The Toyota RAV4 is unstoppable. Not only is it Toyota’s best-selling model, it’s also the best-selling non-pickup in the U.S. Debuting at the New York auto show, a new fifth generation signals the RAV4 is evolving to keep up with the rapid pace of updates among its competitors. Also in New York, Subaru unveiled a fifth-generation Forester, making a bold move by streamlining engine and transmission choices. Can the Forester gain ground against the RAV4, and which looks more impressive on the showroom floor? Let’s take a look below.
Toyota took the opportunity to introduce a completely new look on RAV4. It ditches its rounded face for a front end with squared-off corners. The sharp-edged headlights are new, and the grille has been completely redesigned, made to look like the grille on the Tacoma in some versions. Also look for sharp octagon wheel arches, a spoiler, and dual exhaust.
The Forester’s design hasn’t changed as much. The model receives new headlights and C-shaped taillights, but Subaru generally sticks with the same tried-and-true formula. Overall, the look is a bit softer than that of the RAV4, with more traditional wheel arches, a less gaping grille, and no prominent skid plates. Sport models look a bit sassier with black wheels, black gloss grille frame, and orange accents.
As is often the case when automakers introduce new generations, both models receive new engines. None of them are turbocharged. The Toyota packs a 2.5-liter inline-four-cylinder. Output figures haven’t been released, but we expect the model to end up with similar numbers to the new Camry, which makes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Toyota has replaced the old six-speed automatic with a new eight-speed.
Subaru dropped its 250-hp turbo engine from the Forester lineup this year. This was one of the Forester’s top stand-out features, because it delivered remarkably quick acceleration compared to rivals (6.8 seconds to 60 mph in our tests). Now, the model packs a 2.5-liter boxer-four with 182 hp and 176 lb-ft, up 12 hp and 2 lb-ft from the previous 2.5-liter. Now that Subaru has gotten rid of the six-speed manual, the vehicle comes exclusively with a CVT. And of course, the model is only offered in all-wheel drive unlike the RAV4.
Toyota will offer a hybrid version as it did before. This unit will come with a 2.5-liter engine, hybrid system, and CVT.
Ride and Handling
It’s impossible at this point to determine which vehicle will offer a superior driving experience, but both vehicles should receive considerable improvements in ride quality and handling. Both switch to new global architectures shared with many other vehicles from their respective brands (TNGA for the RAV4 and Subaru Global Platform for Forester). The RAV4 in particular needs to catch up with rivals when it comes to driving dynamics, so hopefully the new generation is up to the challenge.
Sport and Off-Road
Subaru has the reputation for adventure, but it looks like the new RAV4 may be well poised in this area as well. It features a multi-terrain select system that is standard on all-wheel drive gas versions. Drivers can use four different modes—Snow, Mud, Sand, and Rocks—to traverse different terrains. Ground clearance has increased by more than half an inch, and its wider track and shorter front and rear overhangs should also aid in light off-roading. Meanwhile, the new XSE Hybrid promises to be the quickest RAV4 when coupled with an available sport-tuned suspension.
There’s little indication the Forester will be any more athletic than the old model, but expect the same impressive capabilities off the beaten path. The Forester benefits from standard all-wheel drive and a whopping 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Along with standard all-wheel drive, there are Snow/Dirt, and Deep Snow/Mud driving modes.
As you’d expect, both Toyota and Subaru excel in this category. The RAV4 offers standard Toyota Safety Sense while the Forester comes standard with EyeSight. Both of these systems include automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, and a host of other safety features. New for 2019, however, the Subaru gets an available facial recognition and monitoring system that can identify if a driver is tired or distracted behind the wheel.
Somehow, the interior of the RAV4 looks a little more modern than that of the Forester. The large free-standing screen, tapered dashboard, and shorter shifter provide a clean look. Like the Forester, the RAV4 features Apple CarPlay. But while the Subaru also has Android Auto, Toyota hasn’t indicated it would offer that feature on its small crossover.
It’s unlikely the RAV4’s sales supremacy will end anytime soon, especially now that the new version promises huge improvements over the current model. That said, the small enhancements the Forester receives are thoughtful and should keep the model relevant in its segment, although we’ll miss the powerful 2.0-liter turbo engine. The RAV4 goes on sale this winter, except for hybrid models that will arrive in early 2019. Subaru hasn’t announced exactly when the Forester will arrive in dealerships, but it is expected to go on sale sometime this year.