Eco-Conscious Off-Roaders, the New Toyota RAV4 Prime Is for You

It’s seemed this way for a couple of years now, but now it really feels as though electric trucks and SUVs capable of off-road travel and with a range big enough to satisfy the adventure crowd, is around the corner. The Rivian surely is coming to market, eventually. Tesla’s Cybertruck, despite a recent announcement that the blocky body won’t in fact be final form, is on the horizon. The EV Hummer, GMC’s, well, interesting choice of a vehicle to be a flagship for eco-conscious travel, and it’s $100k price tag, will soon be an option, I guess.

But there’s a very good, very efficient off-road capable SUV you can have right now. Like, today, if you can find one in stock.

The brand new Toyota RAV4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid version of the already pretty solid RAV4. The RAV4 Prime, however, is capable of 42 miles on EV power alone, with 98 mpge when driving in hybrid mode. It boasts an incredible 302 horsepower, making it quicker off the line than everything Toyota makes, except the new Supra. It will tow 2,500 pounds. All-wheel-drive is standard.

And for the most useful part of the package to this miles-eating dirt road driver: It can go more than 600 miles on one tank of gas.

For my money, this is the most efficient, useful adventure rig on the new car market. Depending of course, on your off-road needs.

If you live close to trails that require AWD and decent ground clearance to approach in inclement weather, you can get there without using any gas at all. If you are driving long distances and trying to eke out as much fuel economy as you can, you can pop into the occasional charging station on the road to top off the battery and continue in EV mode.

Better yet, this can be your daily EV driver for around-town errands, then toss your gear into the back or on the roof, and you have 600 miles of fuel-efficient driving in a capable AWD rig for whatever dusty, muddy adventures you have planned.

My family has a 2017 RAV4 Hybrid that we bought used, and while the new generation of RAV4 has a redesigned look and a different engine, it’s built on the bones of a crossover that’s far more capable than you might think. Pro racers Ryan Millen and co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino spent the past few years cleaning up in the rally sport world, driving essentially stock 2WD RAV4s. While I haven’t done that, I’ve had this sedate-looking fam hauler on some sketchy dirt roads at dangerously high speeds, and climbed off-camber hills without losing grip. To the point that I sometimes fear it might be able to get to more places than my beloved Subaru Outback.

From all indications, this new RAV4 Prime is even better. Here, check out this video of the Prime in action during an off-road test.

Video courtesy Boulder, Colorado-based TFLcar

Keep in mind, what you see in this video is accomplished with relatively slick all-season tires. Some AT meats (I highly recommend the Yokohama Geolandar A/T G015s that I run on my Outback) would make this a pretty formidable dirt road and snow driver.

Of course, it’s not a Jeep. It’s *probably* not going to handle the Rubicon. But 90% of people who drive an off-road capable vehicle aren’t ever going to try that. You want to be able to see a forest or fire road snaking off toward a mountain or lake somewhere and think, cool, let’s see where this goes. That’s the RAV4’s whole ballgame. Capable enough to get you into some incredible places, in comfort and safety, and have enough grip to let you slowly back out if your ambition starts to bite off more than this little mountain goat can chew.

The vast majority of “overlanders” you see out there are wildly overbuilt, festooned with recovery gear most won’t use, parading around on clean AT tires, plastered with stickers from national parks purchased from pavemented parking lot gift shops. Most of that stuff is sold to drivers—I’d argue that often includes four-wheel-drive—as options that you may need someday, so may as well buy it now, and carry it around with you on the highway. But, as anyone who’s been to Baja, Mexico, or, apparently, the Jeep trails around Moab, knows, you can get to places you’d never imagine with a two-wheel-drive sedan if you know what you’re doing. So this little crossover with AWD and decent ground clearance is going to be fine for the vast, vast majority of #overlanders.

Did I mention that in the RAV4 Prime you’d be getting 30-40 mpgs using the gas engine while off-road? That’s unheard of.

I’m still wary of an EV as an overlander, simply for the fact that I can’t charge it out in the backcountry, and I have to rely on routes that have known charging options. To me, the plug-in hybrid is the best option for eco-conscious drivers that want a backcountry capable vehicle. Run it on EV as much as you can, gas when you can’t, both to make it sip fuel while piling up the miles.

And for those who simply must have unnecessarily capable off-roaders, there are rumors that a TRD Pro RAV4 Prime is in development.

Now, the RAV4 Prime isn’t cheap, of course, but it’s manageable. You get a federal tax credit of $7,500 because it’s a PHEV, and some states offer tax credits too. In California, that’s an extra $1,500 tax credit. All of which knocks the roughly $40k hit to the wallet for the RAV4 Prime to a far more palatable $30k.

For all that you’re getting, and the lack of gas you’re burning, I’d say that’s a darn good deal.

Top photo: screenshot courtesy TFLcar



Four issues, free shipping, evergreen content…