Crossover Show­down

Motor Trend - - Contents - Collin Woodard

2018 Honda CR-V vs. 2019 Toy­ota RAV4 Can the im­proved Toy­ota un­seat our re­cently de­parted SUV of the Year?

An­other year, an­other Toy­ota ver­sus Honda face­off. Last year, Honda’s re­designed Ac­cord mid­sized sedan took on the sporti­est Camry ever and won. In fact, it wasn’t much of a con­test. The Toy­ota was much im­proved over its pre­de­ces­sor, but the Honda was clearly the su­pe­rior car.

A year later, Toy­ota is back with a new con­tender in a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory. Evolv­ing con­sumer tastes mean com­pact crossovers are now more im­por­tant than fam­ily sedans. In 2017, the Camry’s 15-year reign as Amer­ica’s best-sell­ing ve­hi­cle (that isn’t a pickup) was ended by Toy­ota’s own out­go­ing RAV4. Across the in­dus­try, you can see the same trend. Sedan sales are shrink­ing while crossovers are boom­ing. Honda, too, sold more CR-VS in 2017 than it sold Ac­cords or Civics for the first time.

Con­sid­er­ing how much was at stake, Toy­ota took a big risk when it re­designed its best-seller for 2019. It aban­doned the anony­mous but in­of­fen­sive styling of the pre­vi­ous RAV4 in fa­vor of a chunkier, more rugged look. The soft-road-fo­cused Ad­ven­ture ver­sion even gets a Ta­coma-in­spired grille and 19-inch wheels.

The RAV4 is also now built on the mid­size ver­sion of Toy­ota’s TNGA (Toy­ota New Global Ar­chi­tec­ture) plat­form, mean­ing that me­chan­i­cally it re­lates more closely to the new Camry than the old Corolla. That means a longer wheel­base, a wider track, and a bit more ground clear­ance even though the RAV4 is ac­tu­ally now shorter over­all. Toy­ota says it’s also lighter and sig­nif­i­cantly stiffer than the out­go­ing model. At the New York auto show un­veil­ing, ex­ec­u­tives and de­sign­ers were no­tice­ably proud of their ac­com­plish­ment.

Now to the de­fend­ing cham­pion. There’s a rea­son we named the CR-V our 2018 SUV of the Year: Honda ab­so­lutely knocked it out of the park with the re­design. Smooth ride, pre­cise steer­ing, supremely func­tional pack­ag­ing, gap­ing sec­ond-row space, ad­vanced safety tech, pow­er­trains with crisp ac­cel­er­a­tion and great fuel econ­omy, and per­haps most im­por­tant, a fan­tas­tic value. Knock­ing this king off its throne would be a chal­lenge for any newcomer.

But look­ing at the new RAV4, Toy­ota was clearly gun­ning for the win. I don’t think any­one came into this com­par­i­son ex­pect­ing to make an easy de­ci­sion.

Take styling, for ex­am­ple. Nei­ther the CR-V nor the RAV4 is con­ven­tion­ally at­trac­tive. The CR-V’S looks push the lim­its of the term “po­lar­iz­ing,” but over­all, its de­sign is the more co­he­sive of the two. The RAV4, on the other hand, will prob­a­bly alien­ate fewer po­ten­tial buy­ers even if some de­sign el­e­ments are bet­ter ex­e­cuted than oth­ers. The squared-off wheel arches, for ex­am­ple, work well on the RAV4 Ad­ven­ture but look a lit­tle out of place on other trims.

Then again, this also isn’t a seg­ment where buy­ers tend to pri­or­i­tize looks. If it were, the Mazda CX-5 would sell a lot bet­ter than it does. But that’s a topic for an­other day.

Open the RAV4’S door, and you’re met with a cabin that’s per­haps an even big­ger stylis­tic leap for­ward than the ex­te­rior. The large in­fo­tain­ment screen sits high on the dash with phys­i­cal knobs and but­tons on both sides, mak­ing it easy to read and op­er­ate. And depend­ing on the trim, Toy­ota gives you dif­fer­ent col­ored ac­cent pan­els and con­trast stitch­ing.

The seats are com­fort­able and sup­port­ive, and ma­te­ri­als mostly feel high qual­ity. There are some hard plas­tics here and there, but it’s all a mas­sive up­grade com­pared to the look and feel of other bud­get­con­scious Toy­ota cab­ins over the past sev­eral years. Rear pas­sen­gers won’t suf­fer, as there’s plenty of space for two adults or three chil­dren. Plus, ma­te­ri­als in the back seem just as nice as they do up front.

