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With its just-right size, practical design, and a sterling reputation for reliability, it’s no wonder the RAV4 nameplate has become a perennial sales leader for Toyota. The compact SUV has historically offered an enticing mix of comfort and utility that fits a broad spectrum of lifestyles. But with gas-only, standard hybrid, and plug-in hybrid variants now available, the RAV4 lineup has become increasingly varied. Each Toyota RAV4 engine or powertrain has unique characteristics to consider that serve different driver needs. Let’s take a look. 

Press photo of a blue 2023 Toyota RAV4 front end in a white space.
2023 Toyota RAV4 l Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

What kind of engine does a Toyota RAV4 have?

Rather than offer a range of four-cylinder and V6 engines for varying performance levels, Toyota fits all of its RAV4 models with variations of its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. However, while each model’s internal combustion power remains similar, their performance attributes vary widely depending on each one’s degree of electrification. 

Toyota offers three distinct versions of its compact SUV, each using a different powertrain from the others: 

  • 2023 Toyota RAV4/Gas-Powered Four-Cylinder Engine
  • 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid/Traditional Hybrid Powertrain
  • 2023 Toyota RAV4 Prime/Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle

All of these models are functionally and aesthetically similar on a design basis. But each offers its own distinct performance characteristics that serve different driver needs and preferences from the others.

The 2023 RAV4 has a typical gas-powered 4-cylinder engine

The 2023 RAV4’s standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine ought to be familiar to most anyone with seat time in a modern Toyota. The versatile powerplant has found its way into a wide range of Toyota models over the years and has been a staple for Toyota’s popular compact SUV for the past decade. 

You won’t find any battery packs or electric motors within – just a traditional internal combustion powertrain and a strong reputation for reliability. Per MotorTrend, the 2.5-liter engine makes 209 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, trailing behind its electrified comrades. Front-wheel drive versions earn an estimated 27/35 mpg, while all-wheel drive models dip to 25/32 mpg. 

The gas-powered 2023 RAV4 lags a bit behind Toyota’s two hybrid powertrain options regarding power and efficiency (though it is still more efficient than the Toyota Highlander). However, some drivers may prefer the tried-and-true powertrain for its simplicity and reputation for reliability. 

A black 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid with gold wheels sits in a white room.
2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid l Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

2023 RAV4 Hybrid emphasizes efficiency, convenience

Toyota carried a reputation for solid hybrid powertrain performance over the years. But the famous Prius isn’t the only model that gets this popular technology. The 2023 RAV4 Hybrid has become a top pick for Prius-like efficiency with added SUV utility. 

The new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid powertrain puts up impressive numbers. According to MotorTrend’s reporting, the model earns a 41 mpg average around town and a 38 mpg average during highway use. The Hybrid system makes a combined output of 219 horsepower, giving it an edge over the gas-only RAV4. Dual-electric motors mean that all-wheel drive is standard – another advantage over its internal combustion counterpart.  

Drivers may also appreciate the convenience of having an electrified vehicle that does not require exterior charging. RAV4 Hybrid models automatically charge their batteries during everyday use, negating the need for lengthy plug-in times. Functionality for drivers remains the same as driving any internal combustion vehicle. However, that also limits the RAV4 Hybrid’s efficiency potential compared to plug-in hybrid variants. 

2023 RAV4 Prime uses a Plug-In Hybrid Powertrain

Like the RAV4 Hybrid, the Toyota RAV4 Prime uses both a gasoline engine and electric motors to form a single powertrain. Hybrid models use electrification as an efficiency assist to the primary gas engine; Prime models can use plug-in hybrid tech for electric-only driving.  

With larger battery packs and external plug-in charging, the RAV4 Prime has many of the same technologies and functionalities as purely electric vehicles. A gas engine provides assistance to help provide an extra battery charge when needed – or to work in tandem with the electric motors in hybrid modes. 

Here’s how the numbers stack up according to MotorTrend: 

  • 105 mpg city/84 mpg highway
  • 302 horsepower
  • Estimated 600-mile range
  • 42 miles electric-only range
A red 2023 RAV4 Prime sits atop a parking garage near a large glass building.
2023 Toyota RAV4 Prime l Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The best RAV4 model depends on your priorities

Each of these three Toyota RAV4 powertrains has its own advantages and disadvantages to consider. While the RAV4 Prime may serve drivers curious to test some EV capabilities, some may shy away from its newer technology. An internal-combustion RAV4’s simplicity may be a bonus to some and a detraction for others. While the RAV4 Hybrid may be just right for many drivers with its balanced efficiency and convenience, still others may find it too much of a compromise. Ultimately, the best RAV4 powertrain is in the eye of the beholder.


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