- The Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester are two of the most popular compact SUVs in the US.
- Both compete against rivals like the Honda CR-V, the Nissan Rogue, the Chevrolet Equinox, the Ford Escape, and the Mazda CX-5.
- The RAV4 and the Forester are both brand-new for the 2019 model year.
- The base 2019 Toyota RAV4 LE with front-wheel drive starts at $US25,500, while the top-spec Limited trim starts at $US33,500. With options and fees, our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited had an as-tested price of $US38,565.
- The base Forester starts at $US24,295, while the top-of-the-line Touring starts at $US34,295. Our mid-grade Sport test car starts at $US28,795. With options and fees, our Forester came to an as-tested price of $US31,815.
- The Forester’s solid infotainment system, standard all-wheel drive, and impressive suite of safety tech tipped the comparison in its favour.
Compact crossover SUVs now account for roughly one out of every five vehicles sold in the US. That translates to about 3.2 million vehicles in 2018.
Demand for modern compact SUVs may be booming now, but such vehicles have been on the market for more than two decades.
The Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester are two of the earliest entrants into the market. The original Toyota RAV4 launched in 1994 but didn’t arrive in the US until 1996. The first-generation Subaru Forester entered the market in 1998.
In 2018, the RAV4 led the segment, with 427,000 vehicles sold. The Toyota SUV was the fourth-best-selling vehicle in the US, behind the Ford F-Series, the Chevrolet Silverado, and the RAM 1500 pickup trucks.
The Forester didn’t sell quite as well as the RAV4, but with 172,000 units sold, it was still one of the most popular crossovers on the market.
Toyota and Subaru have introduced new generations of the RAV4 and the Forester for the 2019 model year. We recently had the chance to check out a 2019 Subaru Forester in mid-grade Sport trim and a 2019 Toyota RAV4 in top-spec Limited trim.
Here’s a closer look at how the 2019 Toyota RAV4 and the 2019 Subaru Forester stack up.
First up is the Subaru Forester.
The 2019 Subaru Forester comes in five trim levels: the base trim, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring.
The base Forester starts at $US24,295, while the top-of-the-line Touring starts at $US34,295. Our mid-grade Sport test car starts at $US28,795.
With options and fees, our Forester had an as-tested price of $US31,815.
The new fifth-generation Forester debuted for the 2019 model. It’s built on the Subaru Global Platform that also underpins the Crosstrek and the Impreza.
Aesthetically, though, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the difference between the new model and its predecessor. In other words, it’s undeniably a Subaru. Overall, the styling is restrained and handsome.
At 182.1 inches long with a 105.1-inch wheelbase, the 2019 Forester is about an inch longer than the outgoing model. That translates to a slightly roomier interior. The Forester also delivers a stout 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
Speaking of the interior, it’s rather impressive. While the Forester Sport’s cabin isn’t exactly stylish or plush, it’s very roomy and well designed. Cabin ergonomics and button placement are on point.
The cabin feels solidly put together, and its material quality is impressively high. Everything about this interior gives the impression that it’s built to last.
I’m not in love with the Sport trim’s orange accents. They feel a bit tacky.
The Forester interior in Touring trim is considerably plusher.
In front of the driver is a leather-wrapped steering wheel, packed with the various buttons needed to operate everything from the drive-mode selector to the adaptive cruise control. They’re clearly labelled, and the controls are intuitive to use. There’s also a digital information display flanked by a traditional analogue gauge cluster.
The Forester’s center console features not one but two infotainment screens. It’s the same setup found in the Crosstrek and the Ascent.
Our test car came with the optional 8-inch touchscreen running Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system. Other Foresters come with a 6.5-inch unit.
We were impressed with Starlink’s simple, straightforward layout and its many features …
… including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Pandora app integration.
The secondary display, controlled using the “info” button on the steering wheel, is just as useful. It offers readouts of the vehicle’s trip computer, climate control …
… radio …
… and any active safety systems.
Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance system comes standard on all Foresters. It has a collection of technologies, including adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and pre-collision throttle management. The system, which works through a pair of cameras on either side of the rearview mirror, worked brilliantly and is a true asset for Subaru.
The second row is particularly impressive, with ample headroom and legroom for the taller among us. The rear seats now have 39.4 inches of legroom, up 1.4 inches from the outgoing model.
Overall, the Subie’s cabin feels roomy, airy, and inviting. It’s helped by the panoramic sunroof that comes standard on non-base Foresters.
Open the power rear hatch …
… and you’ll find 33 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up. Fold the second row down, and cargo capacity increases to a voluminous 70.9 cubic feet.
Power for the new Forester comes from an updated version of Subaru’s trusty 2.5-litre, boxer-four-cylinder engine. The naturally aspirated powerplant produces 182 horsepower, up 12 from the outgoing model. It’s hooked up to a continuously variable transmission …
… that sends power to Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which can operate in several modes, including dirt, snow, and mud.
So what’s it like to drive?
The Forester is slow and a bit underpowered, but quite pleasant in every other regard.
The issue is that the naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine simply doesn’t have enough power to haul around the 3,400-pound SUV, its passengers, and all their stuff.
“The Forester struggled mightily on highway on-ramps. The CVT worked hard to keep the engine in the meatiest part of its powerband, but it could only do so much,” we said in our review. “We did eventually find some speed, but it took a while. The powertrain just didn’t feel eager to perform, even in Sport mode.”
Apart from the lack of power, the Forester performed very well. Its handling was quick and nimble, but a tad on the numb side. The suspension delivered a smooth and comfortable ride.
Next up is the Toyota RAV4.
