After small cars, medium SUVs are where the bulk of buyers are heading and principally for one reason: they’re easy to live with. This segment is well stocked with reputable brands, and among the top handful are, of course, Toyota and Honda. Step in and out of a modern SUV countless times a day and you start to forget about things such as driving pleasure, because it’s all about comfort, familiarity, packaging and the simple efficiency of travel. We review and compare the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
Reliable and practical
Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V are longstanding, well-respected models within their respective brands and have been recently upgraded. Both have enviable reputations for reliability and they deliver the essential practicality sought by young families and retirees alike.
Each range starts with a budget two-wheel-drive, 2.0-litre petrol manual model for under $28,000 (plus on-road costs). But more popular are automatic all-wheel-drive petrol variants, namely Honda’s 2.4-litre VTi-S and Toyota’s 2.5-litre GXL – our test cars – which add the potential for doing more than simply dispensing the daily grind, e.g. touring adventures. As well as higher-grade all-wheel-drive petrol variants, both RAV4 and CR-V have turbo-diesel models in their line-ups.
Honda launched a refreshed CR-V last November, including a new display/audio touch-screen and new alloys. In January, Toyota’s RAV4 adopted bolder exterior styling and a redesigned cabin. The chassis was revised for sharper dynamics and a more insulated, quieter ride.
Our review cars both have a five-star ANCAP safety rating, RAV4 having a driver knee airbag, while CR-V has a standard left-turn blind-spot camera and front parking sensors. Advanced safety items, including autonomous emergency braking, lane departure assist, radar cruise control and cross-traffic alert, are a $2500 option on all RAV4s but only available on the top-spec CR-V for $3500.
These mid-size SUVs are notable for easy access, good cabin space and everyday practicality. Interior measurements are remarkably similar; the fundamental difference is presentation and finish. CR-V has more back-seat width, while RAV4 has marginally more head and leg room up front, rake-adjustable rear seats and better load versatility because CR-V’s tip/fold back seat restricts the ultimate load length.
Our review shows the most obvious difference is RAV4’s more modern cabin. Despite its slightly confronting dark, square dash, the presentation is fresher and the usability more logical, more so the longer you live with it. By comparison CR-V is brighter with a more open feel but it’s plastic, has flimsy controls and the design has been around for a while.
Honda’s seating is also somewhat ordinary when compared with the Toyota’s shaping and long-term support. For child seats, RAV4 places top tether points on the seat back, while CR-V has them in the roof, although this did not appear restrictive. Also of note is the Honda carries a full-size alloy spare wheel, because curiously RAV4 has a space-saver despite having more off-road features in its driveline, including a differential lock and hill descent control. CR-V’s on-demand all-wheel-drive set-up is a balance between traction in sloppy conditions and better fuel economy.
Good performance overall
Overall performance from both vehicles is good, with little perceivable difference between Toyota’s six-speed CVT and Honda’s conventional five-speed automatic. CR-V is arguably a little more agile with a lighter steering feel around city streets and carparks. While it glides easily on the open road, it also feels lighter, with a tendency to jiggle over poor surfaces and on dirt. The slightly heavier RAV4 feels more substantial, with a stiffer body structure, and its suspension is generally more settled on rough roads. Fuel economy always favoured CR-V, particularly on the open road, but in general use the margin is less distinct and neither car is that great overall.
Mid-size SUVs are an innocuous tool of life, judged by how well they disguise and cope with the tedium of the daily routine. With that in mind, the conservative Honda CR-V is best suited to suburbia while the more modern Toyota RAV4 is superior on regional roads and farm tracks.
RACV's RoyalAuto Magazine is committed to bringing you in-depth reviews on the latest new cars, every month. Leaving panache to the show ponies, Honda’s new CR-V is all about making sense to the family buyer. Not that it doesn’t look good and drive beautifully.