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.
The CR-V received a thorough redesign for 2017, with much attention paid to its interior, its suspension, and its engine compartment. It's the winner here by a fair margin, which could grow even more when it's crash tested. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
As for the RAV4, it 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.
CR-V LX models utilize a largely carried over 2.4-liter inline-4 engine rated at 184 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. All other trim levels, including the EX, EX-L, and Touring, make use of a more advanced 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that checks in with 190 hp and 179 pound-feet, the latter of which is spread across a much wider range of the engine's revolutions. That translates to far quicker acceleration and passing power with from the turbo model than from the standard engine in the LX. Both models make use of a CVT.
Honda estimates that about 75 percent of CR-Vs will feature its 1.5-liter turbo-4, which means that EX, EX-L, and Touring models with front-wheel drive are rated at 28 mpg city, 34 highway, 30 combined. The all-wheel drive version is rated at a still impressive 27/33/29 mpg.
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 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 hasn't been tested yet and its collision avoidance tech is standard on EX and above trim levels.
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.