Mountain Wheels: Plug-in hybrid Toyota RAV4 Prime moves the needle on electrified performance

Toyota’s 302-horsepower RAV4 Prime offers a different version of efficiency and overall power, with a speedy package still rated at 38 combined mpg.
Courtesy photo

If your mental image of the Toyota RAV4 dates back to that of the revolutionary SUV’s smallish earlier days, think again. For 2022, Toyota’s best-selling vehicle is not only much larger, but it is also available not only as a gasoline or hybrid model but also the unique RAV4 Prime, a performance-oriented plug-in-electric model with 302 gas-electric horsepower and an extended all-electric range, plus standard all-wheel drive. 

When it first debuted, I had the chance to drive the RAV4 Prime on a mountain journey out to Vail and back and the combination of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors means the not-so-little Prime absolutely flies — Toyota boasts that its 0-60 speed of 5.7 seconds makes it the fastest four-door vehicle in their entire lineup.

Efficient? Yes, very much so. I got 425 miles on a single tank of gas by keeping the RAV4 Prime charged at home or during stops, with a larger battery system here that allows up to 42 miles of entirely electric range. Even better, its electronic on-demand all-wheel drive system makes it extremely suited for winter use or uphill journeys.

A week ago, I had a 2022 RAV4 Prime again for a shorter drive, this time in high-end XSE configuration, base priced at $43,125 but stickered at $50,731. That included a premium JBL 11-speaker audio system, a color head-up display, navigation, full-cabin moonroof and about every other option you could throw at it, including Toyota’s version of the trippy 3-D see-through parking display.

I also got exactly 39 mpg during a day of high-powered highway cruising, which is one more than the EPA combined mileage figure. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to charge it this time, so I cannot speak to the 94 electronic mpg figure — or get to use the improved EV modes. There’s also now a perhaps hilarious “trail” mode on the vehicle’s drive-selector knob, which is maybe an attempt to remind you of RAV’s more lite-adventure roots and camping trip capability.

The horsepower is, once again, quite impressive for an unassuming small SUV, a hybrid no less, and it gave me lots of opportunities to blow off 4Runners and do all the kinds of silly driving you are really not supposed to be doing, while saving the earth, in a hybrid. No matter how hard I tried, I still got 38 mpg; twisting the knob into “sport” mode gives you even more go. Even its continuously-variable transmission is no slouch; digging deep into the gas pedal even causes the RAV to exhibit some engine noises, which I did not expect.

All of which is a way of saying that the Prime is quite a surprising mixture of performance, fuel efficiency and even some all-electric utility, as Toyota makes its way to more reliable all-electric offerings. The displays do end up being a little busy with all that varied power information, with a large battery charge/drain indicator and battery and fuel levels.

In the prime version of Prime, the extras include red stitching throughout the cabin, that extra-large moonroof and extra-large roof crossbars. Design makes RAV one of the most evolved multi-generational SUVs, which means it is relatively big and comfortable for five, with lots of rear cargo room. There’s an upright and angular character that’s more Lexus than RAV ever was in the past; the interior includes interesting features such as a flat, multi-level dash, a tall, silver-edged console pod with an oversized shifter and mode/power controls. You may also dig the impossibly oversized rubber temperature control knobs, which you could handle with oven mitts, if you needed to. Seats are both heated and cooled, there’s an ample charging tray and, for some reason, the traction control button is hidden in the middle of the center stack. Good to know, if you end up in deep snow.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.