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The plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime is EPA-rated at 38 mpg when driven as a hybrid vehicle. Its full-charge electric range is 42 miles.

When it comes to cars with umbilical cords, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime makes a strong case that plug-in hybrids are way more real-world friendly than strictly electric cars.

Here's a family-oriented compact crossover that, after a full charge, can travel up to 42 EPA-rated miles on pure electric power, meaning that 99 percent of the world can drive back and forth to work all week, charging this RAV nightly, and never burn a drop of gasoline in the daily commute.

On the other hand, if a sudden whim to drive to Denver grabs a RAV4 Prime owner, no worries. This plug-in hybrid, once its electric-drive battery's charge is depleted, will travel happily all day and all night on fossil fuel, just like any standard gas/electric hybrid vehicle -- and, in the process, the EPA says, it will return a combined 38 mpg.

Impressive stuff, even if we managed in a RAV4 Prime only 35 combined mpg in 140 miles of mixed city/hwy motoring. Regardless, driven on electrons or gas, this guy's cheap to keep. However, it costs a lot of dough to save that money.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid is offered in two trims -- SE and XSE. SE starts at $39,220, almost $10,000 more than a standard RAV4 Hybrid LE. The nicely equipped XSE we drove, which carries a base price of $42,545, added a bevy of options -- Premium Pkg., audio upgrade and more -- to bottom-line within shouting distance of 50 thousand bucks. Ouch.


Powering Prime is much of the same greasy stuff that motivates the standard-hybrid RAV4 -- that is to say, a 2.5-liter I-4 and electric motors to power the front and rear wheels. The result is standard all-wheel drive managed by a CVT automatic.

In the Prime plug-in, however, there's a larger, 18.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that stores all the electric-motoring power.

The upshot: With the battery pack, electric motors and gasoline engine all working in harmony, RAV4 Prime generates a wildly impressive 302 total-system horsepower, not to mention gobs of electric-motor torque -- 199 lb.-ft. at the front axle, and another 89 aft. We greeted 60 mph in about five-and-a-half seconds. Cool.


Alas, Prime's handling dynamics don't quite rise to the level of its power specs. While its accelerative talent notably exceeds segment norms, its chassis characteristics are typical "small crossover." There's some body lean in hard corners, the suspension can get discombobulated on ragged pavement, and the gasoline engine's exhaust note is raucous under a heavy right foot. On the highway in gentle cruising, though, the cabin is quiet, the ride civil.

Inside, the infotainment interface is straightforward and easy to use. There's also knobs for radio volume and tuning.

Up front room is excellent in nicely bolstered buckets. In back -- hey, lookie there -- a six footer can sit behind a six-foot driver. Also notable, this plug-in's big battery pack is niftily stored under the floor, meaning rear seats fold and cargo room can expand to a very usable 63 cubic feet.

Among the features on our tester that convinced Toyota it was worth nearly 50-grand were a panoramic sun roof, black seat covers with contrasting red stitching, heated wheel, heated and vented front seats, heated outboard rear seats, power liftgate and loads more. Heck, among our Prime's drive-mode choices of Eco, Sport and Normal was even a "Trail" mode for off-pavement talent.

Like every RAV, this Prime plug-in hybrid wears edgy styling -- blunt and purposeful face, SUV profile and, on our sample, a black "floating" roof propped up by equally black A, B and C pillars.

But, for us, the coolest thing about the RAV4 Prime is its ability to function as both an electric car around town and a standard hybrid for long trips, eliminating any need for an owner to have a second, gas-powered vehicle for protracted journeys.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is both.

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