Car Review: RAV4 Prime electrified is awesome

Nov. 27—You've seen RAV4s coming and going on the nation's highways. It's long been a favorite with young families looking for a sporty set of wheels with plenty of cargo and room for five.

But wait. There's a new twist introduced last year with the RAV4 Prime, a plug-in electric hybrid that gets 42 miles of pure electric travel before its hybrid 2.5-liter gasoline hybrid engine takes over and delivers 34 mpg.

There's more, too. Our test course easily beat electric estimates, recording 48 miles.

Do the math. Charge the 18.1 lithium-ion battery overnight in your garage and start your daily commute to work or shuffling the kids to school and back. Stay within the 48 miles and your gasoline cost is nada, zip, zero. Longer commute? Fork over $3-4 bucks and call it a day.

Okay. The other foot drops and the starting price is $43,000 — more than the competition. Toyota folks are aware of the price differential and are quick to point out their Prime is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

RAV4's have not been known for performance, scoring dreadful results in the zero to 60 mile per hour sprint in the nine second range. We're not making this up. The Prime does the run-up in 5.5 seconds giving further evidence of its versatility. The gas engine and three electric motors generate 302 horsepower.

The Prime, based on the fifth generation RAV4, is offered in two well equipped trims: SE and XSE. The base trim notably has all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloys, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity standard. The SE also includes the full Toyota safety suite with adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, lane keeping assist and blind spot monitoring.

Our XSE tester added 19-inch alloys with all season paws, leatherette interior, larger touchscreen and a cool two-tone black roof with supersonic red paint.

Throw in an optional weather, audio and premium packages adding adaptive headlights, heads up display, power outlet and overhead bird's eye view camera with perimeter scan and curb view. An upgraded interior and driver assists on our XSE trim will set you back $51,156. However, value-conscious shoppers can trim more than $5,000 without losing the good stuff that makes the Prime, well, Prime.

Know that Prime tops all rivals in electric range. Ford Escape records 37 miles while Hyundai's Tucson has low 30s results.

This year's Prime is mostly a carryover from last year. It has four cubic feet less than the regular RAV4 due to hybrid components. There is some additional storage from in-dash shelves and deep center console.

Under normal driving conditions the RAV4 Prime delivers a smooth ride with precise steering and softer braking. Some road imperfections are felt inside a mostly quiet cabin. Stomp on the accelerator and the gas engine will become loud and some body roll will be evident.

We recommend the Prime SE unless creature comforts are high on your list. Both trims include two years of scheduled maintenance to sweeten the pot.