- The Toyota RAV4 is the second best-selling compact SUV in the US (it’s Australia’s 10th best-selling car overall)
- The Chevy Equinox – rebadged in Australia as the Holden Equinox – recently got an upgrade and has boasted record sales ever since.
- The RAV4 is competitive when it comes to reliability and safety, but Chevy is catching up on performance and vehicle tech.
- We put the two head-to-head to see who wins the battle of the small SUVs.
For the last few months, I have almost exclusively driven compact SUVs.
It’s not as sexy of a driving experience as, say, a Lamborghini Aventador, but there’s still good reason for giving the humble crossover a closer look. Mainly, that this is what most of America is buying nowadays.
Compact and crossover SUVs account for 35% of all cars and trucks sold in the US. That’s a win for automakers, which secure higher margins on the larger vehicles than passenger sedans.
The Chevy Equinox has boasted reasonable sales, but has conventionally fallen behind frontrunners like the Toyota RAV4, which is the second best-selling compact SUV in the US. Chevy, however, decided to give the Equinox a better shot at cornering the market with a revamped model that’s been selling well since its launch.
We put the Chevy Equinox LT and Toyota RAV4 Platinum head-to-head because both are popular crossovers that match on size. We wanted to see how two crossovers on the larger size stack up when it comes to sheer driving experience.
It’s worth noting, however, that we’re pitting the Equinox’s turbo 4-cylinder engine against the non-turbo, 4-cylinder engine used by the RAV4, which is also larger. That may be a dealbreaker off the bat for some buyers who prefer the power of a classic 4-cylinder engine.
That being said, here’s our take on the two:
As an initial note, the LT is not the most high-end Equinox available, while the RAV4 Premier is the most luxurious model on Toyota's crossover line. So there is a slight disadvantage there that we will be keeping in mind.
As a caveat, performance is the same across the Equinox line. We also drove an Equinox LT with two separate packages (the Confidence and Convenience Package and Sun and Infotainment Package) that come standard on the Premier trim.
The biggest disadvantage between the two would come down to some safety tech, such as lane-keep assist, that isn't made available on the LT. There's also slight differences when it comes to more luxe features, like heated steering wheels. We'll be making a note of this throughout the story.
The LT starts at $28,500, but add-ons increased the final price tag to $33,730. The RAV4 starts at a lower price ($24,410) but the Premier model we drove costs $36,150.
The Equinox Premier starts at $US30,040.
The two SUVs are essentially equals when it comes to price. Unless you commit to the very base model, options that most find necessary will bump the price to the mid-$US35,000 range.
First, some basics. The Equinox isn't a bad-looking SUV. It has a prominent grille that isn't overly large, which gives it a bit of an edge. It's very no fuss without being totally devoid of intrigue.
Comparatively, the RAV4 is a bit more boring. It doesn't have any details upfront that allow it to stand out from other SUVs. It's not an ugly SUV by any means, and the rear spoiler is a nice touch.
Now for a closer look at the cars themselves. As for the Chevy Equinox, we tested the 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbo engine with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It's supposed to get a combined 26 miles per gallon
The RAV4 had a bigger engine (2.5-litre, 4-cylinder) than the Equinox. The trim came with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission that can be kicked into manual mode. Like the Equinox, the RAV4 is supposed to get a combined 26 MPG.
It's worth noting that Chevy is beginning to offer a 2.0-litre turbo engine with a nine-speed automatic transmission, and a diesel is on the way. So there are more powerful options in the works.
That being said, the Equinox still has more sheer power than the RAV4, even with a smaller engine size. The RAV4 cranks out 176 hp and 172 pound-feet of torque while the Equinox gets 170 hp and 203 lb.-ft. of torque.
When I first drove the RAV4, my immediate reaction was that this is an SUV you keep in the middle lane at 65 mph. It's difficult to weave in and out of lanes in this car. It feels boxy and sluggish on a highway, and isn't too nimble on suburban roads either.
The Equinox has a similar issue when it comes to acceleration, but had some inherent peppiness that was lacking in the RAV4. It was sometimes slow to catch up to speed on highways, but once you got it going, it flew just fine. I felt more comfortable changing lanes quickly or making sharp turns in the LT than I did in the RAV4. But these are small differences.
If you can spend extra for the 2.0-litre engine, the Equinox is definitely a better choice. Both don't provide official acceleration times, but the RAV4 Premier takes around 8 seconds to reach 60 mph while a 2.0-litre LT can get there in an impressive 6.7 seconds.
Without the 2.0-litre engine, you're not going to feel some massive difference between the two. These are still fairly large crossovers with decent acceleration times. The Equinox has a bit more verve once it does reach high speeds, but both of these SUVs fall short of the Honda CR-V's zip.
Both are equals when it comes to the passenger experience. The RAV4 comfortably seats five with quite a bit of legroom to spare ...
I'm a bit more partial to the Equinox's seats, which are very plush and cosy. But you're really not going to go wrong either way.
Where the Equinox starts to edge out the RAV4 slightly is from the driver's seat. It has a very clean dashboard with an 8-inch touchscreen that's refreshingly simple.
The touchscreen supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM Radio. A nice feature is a 4G WiFi hotspot, which functioned without any connectivity hiccups.
I'm not as partial to the RAV4 dash, which feels a bit more fussy. The touchscreen is surrounding by an array of knobs and buttons to control different features. And then there's the separate set of controls on the steering wheel. Put them all together and there's too much going on for a fairly simple set of commands.
The RAV4 forces you to use Toyota's navigation system, which wasn't a very seamless driving experience. It didn't show different options or let you choose a faster route if one become available. If I missed a turn, it lagged when finding an alternative. My inability to default to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto felt like a big drawback.
The Toyota has an advantage when it comes to standard safety features. All RAV4 models come with dynamic cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist.
The Equinox came optioned with safety features like side blind zone alert, rear-cross traffic alert, and rear park assist. All the features work perfectly fine, but it's a shame they aren't standard at this point. There's also no advanced cruise control.
Both cars are fairly even in a lot of regards, but the Equinox LT is the better choice when it comes to performance and in-vehicle experience.
The beauty of the LT is that it feels like a luxe car without breaking the bank. It doesn't look cheap or skimp on comfort, and the 4G LTE hotspot is a nice bonus.
I prefer the Equinox's clean and refined touchscreen over the more complex RAV4 display, which lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It's a better car to drive, especially if you spring for the 2.0-litre option. Overall, Chevy did a nice job with this upgrade.
Still, the Toyota RAV4 does win in a lot of regards. It comes with a lot more safety features that should be standard in all vehicles at this point. It's also a very no frills, spacious car for an everyday driver trying to cram a lot of people and cargo inside.
You do have to overcome some reservations to go with the Chevy Equinox. The Toyota RAV4 is a stable choice among crossovers and Toyota has a history of reliability that rivals Chevy's.
So in that sense, you would be giving up reliability in favour of in-car Wi-Fi and slightly better driving dynamics.
Still, if I were to put my money where my mouth is, I'd go with a Chevy Equinox LT and seek out the a 2.0-litre engine.
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