Toyota RAV4 Prime: One Year Long Term Owner Update

In June of 2021, I took delivery of a 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime (R4P).  I wrote my original review of the RAV4 Prime after a week-long media loan back in the fall of 2020 and hoped to be able to purchase one ever since.  Unfortunately, they were quite rare in the Midwest, as most are sold on the west coast or the Northeast in Section 177 Zero Emissions Vehicle states.

So, in early 2022, I had placed a pre-order on a VW ID.4 AWD and was about to also order a Tesla Model Y, as it was the only one available at that time in the Midwest.  Though I’d have been happy with any of them, I cancelled the others when an allocation of a Prime became available at sticker price.  Given the current state of the auto market, I am glad I was able to buy it a few months later at MSRP in June of 2021 with no addons, especially with the scarcity in the Chicago area.  Today, brand-new regular gas RAV4s have waits of a couple months or more at sticker price and recent model used ones can sell for over MSRP.  Crazy.

Since the purchase, I have written some likes and dislikes of the vehicle from an owner perspective.  There are many little things you just don’t notice on a week-long test drive.  Some things just don’t bother you until later, so I added some comments after some winter driving experience as well.  Now that it’s been over a year and nearly 10,000 miles, I have additional long term perspective in my current top 10 pros and cons:

  1. Drivetrain. It still impresses as an amazing work of engineering.  It’s quick, it’s fun, and it’s silent when you want it to be.  In the flat suburbs of Chicago, the gas engine almost never turns on in daily driving (unlike some other PHEVs I’ve driven).  Since my daily commute is rarely over 50 miles, I use very little gas between road trips.  My record is just over 3000 miles on a tank so far.
  2. Efficiency is also quite good.  Year-round, I average 3.0 miles/kW*Hr.  In the Southwest, I’m sure I could get significantly higher, but winter takes its toll, as does less conservative driving.  We pay around 11 cents per KW*Hr here.  That’s comes out to about 27 miles for a buck.  Looking at it another way, on gas-only in hybrid mode, I get around the EPA estimate of 38 miles per gallon (A bit over the rated 40 mpg around town and a bit less than the estimated 36 mpg highway).  In electric mode, that’s the equivalent of roughly $1.40 per gallon!
  3. Utility is excellent. There’s reasonable passenger and cargo space and the ride is fairly quiet and smooth for a compact SUV.  It can accelerate quickly, tow modestly, has AWD for inclement weather, lets you drive silently & cheaply on electric around town, and road trip on gas without planning routes & extra hours around charging.
  4. Value, especially in SE trim after tax credits.  An online critic of the R4P said, “competent… borderline good but rarely stellar except drivetrain.”  That’s a reasonable summary.  Many critics see the $50,000 price tag of the loaded premium package model and have expectations that it’s a luxury vehicle.  It’s not.  You pay close to $40,000 for a loaded gas RAV4 Limited or XSE Hybrid, so the $10,000 Prime surcharge is for the plug-in capability and performance.  A $7500 tax credit (that will begin to phase out in late 2022) to those who qualify offsets much of that extra cost.  With similar features, luxury plug-in hybrids like Lexus NX or Lincoln Corsair GT will be close to $10K more.  Volvo, BMW and Audi are even more than that with comparable options.
  5. Safety is very good.  From crash tests to crash avoidance features to improvements in car seat compatibility.  Toyota did a great job here.  Kudos.
  6. Quality is also very good with minimal problems.  I had my free one-year service that included an oil change and tire rotation.  They did the one recall for a software issue related to the vehicle stability control.  They also identified a slight alignment issue and corrected that under warranty as well.  Owners in cold climates may be familiar with the “fog horn” noise made by the compressor for a few seconds at startup, when it’s near freezing or below.  There’s a software fix in a service bulletin for that, also, but for some reason my dealer didn’t believe me and wouldn’t do the update while they were doing the recall update.  So, now it’s another trip for me this winter to prove it.  Overall, very good, just like our Prius and Highlander.
  7. Appearance. It looks sharp.  Sure, it’s personal preference, but I really like the re-design with the XSE gloss black trim, vertical accent lights and the unique wheels on the prime XSE with gloss black details to match.  It stands out a bit from the sea of other RAV4s.
  8. Community help.  Seems trivial, but from Facebook groups to the subreddit to forums, there’s a ton of help for questions, problems, modifications, accessories, etc.  For a relatively niche vehicle with fairly low sales so far, the number of helpful owners is pretty impressive.
  9. Downsides?  Sure.  The app sucks and the infotainment system is “Just OK”.  The app didn’t work most of the time for the first 6 months.  Then, they finally fixed the main useful feature that allows you to remote start the vehicle reliably.  Problem is, after another 6 months, they put up an $8 a month paywall basically just for the ability to remote lock/unlock and pre-heat or pre-cool the vehicle.  It’s worth noting that the pre-heat system does not engage the gas engine, so it’s doesn’t work as well as you might expect when it’s well below freezing. Safety connect also expires after a year and is yet another $8 a month.  Unless you pay up, the app is so useless that I no longer use it.  Eventually, Toyota will figure out this revenue stream with more features and offer discounts, like SiriusXM and other subscription services do.
  10. Other complaints? As mentioned, there are some issues with quickly heating the vehicle when it’s well below freezing.  There are workarounds, though.  I noted them at the end of my winter update.  To compound that, it has the weakest seat heating and ventilating that I’ve encountered.  Still much better than standard black pleather, for sure, but could use improvement.  Beyond that, I listed various trivial complaints in my previous updates.  This discussion has a nice list of RAV4 Prime owner observations as well.

Overall, I’m really happy with it in the year I’ve driven it for personal and business use.  It’s not lost upon me that the online used car services are offering thousands more than what I paid for it.  Throw in the federal tax credit and I could pocket $10K or more.  Problem is, there’s nothing else I’d rather be driving right now for that price, except for maybe a 2022 RAV4 Prime!

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