“Toyota believes that eco-cars can only contribute to the environment if they are popularized. We need ecological solutions within reach of the many,” Toyota Global Design Chief Simon Humphries told trade paper Automotive News during the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, as the company unveiled the stylishly handsome fifth generation of the Prius hybrid — the car that successfully started Toyota on the alternative propulsion path. The Prius, the best-selling hybrid in the world with over 21 million sold since its 1997 debut, has to be considered one of the most important new cars on the market as consumers embrace greater environmental consciousness.

The new Prius is more attractive. Using innovative styling that no longer looks like a science experiment gone awry, while demonstrating that Toyota is clearly all-in on employing its hybrid-energy powertrains for not only the latest Prius, but many other models, as the company’s President reiterated that hybrids will be but one powertrain option for Toyota customers for decades to come.

As the largest-selling automaker in the world, Toyota knows that it has customers in dozens of countries, and it will continue to serve all of them with products that are affordably sensible.

The new Prius, and Toyota’s commitment to the hybrid technology it developed in 1996, was making the news at the same time that this week’s RAV4 Prime appeared in late November. In case anyone missed it, the RAV4 is the top-selling SUV in America, the fourth best-selling vehicle overall, as well as the top-selling Toyota in North America. The RAV4 hybrid, and its more potent Prime model, is the top-selling hybrid vehicle in America.

Buyers have known the RAV4 Hybrid for several years. Pricing now starts at $31,560 with AWD for the base Hybrid version, while the popular XLE trim begins at $35,960. EPA mileage ratings are 41/38/40 mpg — among the best for all compact class Hybrid SUV’s. All RAV4’s use a 2.5-liter in-line gas engine in one form or another.

The RAV4’s speedometer and range.

The Prime edition adds a larger battery pack as well as more potent AC motors to the front wheels (a third electric motor powers the rear wheels when AWD is activated) for a total of 302 horsepower — 83 horsepower more than the RAV4 Hybrid. As a plug-in electric vehicle, you also get 42 miles of electric-only operation, although in our hands we never saw more than 39 EV miles on the dash readout.

Those 39 miles are true miles, as we pursued local activities on five separate days that let us maximize our EV driving range: 2.5-miles/kWh. The RAV4 Prime proved to be quick, silent and much more luxurious than its Hybrid siblings. Highway speeds deplete the EV range quicker, and colder elements seemed to depress range as well.

Upgraded components for 2023 mean you can recharge the larger lithium-ion battery from empty to full range in 2.5 hours on 240-volt circuitry — essentially Level II charging. Otherwise, you are charging overnight on 120-volt circuits — your typical garage outlet — which takes 12 hours to re-fill the battery. At .2296 cents per kilowatt-hour to charge at home (before the most recent increases) it costs just under $4 a night to juice-up the Prime’s battery.

The caveat — there always is — could be whether or not the Prime model fits your alternative propulsion budget. Prime models start at $42,925, with our top XSE-trimmed Prime stickering for almost $50,000. That includes two-tone paint, larger wheels, heated/cooled power seats, heated steering wheel, upgraded stereo and larger info screen, heads-up display, selectable Trail Mode, 6.6-kWh charger, power liftgate and much more.

If you qualify for the government tax incentive of $7,500 for PHEV vehicles, like the Prime, then the price premium over the hybrid shrinks considerably. If your regular driving is less than 40 miles a day, then the Prime’s daily “fuel” expense of $2 is darned attractive, too. Otherwise, the premium price for the Prime’s upgraded portfolio of features and elevated performance of the triple electric motors may not mitigate the extra dollars over the straight Hybrid powered RAV4.

Pros: Despite a smallish gas tank, the Prime (and the Hybrid models) suffer from zero range anxiety, ingress and egress

The RAV4’s interior.

is much better than compact cars (like other compact crossovers), the cargo hold expands easily and swallows lots of gear, plus the audio screen has twin knurled tuning knobs for stations and volume! The shelf running across the whole dash is valuable real estate.

Cons: The RAV4 is slightly smaller inside than upgraded rivals like the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, especially in rear seat legroom, while the graphics on the nav system screen are dated low resolution images.

The RAV4 Prime Hybrid is sensible, reliable, practical, environmentally-friendly transportation for the masses.

Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles for more than 20 years.