If you need a vehicle that can tackle all the family business, yet be good on gas, fit easily in parking sports, and not cost too much, a compact crossover SUV usually ends up as the best choice. Among those, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are two of the more popular entries on the market.
Which is the better pick of the two? Because it’s not even close right now, we’re going to give this one away: The Honda CR-V beats out the Toyota RAV4 on multiple levels. But read on, because there are some important reasons that could sway you to consider the RAV4, especially with the changes brought to it for the new model year.
Before we get into the numbers, a caveat: The RAV4 has been rated using our updated methodology; the CR-V, not so much. We're working hard to crunch the numbers, but we won't have a score for a while. Stay tuned while we tally up the final total, and report back after its a fair fight. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Honda CR-V received a pretty substantial mid-cycle update for 2015, with interior trims most notably becoming less grim and utilitarian. On the outside there are minor styling tweaks, and some new wheels, but overall this is a model for which the form definitely follows the function—which is to fit a lot of people and gear, while being low enough to still handle well, high enough to allow a little more ground clearance than a car, and yet aerodynamic enough to achieve good fuel efficiency on the highway.
As for the RAV4, it’s was in need of an update, but that changed last year with a host of interior and exterior upgrades and a new hybrid variant. For 2017, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control were all made standard on the RAV4. Your move, Honda.
The RAV4 received its first hybrid variant last year, using a version of the powertrain offered in the Camry Hybrid as well as other Toyota and Lexus models. And at the fun end, the RAV4 gained a sporty-looking and sport-tuned SE model. It looks a bit more aggressive than the rest of the models and offers improved handling, although no more power.
Driving enjoyment isn’t a strong point for either contender. The V-6 that used to be available on the Toyota RAV4 is now a distant memory, and that leaves you with a choice. The base engine is a 176-horsepower 4-cylinder; it works reasonably well with the 6-speed automatic transmission, but it’s not at all sporty. A new Hybrid model puts much improved efficiency at hand, with a 33-mpg EPA combined rating, and actually is slightly quicker than the non-hybrid model. Handling is easy and carlike, and the RAV4 definitely is set up in base trim for a softer, more compliant ride—but the SE model stiffens the ride enough to make a difference for enthusiastic drivers.
The CR-V is much the same, although we tend to slightly prefer the way it tracks and maneuvers. With a new direct-injected 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the CR-V’s been updated for better fuel economy (up to 29 mpg combined with front-wheel drive), but it’s not really all that much quicker or more satisfying to drive.
Both models allow a choice between front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive; in both cases, the AWD system has the perfect level of finesse and will allow just enough wheelspin to get you up snowy driveways or through muddy trails.
The RAV4 has more interior space if you go by official numbers, yet somehow it adds up to a more usable layout and airier cabin feel in the CR-V. The Honda’s seat-folding arrangement is excellent, and a spring-loaded mechanism makes one-arm seat folding easily done. Additionally, it feels like the Honda has more bins and cubbies in all the right places. As for ride quality and general cabin refinement, we think the RAV4 might be a step ahead; Toyota made some significant gains here with the RAV4’s recent updates, although you still do hear the engine more than you should.
For safety, the CR-V is a solid point ahead in our ratings, although neither of these models is to be avoided. The RAV4 was recently re-tested, with its federal safety rating boosted to five stars overall; meanwhile it earns all "Good" ratings from the IIHS; along with forward-collision warnings and automatic braking, that earns it a Top Safety Pick+ award. Blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic monitoring are available with a Tech package. As for the CR-V, it also earns top scores—and the Top Safety Pick+ designation—from the IIHS, as well as a "Superior" rating in front crash prevention if you get the optional forward-collision warning system.
The Toyota RAV4 offers a little more value for the money than the CR-V, going down the feature lists, but otherwise it’s a tossup. The Toyota offers a premium JBL sound system, yet on the other hand Honda’s top interface feels a half step ahead of the top Entune touch screen system in the RAV4.
Neither of these two models have an abundance of character, either in their styling, or from behind the wheel. But in nearly every way, the CR-V manages to do it all with slightly more aptitude. It all adds up to a significant win for the Honda CR-V.
The 2017 RAV4 checks in with 7.3 overall, boosted by its stellar safety package. We haven't had an opportunity to take a look at the 2016 CR-V, but last year's model scored an 8.0 using our previous scoring system.
|from $24,910||from $23,845|
|from $23,291||from $22,396|
|Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway|
|Front Leg Room (in)|
|Second Leg Room (in)|
|Read Full Specs||Read Full Specs|