Per­haps be­cause we’re more fa­mil­iar with the CR-V, its cabin doesn’t look as fresh as the RAV4’S. Honda also took fewer chances with the de­sign, opt­ing for a straight­for­ward lay­out. But whereas the Toy­ota’s in­te­rior might look more in­trigu­ing, I was quickly re­minded why the CR-V won last year’s SUV of the Year award.

In ad­di­tion to the over­all pre­mium feel of our Tour­ing model’s cabin, the CR-V’S func­tion­al­ity is truly im­pres­sive. There’s so much stor­age for front pas­sen­gers that most peo­ple will strug­gle to find use for it all. And although there’s noth­ing wrong with what the RAV4 of­fers, if you are a bit of a hoarder, you’ll want the CR-V. It’s just that much bet­ter. For those who want the tale of the tape, Toy­ota did not pro­vide cargo vol­ume num­bers, but my tape-mea­sure cal­cu­la­tions show the RAV4 to have less room for your stuff.

There also are lit­tle ex­e­cu­tions that make a dif­fer­ence. For in­stance, the Honda’s doors swing open much wider than the Toy­ota’s. That might not sound like a big deal, but par­ents will ap­pre­ci­ate how much eas­ier the CR-V makes deal­ing with kids and child seats. The CR-V also de­serves its own award for clever pack­ag­ing and func­tion­al­ity.

That said, I did have a few mis­cel­la­neous quib­bles with each. In the CR-V, the shift lever wig­gles just enough to be an­noy­ing. And in the RAV4, the plas­tic used for the key and the gas cap feels sur­pris­ingly chintzy. Nei­ther is a deal­breaker, but both com­pa­nies can (and should) do bet­ter.

In that same vein, we found that the RAV4’S doors shut with a de­cid­edly down­mar­ket, tinny sound. Al­most like it’s miss­ing a piece of in­su­la­tion or sound dead­en­ing. Typ­i­cally, I’d chalk it up to the al­leged pre­pro­duc­tion sta­tus of our tester, but the Camry’s doors make the same hol­low sound. Maybe buy­ers won’t care, but once you no­tice it, it’s im­pos­si­ble to miss.

A quick ed­i­tor’s note: The 2019 Toy­ota RAV4S used in our com­par­i­son test were la­beled “pre-pro­duc­tion,” though the Lim­ited ver­sion was de­scribed as “pro­duc­tion spec.” We also drove up­dated pre-pro­duc­tion units at a Novem­ber me­dia event that had slight im­prove­ments in pow­er­train cal­i­bra­tion.

Here’s the thing about Honda en­gines: You never no­tice them. You push the start but­ton, the 1.5-liter tur­bocharged four-cylin­der fires up, and that’s about it. No one who drives a CR-V will ever think about the way the silky, seam­less engine sounds. That’s far from the case with the RAV4. Even com­muters with no in­ter­est in cars will no­tice the Toy­ota 2.5-liter I-4 sounds coarse, un­re­fined, and ob­nox­iously loud.

At least the RAV4 makes plenty of power. The CR-V’S turbo-four cranks out 190 horse­power and 179 lb-ft of torque, but the RAV4 has an ad­van­tage. Its engine is good for 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That was enough to launch our front­drive RAV4 Lim­ited from 0 to 60 mph in 8.2 sec­onds, 0.4 sec­ond quicker than the all-wheeldrive CR-V. (We pre­vi­ously clocked a string of 7.5s in sev­eral 2017 AWD CR-VS in cooler weather, but we’re con­fi­dent the RAV4 would be quicker as well un­der bet­ter con­di­tions.) Noted tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Frank Markus: “The

Knock­ing the king off its throne would be a chal­lenge for any newcomer.

The 2019 Toy­ota RAV4’S in­fo­tain­ment screen is promi­nently lo­cated and fea­tures crisp, clear graph­ics.

The 2018 CR-V’S cabin might not look as stylish as the RAV4’S, but the Honda’s stor­age ar­eas are far su­pe­rior.

As­so­ciate on­line ed­i­tor Collin Woodard breaks out the mea­sur­ing tape. By our cal­cu­la­tions, the CR-V beats the RAV4 in this game of inches.

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