The gap between the 2019 Subaru Forester and the 2019 Toyota RAV4 is very narrow but could very much lead you in one direction or the other.
From the moment the first specs and previews on the new 2019 Toyota RAV4 landed on the internet, interest in Toyota’s compact crossover took off, and has yet to slow down. You’d think that car enthusiasts are only interested in McLarens and Lamborghinis, but the reality is that they have families and live in the real world. The same can be said about the 2019 Subaru Forester.
And the real world revolves around vehicles like the new 2019 Toyota RAV4. So far, the RAV4’s come out on top everywhere – it’s almost futile to attempt challenging the Toyota even when the decision comes down to the line, the RAV4 takes the honours.
For this round of “Take Down the Toyota RAV4”, Subaru lines up their highly capable and well-regarded compact SUV offering, the Forester.
This comparison might turn out to be just as tight as the RAV4 vs. CX-5 one we completed a short while ago. Let’s see how this one goes. Read on:
Which is more enjoyable to drive?
Once more, specification-wise, you’d be forgiven to think that Toyota and Subaru eavesdropped on each other’s test papers when planning for the current SUVs began. Both depend on a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine to get going. Physically, the Forester’s mill differs from all others because of its horizontally-opposed configuration. It produces 182-horsepower and 176 lb.-ft. of torque. The RAV4’s numbers are slightly higher at 203-horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque from its inline-4 -cylinder engine.
Subaru converted to torque converter-less transmission a number of years ago and as such, the Forester relies on a continuously variable transmission while the RAV4 sports a conventional 8-speed automatic. Like the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4, The Subaru Forester’s powertrain is also noisy but still quite efficient. Both are quick enough and tip the scale in the area of 1,600 kg.
On the topic of efficiency, Subaru’s Symmetrical Full-Time AWD, X-MODE, SI-DRIVE and Hill Descent Control destroy the RAV4’s simpler front-wheel biased AWD system. In fact, on the ice and snow-covered surfaces I drove through over the test week, I could almost feel all four wheels grappling with the limited amount of grip provided by the surface by manipulating torque front to back and side to side.
Chassis-wise, both compact crossovers are built upon amazing platforms. From it, Toyota and Subaru take a slightly different approach despite using similar configurations. The Forester’s dampers are extremely forgiving preferring wheel-travel and soaking up the worst of road’s imperfections. The RAV4 is, surprisingly, a little sportier. Damping is more limited but not harsh. I’m not saying the Toyota is sportier as the Subaru still handles quite well. Steering and brakes are overall similar or nearly – the RAV4’s may be a half-notch above.
Answer: it’s a tie
Which is more fuel-efficient?
The dead-heat between these two crossovers continues in this portion of the comparison test. An AWD Toyota returns 9.2/7.1 L/100 km (highway/city) while the AWD Forester’s stats are 9.0/7.2 L/100 km (highway/city).
I did not test drive both vehicles in the same circumstances, but real-world numbers should hover in the mid 8s all day long.
Answer: it’s a tie
Which is more spacious?
As we keep moving forward, we’re discovering how similar they continue to be. Toyota’s published boot volume is of 1,062 litres behind the rear bench with sunroof, and 1,065 without.
The sunroof element is what makes all the difference here. Without the bog heavy piece of glass, volume is rated at 1,003 litres. With it, the number drops to 935 litres.
At this level of competitiveness, we almost can’t give it to the Toyota as the 130-litre is all but useless, but we will anyhow. Room for passengers is excellent in both cases.
Answer: the 2019 Toyota RAV4, if by a hair.
Which has the better value?
Ha! We may finally find something here! The base 2019 Subaru Forester 2.5i retails for $27,995 and features a 6.5-inch screen, heated front seats, LED headlights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM and AWD. The $27,990 base FWD RAV4 LE includes all of these features minus satellite radio, Android and AWD. The AWD LE goes for $30,690 and although gains 17-inch alloy wheels, still lacks satellite radio and Android Auto. These are $2,700 too many dollars…
The mid-level AWD Toyota RAV4 XLE ($33,690) and Subaru Forester Touring ($32,995) are close but once more the Subaru seems to be the better bang for the buck. Its greatest fault is the absence of a heated steering wheel although it still includes the same two features as before that are not yet offered in the Toyota. Also, the RAV4 is $695 more expensive.
The $39,495 Forester Premier includes a power passenger seat while the $40,690 RAV4 Limited gets 19-inch wheels (to the Subie’s 18s) and a 7-inch instrument display. Given the minor differences in kit, we’re inclined to call this part a tie but it’s not, the Forester’s takes it again.
The final difference come from the availability of the RAV4 hybrid – if an alternative electrified compact CUV is what you’re shopping for, there are no other current options, including the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
Answer: the 2019 Subaru Forester, if by a little more than a hair.
Which would we recommend?
Pick your poison, how’s that? We’re still allergic to the CVT but are mega-fans of the Subaru’s excellent AWD system. As we’ve said, the Toyota RAV4 is king and has proven to be a safe bet for more than two decades.
Once more, the final result is that of a tie. If the barrel of a gun was put to our temple, we’d again lean towards the Toyota, if only to avoid soiling our best pair of sweatpants.
Editor’s note: I just finished editing Matt’s comparison test here. Although I agree that both the 2019 Subaru Forester and 2019 Toyota RAV4 are excellent and both are very, very close, I have to go with the Forester. In my opinion, it’s just a bit more exciting to drive without any compromise in terms of space. And who knows what’s going on with that man’s sweatpants – Charles Jolicoeur.