As the hybrid pioneer, Toyota possesses the most experience in the field. Since the introduction of the first Prius in the late 1990s, the Japanese brand paved the way for widespread electrification. For some time, hybrids remained synonymous with efficiency and not much else. Over time, Toyota began changing that by positioning hybrids as the high output option that didn’t sacrifice fuel economy. Models like the Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h provided the foundations for potent electrified offerings. Enter the 2022 Toyota RAV4 Prime, the first plug-in hybrid variant of the popular SUV. This promises to elevate the notion of having it all in a package that appeals to a broad audience.
2022 Toyota RAV4 Prime: Powertrain Showcase
Toyota put its mastery of hybrid powertrains in full show in the RAV4 Prime. While certain models have more power or better efficiency, none get close to this one’s ability to balance both. Coupling a 2.5-liter I-4 to two electric drive motors, a planetary gear set, and an 18.1-kWh lithium-ion battery, you have 302 hp combined under your right foot. That gives you smooth, effortless power, allowing the RAV4 Prime to accelerate quicker than many so-called sports cars. Thanks to the instant torque from the two electric motors, this SUV gets going quickly even in all-electric mode.
To complement all that power, Toyota gave the RAV4 Prime incredible levels of efficiency. EPA-rated at 40/36/38 mpg city/highway/combined, this crossover lets you have your cake and eat it too. As a result, it has a bladder-bursting range of 600 miles when driven as a conventional hybrid, the highest of its competitive set. In all-electric mode, the RAV4 Prime can travel 42 miles before the gas engine kicks in, which is once again at the top of the pack. During my week, I average 57 mpg charging only when the battery is nearly out. I also found that even with some highway driving, the RAV4 Prime consistently exceeds its all-electric range, frequently driving 50 miles before the gas engine turns on.
Charging times depend on which onboard charger you get. The base 3.3-kW unit gets you to 100 percent in 4.0 hours using a level 2 AC charger while the optional 6.6-kW charger cuts that time to 2.5 hours. Unfortunately, the latter is exclusive to the XSE grade. A standard level 1 or 120-volt outlet gets you a full charge in 12 hours.
Despite being offered only in SE and XSE grades, the RAV4 Prime remains a family vehicle first. That means ride comfort takes priority and it’s evident. The suspension does a fantastic job isolating the cabin from harsh impact when driving over broken pavement. Tires with generous sidewalls also help, too, providing additional cushioning.
While the suspension is slightly stiffer, it’s not enough to make a difference in the level of compliance. You’re not going to notice much of a difference in the way the RAV4 Prime handles either. Body motions remain noticeable but controlled respectably including subtle vertical movement when you go over big bumps and potholes. The SUV drives big too, giving it a truck-like feel, especially on winding roads. Excessive nose dive during hard braking only amplifies this while highlighting the vehicle’s softness. At least the light but accurate steering makes maneuvering into tight spaces a breeze.
Unlike other brands, Toyota’s FWD-based hybrids use an e-AWD system including the RAV4 Prime. That means a second electric motor provides traction for the rear axle, creating a power bias. In this case, more power goes through the front wheels, resulting in the car feeling like it’s FWD. You get the same clawing sensation as you would in most FWD vehicles when accelerating. The rear electric motor doesn’t respond right away, resulting in some wheel spin before getting any traction.
2022 Toyota RAV4 Prime: Roomy and Utilitarian
Toyota did a good job ensuring that the RAV4 Prime offers plenty of room and family-friendly features. Four passengers comfortably fit thanks to generous head- and legroom all around. Since Toyota mounted the battery under the passenger compartment, you don’t lose out much on cargo space and retain the nearly flat floor with the rear seats folded. You also get clever cubbies for small items like the shelf on the dash, the large center console bin ahead of the shifter, and a little pocket to the left of the steering wheel.
Fit and finish land squarely in mainstream territory. Despite extensive use of soft-touch materials and padding, the RAV4 Prime feels more utilitarian than upscale. From the graining of the surfaces to the use of big knobs, this interior puts practicality ahead of flashiness and luxury. However, this also means certain aspects of the car need improving, the most notable being sound insulation. On the highway, the cabin suffers from excessive amounts of road, tire, and wind noise. Ask the powertrain for more and you’ll hear the engine’s thrashy sounds audibly due to the lack of noise-absorbing materials. Other quibbles? The rear doors. They don’t open wide enough meaning getting in and out or installing child seats becomes a hassle.
Simple but Aging Tech
The 2022 RAV4 Prime retains Toyota’s older Entune 3.0 infotainment system with either an 8.0- or 9.0-inch touchscreen. Despite its simple controls, the interface’s slow response times make it distracting to use because it takes a few seconds for it to register your inputs. Its graphics, particularly the maps on the built-in navigation system, look dated because they’re so grainy. At least the 11-speaker JBL audio system sounds good and has nice levels of clarity. However, better speaker placement could allow it to cover the cabin better.
Both variants of the RAV4 Prime get the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite. Although it’s the older version, the components still do a good job of keeping you safe. Lane centering only works with adaptive cruise control active and will help you navigate easy turns on the highway. Without the latter, it works as a lane-keeping system that gently nudges you back if you start drifting. The distancing component included with adaptive cruise control works conservatively and leaves a lot of room between you and the vehicle ahead, giving others space to merge or cut you off. It also doesn’t react quickly when the latter happens, meaning you need to stay on top of things behind the wheel.
Thankfully Toyota swapped in its new infotainment system on the 2023 RAV4. You get larger screens, an optional digital gauge cluster, and a virtual assistant accessed by saying “Hey Toyota.” Additionally, the SUV also gets the upgraded Toyota Safety Sense 2.5, which includes intersection assist, cyclist detection, and evasive steering assist for pedestrians.
The Showoff SUV
Think of the RAV4 Prime as Toyota’s way of showing off its hybrid technology to the world. It checks all the right boxes for a family vehicle and adds a potent powertrain that’s also impressively efficient. This also means the hybrid system is omnipresent, putting it front and center in the driving experience. That’s both good and bad became it shows its strengths but also its weakness including the e-AWD system’s inability to keep up with the powertrain.
Then you have the elephant in the room: price. The RAV4 Prime isn’t cheap starting at $41,515, making it $5,000 to $6,000 more than its nearest competitor. This XSE test car costs just under $51,000 with several options and dealer-installed accessories before factoring in local and state incentives, and the full $7,500 federal tax credit. You must act fast if you’re looking to take advantage of the latter because Toyota is about to run out soon.
With the 2022 RAV4 Prime, Toyota has a proper halo product, a model that showcases its engineering capabilities. Although there’s a lot to like, you also have plenty of tradeoffs. Whether that’s worth it remains your decision and your requirements out of the vehicle. One thing is for sure: you’re getting a fantastic yet slightly overpowered powertrain. The only thing left to do is improve the other aspects and get them working harmoniously with the propulsion system.