2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Feb 26, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Toyota deals!

Whether you lease or buy a new 2021 Toyota RAV4, the hybrid powertrain is the one to get unless you're choosing the RAV4 Adventure, RAV4 TRD Off-Road, or RAV4 Prime.

Why is the RAV4 Hybrid the better deal? As this review is published, in the author's region of the U.S., the lease payment for the front-wheel-drive RAV4 LE is about $345 per month with no money down. The all-wheel-drive Hybrid LE payment is $10 more. Not only will you save money on gas by choosing the RAV4 Hybrid, but you'll also get AWD. Win-win!

If you buy a RAV4 Hybrid LE and finance it for 60 months, you'll pay $1,100 more for the fuel sipper. But, you'll make that money back in the form of savings at the fuel pump in about three years, and after that driving the RAV4 Hybrid is like using a cash-back credit card.

Hybrids are EPA-rated to get 40 mpg in combined driving, while other RAV4s range between 28 mpg and 30 mpg. In addition to standard AWD, the RAV4 Hybrid offers 219 horsepower and the off-the-line grunt of instant electric motor torque. The standard RAV4s supply 203 hp and maximum torque doesn't arrive until 5,000 rpm.

For 2021, Toyota makes few changes to the RAV4:

  • New Hybrid XLE Premium trim level
  • TRD Off-Road gains a new front skid plate
  • RAV4 Prime is a new plug-in hybrid version

Already broad in terms of its scope, the new additions to the RAV4 lineup make this 5-passenger compact crossover SUV even more appealing.

If you choose the standard 203-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, you'll decide between FWD and AWD and select from LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, Limited, and TRD Off-Road trim. Prices range from $26,150 to $36,080, not including a destination charge of $1,175.

Hybrids come in LE, XLE, XLE Premium, XSE, and Limited trim. You'll pay anywhere from $28,650 to $37,180, plus destination.

New for 2021, the RAV4 Prime comes only in SE and XSE trim. This 302-hp plug-in hybrid offers an estimated 42 miles of electric driving and costs between $38,100 and $41,425, plus the destination charge.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2020 RAV4 TRD Off-Road and the 2019 RAV4 Adventure. This review focuses primarily on the popular RAV4 Hybrid.

What Owners Say About the Toyota RAV4 - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited Blueprint Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 51% of Toyota RAV4 owners are male, and the median age of a RAV4 owner is 59 years. Both metrics match those for the entire compact SUV segment.

Owners say their favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Fuel economy
  • Getting in and out

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) the: 

  • Interior design and driving comfort (in a tie)
  • Setting up and starting
  • Powertrain
  • Infotainment system

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the RAV4 ranked number 11 out of 15 compact SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Toyota RAV4 - Find the best Toyota deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a RAV4 Hybrid Limited equipped with the following options:

  • Advanced Technology Package
  • Weather Package
  • All-weather Liner Package
  • Adaptive front headlight system
  • Panoramic glass roof
  • Door sill protectors
  • Roof rack crossbars

The price of the test vehicle came to $42,083, including the $1,175 destination charge.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has an Impressive Powertrain

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Engine

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Based on a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, the RAV4 Hybrid's powertrain uses front and rear electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack to generate a combined 219 horsepower. Each electric motor supplies immediate torque when you step on the accelerator, 149 lb.-ft. at the front wheels and 89 lb.-ft. at the rears. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) manages engine power delivery.

Driving modes include EV, Eco, Normal, Sport, and Trail. The EV mode is available only at lower speeds and for short periods, such as when you're looking for a parking space at a shopping center. The RAV4 Hybrid emits a whirring noise when it's driving solely on electricity to let pedestrians and cyclists know that an electric vehicle is nearby.

Despite a couple of hundred extra pounds of weight, the RAV4 Hybrid accelerates quickly, and the CVT draws no undue attention to itself. The engine, however, sounds unrefined as revs climb. Regenerative brakes help recharge the RAV4 Hybrid's battery pack, and unlike some examples of the technology, they work beautifully in terms of pedal feel and response.

