AutoSector.com ®

Tested: 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is better off-road with EV Mode

You name it. Within reason, the Toyota RAV4 Prime can tackle it. 

The versatility of the Toyota RAV4 Prime continues to amaze us. It provides 42 miles of all-electric range good for the commute, runs as a perky, easygoing 38-mpg hybrid for extra long errands or weekend trips, accelerates to rival sports cars, offers good cargo space and seat-folding, and carries all-wheel drive with decent ground clearance. It’s about the closest you can get to the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife for the family. 

Over more than a year of various driving experiences, across the U.S.—even on a trip in which we strategically used its Charge Mode—we’d never done one important thing with the RAV4: take it off-road. 

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing - NWAPA - September 2021

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing – NWAPA – September 2021

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing - NWAPA - September 2021

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing – NWAPA – September 2021

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing - NWAPA - September 2021

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing – NWAPA – September 2021

Luckily, just last week I had the opportunity to test the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime off-pavement, over a short but very challenging off-road course specially designed by The Ridge Motorsports Park, in Shelton, Washington, for the 2021 Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year competition run by the Northwest Automotive Press Association. 

The course included conditions weekend adventurers might encounter along Forest Service trails on the way to campsites or trailheads—such as a steep peak that tested breakover angles, a steeply sideways-banked trail, a loose log bridge, a rutted trail with loose rock, and a series of moguls that tested not just wheel articulation but all-wheel-drive systems’ ability to adapt to limited or no traction at one or more wheels. 

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing - NWAPA - September 2021

2021 toyota RAV4 Prime off-road testing – NWAPA – September 2021

The RAV4 Prime did extraordinarily well on the course, although its 8.0 inches of ground clearance was the limiting factor. Traction was the easy part. And in this kind of venue, the RAV4 Prime was at its best locking out the gasoline engine entirely. 

The Prime is very, very quick on the road, with its 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds—or actually a bit quicker, from what we’ve informally seen. But when you’re on a trail, you certainly don’t need all that thrust. What you do need is torque, and in its electric mode the RAV4 has loads of it, all nice and linear and manageable with a long-travel accelerator. According to Toyota, locking in all-electric operation with the EV mode limits you to a 0-60 mph time of 9.2 seconds.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

You probably won’t miss that lower overall output of EV Mode off-pavement. Select EV Mode to lock the gas engine out, and we found that for nuanced off-roading the RAV4 Prime’s traction systems are a much better match with the electric motors alone than when the gasoline engine fires up.

Versus Trail Mode, the RAV4 Prime counterintuitively felt more confident, spinning its wheels far less on the steep, loose hill, and having an easier, less dusty time of the moguls when trying to maintain momentum with one or more wheels loose or lifted. 

After I consulted the RAV4 Prime’s owner’s manual, the lack of composure in Trail Mode makes sense. According to it, Trail Mode is “intended for use when driving on bumpy rough roads,” and it “controls the vehicle so that it can use the maximum amount of drive force when driving on bumpy roads.” So if you need to churn up a long, steep hill with lots of power and wheelspin where traction systems would normally shut you down, Trail Mode is what you’d use; it overrides an EV Mode selection and will start up the gas engine if you need to go all-in. 

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime track driving - NWAPA - September 2021

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime track driving – NWAPA – September 2021

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime track driving - NWAPA - September 2021

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime track driving – NWAPA – September 2021

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime track driving - NWAPA - September 2021

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime track driving – NWAPA – September 2021

The event also reminded us how perfectly adequate—even sprightly—the RAV4 Prime feels all-electric at city (or backroad) speeds with a handling course at The Ridge. On it, we spent most of the time negotiating the tight turns of a course designed for go-karts, mostly below 40 mph, and also found the EV Mode to offer more surefooted traction and more instantaneous, precise responsiveness.

About the only thing left is to take on deep snow, on the way to sledding or skiing—something we have no doubt by now the RAV4 Prime will tackle well. 

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

As equipped, the loaded Prime I tested added up to $49,776, not counting eligibility for the $7,500 EV tax credit or other incentives. That weighs in versus the Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid and Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid, neither of which quite match the Prime’s electric range or features. 

Which leads us to one wish: to see more of them out on the streets and highways. With a vehicle this multifaceted and well-conceived, a quick scan of dealer inventories shows them to be in short supply, and availability remains limited. 

Table of Contents