Within the popular small SUV category, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are two of the sales leaders year over year. And it shouldn’t be a big surprise why consumers choose these models over their competitors.
Both are roomy, comfortable, and versatile vehicles that come from trustworthy brands with a well-deserved reputation for fuel economy and reliability. As is common in the small SUV segment, either front- or all-wheel drive is available.
How They Match Up
When comparing them side by side along specs and dimensions, the CR-V and RAV4 match up very closely. Even in terms of acceleration (about 9 seconds in 0 to 100 kph acceleration), fuel economy (10 kpl overall), and stopping distances, they’re right on top of one another. But these two stalwarts diverge quite significantly in the real world.
The CR-V’s transmission is a continuously variable type that tends to amplify engine noise. By contrast, Toyota uses a conventional six-speed automatic in the RAV4 that makes the driving experience feel more natural. Incidentally, the RAV4 is also available as a hybrid, which got an impressive 13 kilometers per liter.
Both models have received a midcycle freshening, which for the Honda turned out to be less successful than it has for the Toyota. Whereas the CR-V’s suspension became stiffer, the RAV4’s got more comfortable. Quite a bit of road noise gets into the CR-V’s cabin, making it the louder car between these two.
It’s easier to get a power seat with lumbar support adjustment in a midtrim CR-V EX. In the RAV4, you’d have to opt for the top-line Limited to get that feature. Otherwise, the standard seat is not very supportive. And young parents should note that we had difficulty getting some child seats to fit correctly and securely in the RAV4. The CR-V has a neat trick up its sleeve: a button that folds down a section of the rear seat in one fell swoop.
On the safety front, both SUVs are awarded a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, for 2017 Toyota has made it easy to get advanced safety systems by including the Toyota Safety Sense P package standard on all versions of the RAV4. This package includes forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Honda forces buyers to choose the Touring trim in order to get forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking on the current 2016 model.
Though the CR-V starts at an enticingly low price, Honda is very rigid with its options structure. There is no à la carte optioning here. So you’re forced to decide whether you want to hold firm to your budget—and possibly forgo a feature—or spend more money and move up to a pricier version to get the features you want.
Because the CR-V is an older design that is well into its model cycle and the 2017s arrive this fall, the leftover 2016 models have a good deal of negotiating room based on a recent Consumer Reports analysis of transaction prices. The loftier asking price for the RAV4 reflects that it has more shelf life left.
Last—and what might be the knockout punch for many potential buyers—taking reliability into account, the RAV4’s record has been much better than average, and the CR-V’s record has bounced between average and above average.
In the end, the RAV4 outscores the CR-V to the tune of 76 vs. 69. If it were my choice, I would be heading to the Toyota dealership.