The base 2019 Toyota RAV4 LE starts at $US25,500, while the mid-grade XLE, XLE Premium, and Adventure models start at $US27,300, $US29,500, and $US32,900. The top-grade Limited trim starts at $US33,500.
Hybrid variants of the RAV4 start at $US27,700 for the LE and run all the way up to the Limited trim at $US35,700.
All-wheel drive is available as a $US1,400 option on all trims except the Adventure and Hybrid variants, in which it comes standard.
With options and fees, our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited carried an as-tested price of $US38,565.
For 2019, Toyota is back with an all-new, fifth-generation RAV4.
The new RAV4 is built on Toyota’s new TNGA-K global midsize platform shared with the Camry sedan. Previous RAV4s were built on compact platforms shared with the Corolla and the Prius.
Its wheelbase is now 1.2 inches longer — but apart from that, the RAV4’s overall dimensions remain virtually unchanged. Ground clearance has also increased by roughly 2 inches, to as much as 8.6 inches.
The RAV4 sheet metal is handsome and modern, delivering suburban civility with a subtle evocation of 4Runner/Land Cruiser ruggedness.
The RAV4’s interior is also new, and we were impressed. Material quality was outstanding, and everything felt well put together.
The leather-upholstered seats in our test car were soft and supportive, with ample adjustments available.
Toyota worked hard to make the RAV4’s cabin easy to live with — and it shows. Cabin ergonomics are top-notch. Everything the driver needs is clearly marked and easily reachable.
I’m a fan of the various storage nooks found throughout the RAV4, like this one right above the glove box.
In front of the driver is a hybrid digital/analogue instrument cluster. Our test car’s 7-inch information display worked well and offered a bevy of driving data. Lower-trim cars come with a 4.2-inch display.
Atop the center stack is an 8-inch touchscreen running the latest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Entune is not one of our favourites.
Though Toyota has made improvements to the system, it’s still clunky to use, and its presentation is decidedly outdated.
Entune is not without its merits: The system has plenty of features, such as app integration, WiFi connectivity, and built-in navigation.
And the physical shortcut buttons around it dramatically improve Entune’s usability.
And then there’s Apple CarPlay capability. It’s available for the first time on the RAV4 and allows you to bypass Entune.
Lower on the center stack is the RAV4’s climate controls and seat heaters — again, well designed and easy to use.
At the base of the center stack is a power socket, a USB plug, and a Qi wireless-charging pad.
Our test car came with a screen embedded in the rearview mirror that can be turned on or off using a toggle switch at the bottom. The system took a while to get used to but worked like a charm. It will be particularly useful when the RAV4 is packed with people or cargo and rear visibility is obstructed.
One of the RAV4’s highlights is its advanced camera system. Not only does it have a rear view and an overhead view, but it offers a 360-degree panoramic view that will swing around to show the car’s surroundings.
The system also has a feature that shows you what the car looks like from the perspective of those around it.
All RAV4s come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of semi-autonomous driver-assistance technologies, including pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane-tracing assist, and traffic-sign assist.
The RAV4’s second row felt roomy and spacious. It offers 37.8 inches of legroom, up from 37.2 inches in the previous generation. However, it lags behind the Forester, which offers more than 39 inches.
This massive panoramic glass roof is a nice extra. It gives the cabin an open, airy feeling.
Open the power liftgate …
… and you’ll find 37 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold down the second row, and cargo capacity increases to 69.8 cubic feet. Both figures are down from the 38.4 cubic feet and 73.4 cubic feet of the outgoing RAV4.
All non-hybrid RAV4s are powered by a 2.5-litre, 203-horsepower, naturally aspirated inline-four-cylinder engine shared with the Toyota Camry. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels or an optional all-wheel-drive system.
Hybrid RAV4s are powered by the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine paired with a hybrid drive system to produce 219 horsepower, sending power to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission.
Our test car came with a fancy Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel-drive system designed to send up to 50% of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. It can also distribute power between the left rear and right rear based on road conditions.
So what’s it like to drive?
We found the Toyota RAV4 to be shockingly unrefined to drive.
The issues center on the RAV4’s naturally aspirated inline-four engine.
“The 2.5-litre engine is one of the most coarse-sounding four-cylinder engines I’ve encountered in a long time,” we said in our review. “Under hard acceleration, the engine buzzes and strains like a poorly executed 20-year-old tuner Honda Civic.”
The eight-speed automatic transmission paired to the engine doesn’t make things better, as shifts were slow and often came with an uncomfortable jolt.
The coarseness of the RAV4’s powertrain came as a surprise, considering it’s shared with the current-generation four-cylinder Toyota Camry, a vehicle we enjoyed.
On the bright side, the inline-four delivered strong acceleration.
The Subaru Forester and the Toyota RAV4 are two of the best-designed and expertly executed compact crossover SUVs on the market.
Both offer thoughtfully designed interiors, strong build quality, and capable all-wheel-drive systems, as well as a complete suite of standard semi-autonomous driver-assistance technologies.
However, the Subaru really impressed us with its Starlink infotainment system. It’s intuitively designed, attractively rendered, and packed with feature content. The excellence of Starlink puts into sharp relief the lacklustre performance of Toyota’s Entune system. In fact, the best thing I can say about Entune is that with the Apple CarPlay integration we no longer have to use it.
And then there’s the RAV4’s engine. On its own, the Toyota 2.5-litre four-cylinder is known for its smoothness and efficiency. But in the RAV4, it proved disappointingly loud and rough in a manner unbecoming of a Toyota.
Which brings us to the verdict: The Subaru wins.
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