Like their distant cousin, the hybridized Prius hatchback, the 2023 RAV4 Hybrid and plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime aim to bring impressive fuel efficiency to the compact-SUV segment. And they succeed. But their electrified powertrains come with other benefits too, specifically better performance. For one thing, both are quicker than the nonhybrid RAV4—especially the Prime model which, amazingly, is capable of outrunning a four-cylinder Supra sports car to 60 mph. Too bad the RAV4 Hybrid’s handling isn’t sports-car sharp—quite the contrary, actually, as its noncommittal road manners aren’t likely to satisfy drivers who value athleticism in their daily ride. For those who want a little more involvement in the driving experience—remember, we’re talking mainstream SUVs here, not sport sedans—there’s the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, and Kia Sportage. All of them offer hybrid models as well. Still, the RAV4 Hybrid is a good-looking, practical, and comfortable small crossover that is frugal at the gas pump, which is more than enough for an SUV-loving American to feel good about.
What’s New for 2023?
A new rough-and-tumble Woodland Edition of the RAV4 Hybrid joins the lineup for 2023. Along with all-terrain tires, the Woodland Edition sports a TRD suspension kit, bronze-colored wheels, a roof rack, mud flaps, black exterior badging, and a special set of all-season floor mats sporting the Woodland Edition logo. Exterior colors are limited to black, blue, and white. All models now come with Toyota’s next-generation infotainment interface—a welcome upgrade over the outgoing one—which includes standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as over-the-air update capability.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
If you can qualify for the $7500 electric-vehicle tax credit, the RAV4 Prime is a no-brainer, as the government’s financial incentive lowers its price substantially—and you get a RAV4 with more power and a significant electric-only driving range. Of the two Prime models, the XSE is packed with more standard features, including 19-inch wheels, a sunroof, and an infotainment system with a larger 10.5-inch display. If you don’t qualify for the tax credit, we’d recommend the XLE Hybrid, which offers more standard equipment than the base LE without suffering much of an uptick in price. Buyers of the XLE will enjoy conveniences such as passive keyless entry, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, LED projector headlamps with automatic high beams, heated exterior mirrors, blind-spot monitoring, and front fog lamps.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The RAV4 Hybrid is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that’s assisted by two electric motors for a combined output of 219 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard—one of the electric motors powers the rear wheels and the second motor and the gasoline engine drive the fronts—as is a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Not only is the RAV4 Hybrid more efficient than the unelectrified model, but it’s also quicker. It snapped off a 7.4-second 60-mph time in our hands while the gas-only model needed 8.0 seconds to perform the same task. Drivers will feel that pep, too, particularly around town, where the electric motor’s gratifyingly immediate power delivery gives it an extra shove when taking off from a stop. If you want even more performance, the Prime model is happy to oblige. In our testing, the RAV4 Prime skipped to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds. Like the standard RAV4, the hybrid and Prime models’ handling is competent and its ride comfortable, but don’t expect any cornering heroics here.
More on the RAV4 Hybrid SUV
Range, Charging, and Battery Life
The plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime stores its electrons in an 18.1-kWh battery pack, and the EPA rates its electric-only driving range at 42 miles. In our testing, we managed to drive for 32 miles on electricity alone, but that was on the highway; we would expect a longer driving range in the city. A 3.3-kWh onboard charger is standard and a 6.6-kWh charger is optional on the Prime XSE; it decreases charging time to just 2.5 hours on a 240-volt outlet. If only a 120-volt outlet is available, expect charging times to be about 12 hours.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
When compared with a gas-powered all-wheel-drive RAV4, the hybrid model is far more efficient. The EPA estimates it’ll achieve 41 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 40 mpg combined, beating the regular RAV4 by 14 mpg, 5 mpg, and 11 mpg, respectively. When we tested the RAV4 Hybrid on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy route, it delivered 37 mpg, 1 mpg less than its EPA rating. The Prime earns an EPA combined rating of 94 MPGe, and it delivered 73 MPGe during our highway fuel-economy test. For more information about the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The RAV4 Hybrid’s cabin is well built and nicely outfitted but prioritizes practicality over style. With a plethora of cubbies and bins to choose from, you’ll have ample space to stash small cargo, and all of the buttons and controls are easy to find and operate. Toyota throws in plenty of niceties at the base level, such as dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and a height-adjustable false floor in the cargo area. Going up the trim-level ladder brings luxury features such as heated front and rear seats, ambient interior lighting, and upgraded faux-leather upholstery that Toyota calls SofTex. The RAV4 Hybrid offers identical cargo and passenger space as the regular RAV4, and in our testing, we managed to fit 10 carry-on suitcases behind the second row and 22 with the rear seat folded.
The Car and Driver Difference
Infotainment and Connectivity
LE and XLE models come with an 8.0-inch infotainment display sprouting from their dashboard while XSE, Limited, and Prime XSE models provide a 10.5-inch screen. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration as well as an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot are all standard. Most models also come with a 7.0-inch digital gauge display but a larger 12.3-inch one comes on Limited and Prime XSE trims and is optional on the XLE Premium. Navigation and an 11-speaker JBL stereo system are available. Otherwise, you’ll get a six-speaker system.
How to Buy and Maintain a Car
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Toyota has been an aggressive adopter of driver-assistance features and offers many of them standard across the RAV4 lineup. For more information about the RAV4 Hybrid’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Standard adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
All RAV4s come with a comprehensive warranty that matches those provided by rivals Honda and Nissan, but electrified models come with a lengthy protection plan for their hybrid components. Far from the norm, Toyota’s complimentary scheduled maintenance policy stretches for two years or 25,000 miles.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Hybrid-component warranty covers eight years or 100,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for two years or 25,000 miles
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE
front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
PRICE AS TESTED
$49,170 (base price: $42,545)
DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter inline-4, 177 hp, 165 lb-ft + 3 permanent-magnet synchronous motors, front: 179 hp, 199 lb-ft; rear: 53 hp, 89 lb-ft; combined output, 302 hp; 18.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
continuously variable automatic
Suspension (F/R): struts/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 12.9-in vented disc/12.4-in vented disc
Tires: Yokohama Avid GT S35, 235/55R-19 101V M+S
Wheelbase: 105.9 in
Length: 180.9 in
Width: 73.0 in
Height: 67.2 in
Passenger volume: 99 ft3
Cargo volume: 33 ft3
Curb weight: 4400 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.4 sec
100 mph: 14.0 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 5.6 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 2.7 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 3.4 sec
1/4 mile: 14.0 sec @ 100 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 117 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 195 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.75 g
Standing-start accel times omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
75-mph highway driving, EV/hybrid mode: 73 MPGe/32 mpg
Highway range, EV/hybrid mode: 32/460 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 38/36/40 mpg
Combined gasoline+electricity: 94 MPGe
EV range: 42 miles
More Features and Specs