Dynamically, the RAV4 Hybrid is tuned to provide a smooth, compliant ride. On winding roads, the P225/60R18 all-season tires are disinterested in having fun. That's true if you venture off-road, too. While the RAV4 Hybrid supplies a Trail driving mode and 8.1 inches of ground clearance, the soft suspension and pavement-loving tires mean you must take things slow.

The RAV4 Hybrid is Effortlessly Efficient

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the RAV4 Hybrid gets 41 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway, and 40 mpg in combined driving. Often, these official government ratings are wildly optimistic. That's not true of the RAV4 Hybrid.

During testing, the RAV4 Hybrid Limited averaged 39.7 mpg. That's remarkable for several reasons:

  • First, the 130-mile testing loop is mountainous with about 1,000 feet of total elevation change.
  • Second, testing includes driving in all of the different modes, not just in Eco mode. 
  • Third, nearly half of the loop includes freeway driving, and the RAV4 Hybrid is supposed to get worse mileage at steady high speed.
  • Fourth, I don't drive like the EPA does. Testing involves real-world speeds and situations.

Generally speaking, RAV4 owners are happy with their fuel economy. That's a departure from how most vehicle owners typically rank their mileage at the bottom of their lists of favorite things about their vehicles.

New RAV4 Hybrid XLE Premium Trim Level for 2021

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Though we did not sample the new RAV4 Hybrid XLE Premium for this review, it is packaged, positioned, and priced for popularity. Without any options, it will run $33,825 (including the destination charge).

In addition to the Hybrid XLE's standard equipment, the XLE Premium adds the following features:

  • 18-inch sport alloy wheels with a Superchrome finish (same as seen in photos)
  • Power sunroof
  • Power rear liftgate
  • Upgraded interior materials
  • SofTex synthetic leather upholstery
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob

Compared to the RAV4 Hybrid XLE, there are a few exclusive options for the XLE Premium. They include an 11-speaker JBL premium sound system and an Advanced Technology Package that installs front and rear parking sensors, automatic low-speed front and rear braking, a rear camera mirror, and a wireless smartphone charger.

Other 2021 Toyota RAV4 Changes

This year, Toyota also adds a stamped stainless steel skid plate to the RAV4 TRD Off-Road. It marks the first time that a RAV4 offers a real one instead of a simulated plastic one.

Perhaps the biggest news for 2021, the Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) can travel an estimated 42 miles on a fully charged battery, then gets 38 mpg once the gasoline engine turns on. With 302 combined horsepower, the RAV4 Prime zooms to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, according to Toyota.

Thanks to its performance capability, the RAV4 Prime comes only in sporty SE and XSE trim levels. As you'd expect, both are well equipped for a base price of $39,275 (including destination). It's hard to compare the RAV4 Prime apples-to-apples with the RAV4 Hybrid, but with XSE trim, the PHEV commands a premium of $3,500.

Given its 42 miles of electric driving capability and the added performance, that's a fair trade.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited Blueprint Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The electrified vehicle thing is happening, America, and it's not a cause for gloom and doom. Take the 2021 Toyota RAV4 lineup, for example. The more electrification you choose, the better the SUV gets. All that's missing from the electrified side of the RAV4 lineup are Adventure and TRD Off-Road versions.

Upgrade from the purely gas engine to the gas-electric RAV4 Hybrid, and you'll enjoy more power, improved off-the-line performance, standard AWD, and much better fuel economy for a small increase in price.

Or, choose the RAV4 Prime PHEV. With a window sticker closing in on $40,000, it's not cheap. But that's the average transaction price of a new vehicle now. In exchange for this amount of money, you're getting a reasonably roomy interior, an accommodating cargo hold, quick acceleration, and plenty of electric driving range before you burn an ounce of gas.

If you're ready to try an electrified vehicle, but you don't want to dive into the deep end of the pool just yet, leasing a RAV4 Hybrid or RAV4 Prime is a perfect way to sample the benefits without a long-term commitment.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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