Tacoma Prime: Part 1
Toyota’s hybrid game is strong. Of that there is no doubt. They started producing the first generation Japanese domestic market Prius way back in 1997 and introduced it to the American market for the first time several years later for 2001 model year. Since then Toyota’s hybrid system has proven itself to be a highly reliable drivetrain, true to form for the company. Cars that employ Toyota’s signature hybrid powertrain like the Lexus CT200h and the aforementioned Prius on which it is based often top the annual reliability ratings lists. Similar versions of the same drivetrain eventually found their way under the hoods of the Camry, the Avalon, the Highlander, the Corolla, the wildly popular RAV-4, and most recently the vantastic Sienna - not to mention the Lexus lineup of hybrids.
The decision to hybridize the RAV-4 was a particularly savvy one. But what really made that glitter gold was the standard all-wheel drive that came with the fifth generation RAV-4 hybrid in 2019. The AWD system employed in this most recent RAV-4 is somewhat unique in that there is no drive shaft connecting the front and rear wheels. Instead, an electric motor powers the rear wheels independently of the front wheels with the option to cruise at low speeds for short distances under electric power only.
But there now exists a new special breed of Toyota, a better breed really, something beyond a top trim level. The Prime. Toyota began the Prime initiative with the second generation of the plug-in Prius in 2017. It has been heralded as the Best. Prius. Ever! Exciting stuff, right? Not really, no. The Prius has always been a good commuter car with great gas mileage. Blah. Blaaaah. Vomit. The Prius Prime… however, is a great commuter car with unbelievable MPGe. You see?! The Prime badge takes a Toyota to the next level, a more distilled and excellent version of itself.
The RAV-4 Prime, of course, is no different. Really, the RAV-4 Prime is the perfect car. It can handle the vast majority of daily commutes without a drop of gasoline; and if you need to take it on a road trip, you won’t have to worry about the currently inadequate charging network or the possibility of running out of juice. The thing has a range of over 600 miles with a fully charged battery and a full tank of gas. It has standard all-wheel drive, gobs of cargo space, and something known as “the quickness.” In fact, the RAV-4 Prime is the quickest car in Toyota’s stable with the exception of the Supra, which isn’t really a Toyota anyway. Then there’s the familiar form factor to consider - the unstoppable crossover.
Over the past few decades the American buying public has made some very clear-cut decisions about our preferences in regards to automobiles. The sedan was king for much of that time, but since the 1980s we have regrettably decided that wagons, minivans, and even hatchbacks are uncool - with wagons perhaps being declared the most uncool of the bunch. We also decided that we need more room for our things and ourselves, so when gas was cheap we all gravitated away from sedans toward the hulking tanks available to us at the tail end of the first SUV boom. We liked the high, up-right driving position but didn’t enjoy the ride in these body-on-frame, truck-based brutes. We also didn‘t like the fuel mileage, especially when we had to start paying four and five dollars per gallon of gasoline. By that time, the sedan had started to lose its luster. We had spoiled ourselves with high ground clearance and lift gates and cargo capacity. We couldn’t go back to sedans. No. No, we could not. So we collectively chose the best compromise the automakers had to offer. The line-blurring, genre-bending crossover utility vehicle. The CUV. Rides like a car because it’s built like one. Gets better gas mileage than an SUV. But still has the high-riding position and the lift gate and fold-down rear seats for trips to IKEA and Costco. How could you lose with a winning combination like that? What could you lose? Well. As it turns out, we lost what seems like the majority of all American-made sedans, hatchbacks, and wagons. Most of them are gone now and likely won’t be coming back.
One interesting distinction developed in this mass migration away from the cars that we used to know and love. It is my personal theory for which I have sought no statistical evidence, that when people migrated away from full-size SUVs they went in one of two directions: either toward a CUV or into a pickup truck. The crew cab pickup truck in many ways has replaced the full size SUVs of the 90’s and 00’s. Of course, we still have them, but not in the numbers we once did. On suburban roadscapes that used to be dominated by Expeditions and Excursions and Tahoes and Suburbans, you now will find a sea of crew cab Ram 1500s, F-150s, and Silverados. Why? Because anyone who has at least one semi-annual dirty deed to do that would be facilitated by the convenience of a truck bed, has decided that they need a truck all year round. Ya know, just in case. Almost everybody else went the crossover route because they don’t do dirty things that require an open bed in which to throw their dirties, i.e. dirt bikes, bags of concrete, mulch, or leaky bags of garbage. That’s really the appeal of the pickup. The ability to get a little dirty - maybe a little smelly - without tracking the dirt and stink into the cab.
One pickup truck, whose ability to get down and dirty and do so year after year after year without complaint, has garnered such a legendary reputation for dependability that those who live by its legend would swear to you that it will survive the nuclear holocaust right alongside cockroaches and twinkies. Maybe they’re right. Maybe. But one thing is absolutely certain: it has acres of room for improvement. However, because the Tacoma has continued to sell so incredibly well with relatively little additional expense required from Toyota over the past twenty years, it has continued on into the roaring 20’s mostly unencumbered by the advancements of time. Sadly, time catches up with all of us, and this relic of a bygone era has finally had its day. It’s run its course. And now... it’s Prime time.
Toyota has proven that it knows how to build a competent, reliable commuter car. Then when our tastes shifted, they proved that they could build a solid, well-rounded crossover. When they made the Prime versions of each, they made them exponentially better machines. Toyota currently makes a mid-size truck that sells in droves, but it’s far from being the best truck in its class - not even close. It still somehow sells like it and manages to do so without excelling like several other Toyota products. But what if… what if Toyota took the Tacoma and made it… Prime?
The ball’s in your court now, Toyota.