2019 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2019 Subaru Forester: Compare Cars

April 10, 2019
2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

A road in the woods diverges, and compact crossovers take the one more traveled.

At least, some of them do.

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 and 2019 Subaru Forester both hook a left and head up dusty trails with truckier-looking soft-roaders compared to their rivals.

Both crossover SUVs are mega-popular among shoppers for their outdoors-ready vibes and popular among our critics. The 2019 Toyota RAV4 earned a 6.2 overall on our scale, not including safety, which could raise the score further once it is crash tested. The 2019 Subaru Forester not only earned a 6.8 on our overall scale but also it was named Best Car To Buy 2019. The Subaru’s a winner for now but it’s a close race.

DON’T MISS: Read our 2019 Subaru Forester and 2019 Toyota RAV4 full reviews

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

 

Style and performance

The new RAV4 is a standout for its style, punctuated by a snub-looking nose that mimics the bigger blockier 4Runner. Throughout successive generations, the RAV4 found more corners to smooth for a quieter presence but the 2019 RAV4 skipped past that and added chunkier and more angular shapes. We appreciate the new look and give it a small nod over the Forester.

The 2019 Forester is a dead-ringer for versions before it and eschews flair for functional with a tall roof, big windows, and an upright stance. In sportier trims, the Forester adds panache to the interior and exterior but doesn’t transform its shape.

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

Same goes for the Forester’s powertrain, which is the same across all models. The Forester is powered by a 2.5-liter flat-4 that makes 182 horsepower and drives all four wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The CVT draws the most it can from the relatively small and efficient engine and the EPA rates the Subaru at 29 mpg combined, but also the Forester manages to feel responsive and sharp at low speeds thanks to good gearing. Motivating 3,500 pounds of mass can leave the little Forester a little breathless at highway speeds, but a soft suspension helps calm most rides even if the engine is very busy.

Similarly, the base engine in the 2019 RAV4 is a hard-working 2.5-liter inline-4 hooked to an 8-speed automatic, but it offers marginally more power (203 hp) with a similar EPA rating (30 mpg combined with AWD in most versions). It offers good around-town acceleration, but the RAV4 is less refined than the Forester, which earned a higher rating.

An optional RAV4 Hybrid is more efficient (40 mpg combined) and more powerful (219 hp) but lacks the off-road traction control modes in RAV4 Adventure models.

Neither crossover offers a two-speed transfer case or hardcore off-road hardware, but both the Forester and RAV4 offer traction control modes that can ease both crossovers over moderately challenging terrain. Both crossovers have nearly identical ground clearances: 8.4 inches and 8.7 inches in the RAV4 and Forester, respectively (some trims of the RAV4 offer slightly more) that rival some SUVs.

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

Comfort, safety, and features

The new RAV4 excels at looking ready for the trail, but the Forester excels at getting four adults to the trail more comfortably.

The new Subaru comfortably seats four adults—even five, if needed—with good space and outward vision for all passengers. The door cutouts are wide and rear-seat riders get more than 40 inches of leg room, which is especially commodious for its relatively compact size. Behind the second row, the Forester sports more than 35 cubic feet of cargo room that grows to more than 74 when the rear seat is folded down. The tailgate opening is wide and low, which makes loading and unloading the Forester a snap.

The RAV4 loses ground to the Forester by asking rear-seat passengers to sacrifice head space for its stylish roofline. The Toyota’s front seats lack height adjustability, which means tall passengers could brush up against the headliner. The RAV4 also lacks good outward vision for all passengers, particularly in the rear due to the downward-sloping roofline.

The RAV4’s rear cargo space is marginally bigger than the Forester’s, about 37 cubic feet with the rear seats up. Drop the second row and that room grows to nearly 70 cubic feet.

Official crash-test data isn’t yet in for the RAV4, but the Forester has a sparkling report card. Federal testers gave the Forester a five-star overall rating and the IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick nod for 2019, which is good news.

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

Better news? Both RAV4 and Forester are equipped with life-saving automatic emergency braking on every model. Active lane control and adaptive cruise control are standard on every crossover, too. Compact crossovers are especially popular with new-car buyers and both Subaru and Toyota make standard safety features that are not only safer for drivers and passengers but also other nearby cars and pedestrians.

Both crossovers boast a raft of standard features including a touchscreen for infotainment with smartphone compatibility (Subaru’s plays well with Apple and Android devices; Toyota’s only Apple), at least one USB port, 17-inch steel wheels, cloth upholstery, and active safety features. The RAV4 costs about $26,500 to start and all-wheel drive adds $1,400 more.

The Forester, which is only available with all-wheel drive, costs about $25,300 to start.

We like the RAV4 XLE and Forester Premium trim levels for their good features, plentiful options, and sub-$30,000 price tag, even with all-wheel drive. The XLE adds blind-spot monitors, a moonroof, and four USB chargers; the Forester Premium adds alloy wheels, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and cargo cover.

Both RAV4 and Forester break out of the same-ness mold endemic among compact crossovers and are better for it. Among new buyers looking for an outdoorsy crossover to hit the trails every weekend, the Toyota and Subaru are good picks—we have a hard time picking between the two ourselves.

Summary

6.8
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester is a well thought-out crossover SUV with exceptional space, a great ride, and standard AWD without a fuel-economy penalty.
6.2
Expert Rating
With a dollop of refinement, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 would be a solid home run.

Styling

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester has all the charm of a hiking boot on wheels, if that’s your thing.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 stands out with its off-roady looks.
Read More

Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester’s well-isolated feel makes it a great adventure companion.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 has a confident feel but could benefit from more sound deadening.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester has a spacious, well-organized interior.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Toyota RAV4’s styling compromises its interior space.
Read More

Safety

9.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester hasn’t been crash tested yet, but it’s especially well-equipped to avoid an impact.
Read More
The 2019 Toyota RAV4’s high level of active safety tech is promising, but it hasn’t been crash-tested.
Read More

Features

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester is priced well for a compact crossover SUV.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
From quasi-off-roader to city slicker, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 has a trim level for nearly everyone.
Read More

Fuel Economy

5.0
Expert Rating
By crossover SUV standards, the 2019 Subaru Forester is a miserly machine.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 is among the thriftiest crossover SUVs; better yet is the miserly RAV4 Hybrid.
Read More

MSRP

from $24,295
from $25,650

Invoice

from $22,915
from $23,983

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

29
30

Engine

Regular Unleaded H-4, 2.5 L
Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.5 L

Drivetrain

All Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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