A tale of two hybrids: Toyota RAV4 vs. Honda CR-V
History is littered with legendary rivalries. Ali vs. Frazier. Beatles vs. Stones. Mozart vs. Salieri. Coke vs. Pepsi.
In the automotive world, feuds worthy of the Hatfields and the McCoys have long simmered between Ford and Chevy, Ferrari and Lamborghini, BMW and Mercedes-Benz — and between the companies behind today’s review subjects, Toyota and Honda. In this case, it’s the 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid vs. the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid.
While there are other hybrids in the compact crossover class, these two are the big kahunas of the segment, the two bestselling compact crossover utility vehicles in the United States in 2019. And while Toyota has been peddling a RAV4 Hybrid for a while, it’s only this year that Honda has caught up.
On the surface, the two crossovers are close in size, even if their designs don’t suggest it. Both are 73 inches wide. And while the RAV4’s wheelbase is 1.2 inches longer than the CR-V’s, the Honda is 1.2 inches longer than the Toyota, which is half-an-inch taller. While neither CUV is stunningly attractive, the CR-V’s shape is softer than the RAV4’s, which looks more rugged.
The differences are more apparent inside, where the CR-V tops the RAV4 in legroom, most noticeably in the rear seat. It can be seen in the passenger volume; the CR-V boasts 102.9 cubic feet, the RAV4 98.9 cubic feet. Yet the CR-V surrenders 4.4 cubic feet in cargo capacity to the RAV4. Fold the rear seats, and the Toyota boasts an extra 1.1 cubic feet, although they don’t fold totally flat. Part of the reason lies in the fact that Toyota provides a spare tire, whereas Honda supplies a tire inflator kit that takes up less space. So, it depends where your priority lies: people or stuff. Either get more understanding friends, or simply pack less. Your choice.
Interior ambience differs as well. The Toyota appears as if it’s ready to hit the trail. The CR-V’s cabin is more middle-of-the-road, which some will prefer to the RAV4. The RAV4 has real stitching accents, as opposed to Honda’s fake molded stitching.
Honda’s unconventional push-button transmission shifter may put off those unfamiliar with it, although it’s very easy to use. Neither infotainment system will win any awards for user interface excellence, but Toyota’s seems quicker to respond and is less cumbersome to use, thanks to a volume and a tuning knob, something Honda still doesn’t provide. And the Toyota’s screen is mounted higher, where it’s easier to see at a glance.
Honda’s center console is worthy of a design award, allowing the you to flip up the lid to slip in a bulky purse or larger laptop while still providing room for a center armrest. Brilliant.
Being that both vehicles are hybrids, you’ll find they’re similarly efficient, but Toyota has the upper hand, with the EPA rating the RAV4 at 40 mpg in combined city/highway driving, besting the Honda’s 38 mpg. The CR-V is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor mated to a CVT automatic transmission that generates 212 horsepower, and transfers its power through a mechanical driveshaft from the front wheels to the rear to provide all-wheel drive when needed. In contrast, the RAV4 has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with a CVT, but its electric motor drives the rear wheels to provide all-wheel drive, so there's no driveshaft from front to rear.
Toyota holds an advantage in power at 219 horsepower, compared with the CR-V’s 212 horsepower. Given their similar weight, it’s not surprising that the RAV4 is quicker, and feels it. Its eager dynamics make it more fun to drive when pushed, although its athleticism comes at the expense of ride quality, which seems noticeably firmer than its competitor. The Honda certainly feels more compliant and less intense in character, making it an easier vehicle to live with when you don’t want to play. And it felt sprightly to drive, even if the transmission seems sluggish at times, emitting loud moaning that’s typical of hybrid transmissions when pushed. Toyota’s transmission seems more responsive, and less pronounced to groan when pushed.
Finally, there’s the matter of cost.
Both hybrids I tested were top-of-the-line models, with the Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring costing $37,070, $3,829 less than the 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited’s $40,899. For the record, the CR-V starts at $28,870; the RAV4 $29,470, a difference of $600.
While the RAV4’s better fuel economy, faster more engaging performance, and better infotainment system may be worth it for some, you might be satisfied with the CR-V’s more spacious passenger compartment, mainstream demeanor and lower price.
Unlike some rivalries, this one comes down to which personality you prefer. Regardless of which you choose, you’re sure to pick a winner.