2017 Toyota RAV4Enlarge Photo
Crossover SUV, or tall wagon—which suits you best?
Both the Toyota RAV4 and Kia Soul offer great packaging and cargo versatility. But that's about where the similarities end. They might not be two you'd typically cross-shop, but they're both great alternatives to basic sedans for cost-conscious small families or urban commuters.
Across a sea of genetically ambiguous wagon-ish vehicles, the Soul and RAV4 stand in sharp contrast. The latest RAV4 is solidly a compact crossover SUV, with available all-wheel drive and dimensions that stack up right along with the CR-V and Escape, its chief rivals. The Soul might be nearly a foot and a half shorter, as well as narrower, but there’s something to be said for its packaging, which brings nearly as much real-world-usable space.
Who wins? By the numbers, it's the RAV4. We rated the Toyota a 7.3, while the Kia manages a 6.8—for now. We haven't yet figured a final safety score, so that could inch higher. Even without formalized data from the IIHS, it's a close race and its easy to see why. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
These two models are both very popular, yet they’re pretty much polar opposites with respect to styling. One of them, the RAV4, essentially plays it safe, with a profile that blends in alongside other affordable compacts like the Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox, and Mazda CX-5. Up close, it’s far from inspiring; although a refresh for the 2016 model year fine-tuned some of the details and added more soft-touch surfaces.
The Soul, on the other hand, makes a memorable, unique statement from first glance, and we’d call it the winner from a style standpoint. Its blunt front end and boxy shape and silhouette are unmistakable, as is its roofline, which appears to float over a blacked-out greenhouse. Altogether, it adds up to a look that’s distinct but not too gimmicky. On the inside, it’s mostly good stuff, although a bit more small-car ordinary, with some nice details, including available LED cabin mood lighting.
Performance for both of these models is far from stellar. We’d place both soundly in the adequate category, but driving enthusiasts or anyone with serious performance expectations might want to look elsewhere. The RAV4 does just fine with its base 176-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine; a new Hybrid version has 190 net horsepower, a 33-mpg combined EPA rating, and more responsive feel. The RAV4 rides and handles like a relatively nimble sedan, especially in SE trim, which gets a slightly stiffer suspension tune. Four-wheel drive is an option, and there’s even a 4WD Lock mode for predictable traction in snow or mud.
As for the Soul, 4WD or all-wheel drive aren’t at all offered, so again it’s a bit difficult to compare. Its driving manners are essentially like those of a soft-riding compact car. We’d recommend that you go for a Soul Plus with the larger 164-hp, 2.0-liter engine; this engine is effective in moving the Soul quickly enough with the 6-speed automatic transmission, although the combination can get quite boomy at times (like up long grades or with a few passengers aboard). A 6-speed manual is offered on the Soul, but only with the smaller engine. A high-powered 1.6-liter turbo-4 is available in Soul Exclaim models but pushes the price up close to a starting RAV4. The Soul maneuvers really well around tight spaces—a definite advantage over the larger RAV4—but for both of these models the steering itself suffers from a lack of feedback, and weighting could be better.