I wouldn’t say that Toyota invented the crossover. But in 1994, the company debuted the first RAV4, an SUV with off-road-capable four-wheel drive—yet built on a unibody chassis, just like a Corolla. And its bold styling and decent on-road performance did a lot to popularize this new vehicle segment.
In the years since, the RAV4 has grown. Today’s RAV4 is much larger than the original two-door model from the ’90s, and it’s now far and away Toyota’s most popular offering. Here in the US, the RAV4 has outsold the Camry and Corolla—as well as the entire Lexus brand—by tens of thousands of units this year already.
That popularity is why it has taken a surprisingly long time to arrange this review. When Toyota announced it was making a plug-in hybrid version of its bestseller, demand was so great that the company prioritized getting cars into the hands of its customers rather than the media.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain builds off Toyota’s long experience with making parallel hybrids. Under the hood of the RAV4 Prime, you’ll find the same 2.5 L, four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine as in the RAV4 Hybrid, albeit with different engine mapping for this new application. It generates 177 hp (132 kW) and 165 lb-ft (224 Nm) and drives the front wheels together with a pair of the RAV4 Prime’s permanent magnet synchronous motors.
There are three electric motors in total. The pair at the front axle work together to deliver 179 hp (134 kW) and 199 lb-ft (270 Nm), with the third motor driving the rear axle when needed at a maximum output of 53 hp (40 kW) and 89 lb-ft (121 Nm).
As usual, the total combined output of the hybrid powertrain is not as simple as just adding up all the numbers. The gasoline engine and electric motors won’t reach peak output at the same time, for instance, and there’s a limit to the amount of power the 18.1 kWh lithium-ion traction battery can supply. Net power is still a very respectable 302 hp (225 kW), which makes the RAV4 Prime the most powerful and fastest-accelerating RAV4 yet (0-60 mph takes ~5.7 seconds, which is about as quick as a mid-2000s Subaru WRX).
That’s a useful stat if you’re bench-racing, but buying a RAV4 Prime because it’s the quickest RAV4 is missing the point. It’s a plug-in hybrid, so the truly vital statistics relate to its fuel efficiency and plug-in range.