2021 Toyota RAV4

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2020
The Car Connection
2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
October 12, 2020

Buying tip

If you can find a RAV4 Prime—and qualify for the federal tax breaks—it’s at the vanguard of efficiency and utility.

features & specs

Adventure AWD
Hybrid LE AWD
Hybrid Limited AWD
MPG
25 city / 33 hwy
MPG
41 city / 38 hwy
MPG
41 city / 38 hwy
MSRP
$33,155
MSRP
NA
MSRP
$37,030

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is the meat-and-potatoes crossover for many buyers; the RAV4 Prime supplies the all-electric range.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 compact crossover SUV still has a few tricks up its sleeve. It adds a plug-in hybrid this year, with a twist: the 2021 RAV4 Prime has the quickest acceleration of the lineup. 

For 2021 the RAV4 Hybrid can be ordered as an XLE Premium, too.

The 2021 RAV4 gets a 6.4 TCC Rating but that could rise higher when official safety data rolls in. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Review continues below

Like last year, the 2021 RAV4 comes in a wide range of trims: LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Limited, TRD Off-Road, SE, and XSE RAV4s can have a gas engine, while the RAV4 Hybrid comes in LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited trims. The RAV4 Prime comes in SE and XSE trims. 

The good news: All RAV4s get the same mini-’ute good looks that started in 2019. The roofline and chunky body sides are a boon to curb appeal, even if they make the RAV4 slightly more uncomfortable inside this time around, with less head room for tall passengers.

All RAV4s start with an inline-4 under the hood, although what happens down the driveline depends on how deep your pockets are. The base 2.5-liter inline-4 makes 203 horsepower and drives the front or all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. 

The RAV4 Hybrid teams that engine to a hybrid battery pack and electric motors for 219 hp net that drives all four wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission. It’s fuel-efficient and rates up to 40 mpg combined, according to the EPA. 

The RAV4 Prime adds bigger electric motors, a bigger hybrid battery pack, and bumps up overall output to 302 hp. Unlike other plug-in hybrid crossovers, the RAV4 Prime’s song is performance: it’s the quickest RAV4 to 60 mph at an estimated 5.7 seconds (two seconds faster than the RAV4 Hybrid) and can travel 42 miles on electrons alone, according to the EPA.

Every 2021 RAV4 gets active safety features that include automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. 

Base RAV4s get cloth upholstery, 17-inch wheels, a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with smartphone compatibility, and at least one USB port. Top trims get synthetic leather, better performance, off-road hardware, a bigger touchscreen, or better audio. 

8

2021 Toyota RAV4

Styling

The 2021 RAV4 is now the looker among the compact crossover bunch; never thought we’d say that about a Toyota.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 channels all the right angles—90 degrees and otherwise—into its body for a shape that’s not only better than RAV4s before it, it’s also better than it needs to be. 

It’s a good look and we give it an 8 for styling. 

The RAV4 draws closer to the Tacoma and 4Runner in all the right ways. It’s a mini off-roader in some looks, even if it lacks the hardware to match. 

The roofline is low and stylish, we can even see a little FJ in there, but it doesn’t overplay its hand with too-small windows. The low roof takes its toll on passengers inside, driving while slouched is more than a life choice sometimes. 

The RAV4’s chunky fenders in TRD Off-Road and Adventure trims look good, and the sporty touches to the new RAV4 Prime are a win for the ‘ute. Prime models get a distinctive grille with a gloss-black bumper, and a contrasting roof color on the XSE.

Inside, the RAV4 is a mishmash of soft-touch materials and hard plastics with a wide and horizontal dash and touchscreen planted above the vents. Some trim levels differentiate with contrast stitching, which is a nice touch. The RAV4 Prime goes further with red inserts and synthetic leather.

Review continues below
5

2021 Toyota RAV4

Performance

Now with a performance, plug-in hybrid powertrain, the 2021 RAV4 covers all of the bases.

The sleepy performance of the Toyota RAV4 gets a shot in the arm this year with a new, higher-horsepower 2021 RAV4 Prime. 

An efficiency-minded, performance-ready crossover is the world we want to live in, but the one we do live in still buys the regular RAV4 at an alarming rate. 

We give the 2021 RAV4 a 5 for performance based on the regular powertrain. If rated separately, the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime would score higher. 

The gas-only RAV4 is powered by a workaday 2.5-liter inline-4 that makes 203 hp, paired to an 8-speed automatic and front- or all-wheel drive. It’s competent but rough around the edges and can buzz when pressed into duty. 

The all-wheel-drive systems offered on the RAV4 aren’t all the same: LE and XLE versions get a base system that shuttles power backward for low grip. 

The RAV4 TRD Off-Road, Limited, and Adventure get a more sophisticated system that shuttles power front to back and side to side at the rear via a torque vectoring system. It’s more sophisticated and slick, but it also takes a larger toll on fuel economy. 

The RAV4’s stiff frame and four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson struts in front with multi-link, trailing wishbones in the rear) give the RAV4 a supple ride over rough bumps, but competitors such as the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V are a little softer. 

RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime

The RAV4 Hybrid adds a battery and electric motor to the 2.5-liter inline-4 to make 219 hp total. The engine and front electric motor typically drive the front wheels for better efficiency, while a separate rear electric motor can spin up the rear wheels when more power is needed. The RAV4 Hybrid’s all-wheel-drive system is geared for all-weather confidence; off-roaders won’t likely be attracted to the heavier, off-road RAV4 Hybrid anyway. The RAV4 Hybrid’s appeal is its 39-mpg combined rating, according to the EPA, which is very fuel-efficient. 

