Green Vehicles

2021 Best Green Vehicle Under $50,000: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid / RAV4 Prime

There are a wide variety of machines on offer in today’s marketplace with alternative powertrains and the number of options grows every year. Only a few of these green vehicles manage to combine their environmental cred with a dose of practicality and, believe it or not, more than a hint of performance. For 2021, the judges have voted for the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and its plug-in Prime variant as the best of a very wide field.

The RAV4 has, in the 25 years since the nameplate’s introduction, become a staple of garages across the country. Right-sized and hailing for a brand whose name is synonymous with reliability, this crossover enjoyed a styling and platform overhaul just two model years ago. A lantern jaw and angular profile amp up this generation’s visual interest compared to a few of its competitors, which have the appeal of bowl of oatmeal.

Built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), the 2021 Toyota RAV4 now has a longer wheelbase and wider track than previous iterations, contributing to a stable and confident drive. Hybrid models feature the Toyota Hybrid Drive, a system refined through the company’s experience with its popular Prius line. Here, the powertrain is custom-configured for the RAV4 and built around a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine coupled to a continuously variable transmission. The result is 219 hp and a combined fuel efficiency rating of 6.0 L/100 km. Every model has all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

Paradoxically, its most efficient trim – the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid – is also the quickest and most powerful. Using the Hybrid model as its base, including its standard all-wheel drive, the Prime deploys electric motor–generators working in tandem with the 2.5L gasoline-powered engine to produce over 300 horsepower. This makes the RAV4 Prime the second quickest vehicle in Toyota’s lineup, with its zero-to-100-km/h acceleration of 6.0 seconds just a tick behind the GR Supra. Utilizing technology intended for efficiency gains to go faster is like weaponizing a wind farm. We approve.

In addition to feeding the go-fast heart of every parent who finds themselves shopping for an all-wheel-drive family crossover, the Prime sticks true to its mission of efficiency. It has an electric-only range of nearly 70 kilometres, meaning trips to the gas station will be vanishingly rare for most commuters provided they plug the thing into a wall socket before going to bed. Utilizing Level 2 charging shaves recharging time to well under three hours.

Of course, all the efficiency in the world wouldn’t be enough to make the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime an winner if it wasn’t a pleasant place in which to spend time. Every 2021 model is equipped with an infotainment system that plays well with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a raft of USB ports (up to five in some trims), and a front windshield de-icer, a feature that is criminally underrated in our frozen climate.

Toyota has made a lot of noise over the years about its available suite of active driver aids. Its current iteration, called Safety Sense 2.0, is standard kit on every RAV4 Hybrid and Prime. It includes the likes of lane-keeping, radar-guided cruise control, lane-tracing assist, and a pre-collision system with the ability to detect wayward pedestrians. Blind-spot monitoring is also on board along with the expected (and mandated) back-up camera.

Big, meaty dials stand ready inside the RAV to control the ventilation, while knobs are also present to adjust both volume and tuning of the infotainment system whose touchscreen stands tall atop the dashboard. Below these items are well-thought-out arrangements for storage and gear selection. The whole interior is well crafted and a testament to sober Toyota design. It’s also practical with a huge cargo hold and generous room for passengers.

Customers can jump into an entry-level 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE for $32,490, with a quartet of increasingly opulent trim levels topping out with the $42,950 Limited model. The speedy Prime, meanwhile, qualifies for a $5,000 federal rebate on its base sticker price of $44,990; residents of British Columbia and Quebec can seek even further rebates. This checks the box for our value criteria very nicely.

Our jury of more than 20 automotive experts evaluated every single new vehicle available for Canadians to buy in this segment, basing their votes on a dozen different criteria as mentioned above. These criteria are weighted with an eye to the segment’s intended purpose. For example, outright performance is not as important in this category as it is in others but, as we have seen with the RAV4 Prime, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a set of chops in this category. The finalists in this category included the Kia Soul EV, Chevrolet Bolt EV, Hyundai Kona Electric, and Nissan Leaf, which were voted as the best five in the segment.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime embody positive attributes in all our criteria. For these reasons, we feel it represents the best of its segment and is one we can confidently recommend to our family, friends, and readers. With its familiar and practical body style, reputation for reliability, and a competitive price, the electrified RAV4 is very well-rounded and will likely get a lot more people into greener vehicles who maybe weren’t considering one before.