 years, first developing EDI software, then developing data warehouse systems. Along the way, I've also had the chance to help start a software consulting firm and do portfolio management. In 2010, I took an interest in electric cars because gas was getting expensive. In 2015, I started reading CleanTechnica and took an interest in solar, mainly because it was a threat to my oil and gas investments. Follow me on Twitter @atj721 Tesla investor. Tesla referral code:

Paul Fosse has 230 posts and counting. See all posts by Paul Fosse