Although a hybrid, just not one with a capital “H,” the RAV4 Prime plugs in a larger 18.1-kwh hybrid battery and electric motors to the system for 302 hp. The draw here is a useful EV driving mode with up to 42 miles of EPA-rated range, which can be recharged in a few hours on a J1772 plug. When the full hybrid mode’s engaged the RAV4 Prime can hit 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds; it’s the quickest four-door Toyota, second-quickest of all after the Supra. Its rear electric motor gives it through-the-road all-wheel drive—but the bigger battery adds about 500 pounds over the RAV4 Hybrid, which proves a lot for the Prime to overcome on winding back roads even with a specially tuned sport suspension. It is more refined than either of the other RAV4s, though, with a hushed EV drive mode thanks to more sound damping and thicker laminated side windows.

Review continues below
6

2021 Toyota RAV4

Comfort & Quality

Style takes priority in the 2021 Toyota RAV4, for better or worse.

Yesteryear’s bland and boring RAV4s are gone and a reminder for us to be careful for what we wished for. 

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 asks for some concessions in comfort for its avant-garde shape. It’s a 6 on our comfort scale not for people-comfort, but for cargo-comfort. Shucks. 

The front seats are snug for taller drivers and riders, especially with the optional sunroof that cuts into available head room. The seat bottoms are thin too, which cramps—literally and figuratively—our comfort on long hauls. 

The rear seats offer scant more head room, but not more leg room. There are 37 inches of leg stretch-out space in the back, which is good, but also not as much as some rivals including the Volkswagen Tiguan and Honda CR-V. 

Three across in back is possible, just not preferable. With the rear seats up, the RAV4 holds more than 37 cubic feet of cargo, which expands to 69 cubic feet. Primes have 33.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 63.2 cubic feet behind the front seats, with some space lost to battery packaging.

Review continues below

2021 Toyota RAV4

Safety

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 lacks official crash-test data.

Federal and independent crash-testers haven’t ruined a 2021 Toyota RAV4 because it’s not on sale yet. We’ll withhold our score here until it gets sacrificed by the lab coats, but there are reasons for optimism. 

That’s because last year’s RAV4 earned top “Good” scores by the IIHS in its rigorous crash-test battery, and the agency rated its automatic emergency braking system as “Superior” at avoiding forward crashes. 

Federal testers were mostly complimentary and gave the RAV4 a five-star overall score, including four stars for front and rollover crash safety. 

Every RAV4 gets automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitors are available—and a good idea. The RAV4’s chunky rear roof pillars look great but compromise outward vision. 

Review continues below
8

2021 Toyota RAV4

Features

The 2021 RAV4 is available in just about any configuration.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 likely will be offered in LE, XLE, XLE Premium, XSE, and Limited trims. Adventure and TRD Off-Road models angle toward outdoorsy folks and sub in some handy off-road hardware. RAV4 Hybrids are offered in LE, XLE, XLE Premium, XSE, and Limited, while the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid is available in SE and XSE trims. 

Frankly, we’re not surprised that the RAV4 is a figurative rainbow of trim levels—it’s one of the most popular cars on the planet. Based on its options and standard hardware, including a 7.0-inch touchscreen on all models, it’s an 8 for features. 

Starting at $27,225 including destination, the 2021 RAV4 LE includes cloth upholstery, 17-inch wheels, a split-folding rear seat, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with smartphone compatibility software. Active safety features are included too, but we cover that above. All-wheel drive adds $975, and a hybrid engine adds $625 to that. 

The XLE has always been a sweet spot for us for less than $30,000 with all-wheel drive equipped. The RAV4 XLE adds alloy wheels, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, keyless start, more USB chargers, and more available options including heated seats. 

The RAV4 TRD Off-Road introduced last year is interesting with chunky, 18-inch wheels, twin-tube shocks, and a power liftgate. They’re pricey, but offer some modicum of off-road capability to the RAV4 family. 

The 302-hp RAV4 Prime is the wild child. It steers toward sporty with its exterior accents, sport suspension, available 9.0-inch touchscreen, synthetic leather upholstery with red accents, subwoofer, and moonroof. Prices start at $39,275, though and can creep up to just under $50,000.

Review continues below
5

2021 Toyota RAV4

Fuel Economy

The most efficient 2021 Toyota RAV4 is also the quickest; we endorse that message.

The 2021 RAV4 covers a spectrum of efficiency with gas, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid options. 

The most common powertrain is a 2.5-liter inline-4 that drives the front wheels. The EPA rates that at 28 mpg city, 35 highway, 30 combined. That’s a 5 on our scale. 

All-wheel drive doesn’t torpedo efficiency either. Most RAV4 AWD versions rate 25/33/28 mpg, although base models fare better. 

The most efficient RAV4s are also the most expensive. The RAV4 Hybrid with all-wheel drive standard manages 40 mpg combined and the new RAV4 Prime goes further by traveling up to 42 miles on electricity alone. It checks in at 94 MPGe, which is an imperfect measurement of its overall efficiency compared to gas vehicles. Even without electric power, the RAV Prime still gets 38 mpg combined. 

Review continues below
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$26,050
MSRP based on Hybrid LE AWD
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6.4
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety N/A
Features 8
Fuel Economy 5
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2021 Toyota RAV4 Pricing Insights

  • 2021 RAV4 is arriving
  • Lease: From $289/mo. (2020)
  • Finance: 0% APR (2020)
  • Rebate: $1,750 cash (2020)
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