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The RAV4 Prime is Toyota's second plug-in hybrid.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

For all its pioneering and promotion of the gasoline/electric hybrid vehicle, Toyota has been slow to go all the way down the electrification road. We’re still waiting for a Toyota battery-electric vehicle. And until now its only plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has been the low-profile Prius Prime, with its unambitious 40-km electric range.

Expect a much bigger splash from Toyota’s second PHEV. To begin, it’s based on the RAV4, not only Toyota’s top-selling nameplate but also year-to-date the entire industry’s best-selling non-pickup vehicle – in Canada and the U.S.

It’s also a wolf in sheep’s clothing. With a much more powerful electric motor than the regular RAV4 Hybrid, plus a retuned version of the Hybrid’s 2.5-litre gas engine, its 302 combined horsepower makes it the second quickest vehicle in Toyota’s lineup. Only the Supra GR has a shorter 0-100-km/h time.

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And thirdly, its official all-electric range is 68 km. The next closest PHEV in its segment, the Ford Escape, claims 61 km (and only 221 horsepower). The Mitsubishi Outlander and Subaru Crosstrek PHEVs rate 35 and 27 km respectively.

While on the road, a Charge mode tells the gas engine to recharge the battery while you’re driving.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

As previously explained, the Prime’s range, and the 18.1-kWh battery capacity that enables it, qualify it for the full federal and Quebec BEV rebates. Mark has covered pricing and availability, so let’s focus here on the technology and performance.

The Prime has a 6.6-kW on-board charger that can replenish an “empty”. battery in 12 hours on 120 volts and 2.5 hours on 240V. An available App lets you remotely manage charging, and/or pre-climatize the cabin.

Even if you’re on the road, a Charge mode tells the gas engine to recharge the battery while you’re driving, say if you want to sneak silently into your driveway at the end of a long trip. Other modes include full EV (as long as there’s charge remaining, the gas engine stays dormant even if you fully floor the throttle, though of course you won’t get the fully 302-horsepower); HV mode, which alternates between (mostly) gas and battery, like any hybrid; and an Auto EV/HV mode that prioritises EV but will summons the gas engine when maximum squirt is required.

Our first drive of the Prime was brief but instructional. Starting in downtown Kingston, Ontario, we drove a few kilometres through town to the 401 highway, followed by 38 km of 115-km/h freeway cruising, and then a mix of suburban, small-town and two-lane rural roads. With the outside temperature gauge showing 18 degrees C there wasn’t much call for the HVAC system but I used it on and off.

The driver can enjoy excellent visibility and the kind of lofty posture that SUVs typically promise but don’t always deliver.

Courtesy of manufacturer

At exactly 65 km the battery “ran dry” and the gas engine seamlessly (though not especially quietly) added its shoulder to the wheel.

At this point I was conveniently close to my private personal test track, where I ran off a set of 0-100-km/h tests (see PERFORMANCE, below). Then, I re-set the trip computer and headed back to the 401 for the return to Kingston. After about 25 km, the trip was showing 6.7 L/100 km. Then I engaged Charge mode. At the Kingston off-ramp 31 kilometres later, the computer was showing that I had recouped 12 km of EV range – roughly 0.4 kilometres of EV range recovered per kilometre driven in CHRG mode. Fuel consumption had risen to 7.3 L/100 km.

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The recharge was more than enough for the remaining 6 km to my destination. Bottom line, total distance driven: 140 km. First 65 km in EV mode: 0 Litres of gasoline per 100 km. Final 68 km, mostly in HV mode (of which 31 km in CHRG mode), plus 6 km of EV mode: 6.8 L/100 km.

And the other seven kilometres in-between? That was the acceleration testing, and don’t ask what the fuel consumption was for that. The Prime can sprint like a scalded cat, or it can run on the whiff of an oil rag, but not both at the same time. Still, it’s a choice that no rival can match. And with at least $5,000 of government rebate on the table (more if you live in Quebec or B.C.), it’s not as expensive as it seems.

With the battery under the floor there’s no loss of passenger volume.

Courtesy of manufacturer

Tech specs

  • Price: $44,990 – $56,990
  • Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder gas engine/132-kW + 40-kW electric motors
  • Transmission/Drive: Continuously-variable/eAWD
  • Fuel Consumption (L/100 km): EV: 2.5 Le/100 km combined
  • HV: 6.0 L/100 km combined
  • Alternatives: Ford Escape PHEV, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Subaru Crosstrek PHEV (Quebec only)

A conventional shifter handle is reassuringly normal but leaves little space for storage on the centre console.

Courtesy of manufacturer

Looks

It’s still a RAV4, but Prime indicators include an exclusive black-painted grille, vertical LED accent lights, LED headlamps and available 19-inch wheels (18s are standard).

Interior

With the battery under the floor there’s no loss of passenger volume (101.3 cubic feet), which is still a little below par – rear-seat legroom and hip room especially – for the class. No worries for the driver, however, who can enjoy excellent visibility and the kind of lofty posture that SUVs typically promise but don’t always deliver. The free-standing touch-screen is 8 or 9 inches, depending on trim grade, and there’s plenty of hard-button redundancy, even for menu selection on the screen itself. A conventional shifter handle is reassuringly normal but leaves little space for storage on the centre console. A heated steering wheel, and heated seats front and rear, are standard.

Performance

The standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 includes lane following, full-range adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist and pre-collision system with pedestrian detection.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Toyota credits the Prime with a 0-100 km/h time of 6.0 seconds. It certainly feels punchy and effortless, with strong, linear launch feel and a solid, right-now! shove available for passing at freeway speeds. The claimed 0-100 time is probably do-able on a high-traction surface, but the best our test gear showed was 6.4 seconds; AWD as provided by an electrically-driven rear axle couldn’t prevent the front wheels from scrabbling for grip on the pavement we used. Despite its straight-line thrust, there’s nothing even remotely Supra-like about the Prime’s handling; even other crossovers provide a more engaging drive than the Prime’s numb, lax steering and a chassis more tuned for comfort than cornering.

Technology

It’s good to see Toyota now including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 includes a broad suite of driver-assist features, including lane following, full-range adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist and pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. Moving up to the XSE trim adds a digital display rear-view mirror, the bigger screen and wireless charging. But you’ll need to splurge an additional $5,400 for the Premium Technology Package to get navigation, along with a head-up display, panoramic moonroof, 11-speaker JBL Audio, bird’s-eye-view monitor, intelligent clearance sonar and rear cross – traffic braking.

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A power liftgate comes with the XSE grade, and the Premium-Tech package adds hands-free actuation.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Cargo

Space usurped by the PHEV hardware reduces cargo volume, but the results are still at least in the ball-park with (non-hybrid) rivals. A power liftgate comes with the XSE grade, and the Premium-Tech package adds hands-free actuation. The tow rating of 2,500 lbs handily beats rival PHEV crossovers.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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