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2015 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2015 Mazda CX-5: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2014

If you're searching for a compact crossover, we hope your shopping list includes the 2015 Toyota RAV4 and the 2015 Mazda CX-5. Both are among today's top small SUVs, boasting reasonable pricing, generous equipment levels, impressive fuel economy and lots of interior space. But which one is better? To find out, we've created a detailed comparison of both models below. But first, let's see what's new with the RAV4 and the CX-5 for the 2015 model year.

2015 Toyota RAV4 Changes

Following its 2013 redesign, the RAV4 is almost completely unchanged for 2015. Updates include new wheels and colors, along with an available power liftgate for the XLE model.

2015 Mazda CX-5 Changes

The CX-5 is unchanged for 2015, save for newly standard keyless entry and ignition on Touring and Grand Touring trims.

Reliability

According to experts at J.D. Power, the RAV4 offers dramatically better reliability than the CX-5. While the firm gave the RAV4 four circles in its Power Circle Ratings, indicating better than average reliability, the CX-5 earned only two -- a below average score.

In terms of warranty coverage, the two crossovers are about the same: Both offer 3 years or 36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and 5 years or 60,000 of powertrain protection. But the RAV4 also offers a slight advantage here, touting 2 years or 25,000 miles of free maintenance. As a result, the RAV4 is the clear winner if reliability and running costs are your priority.

Fuel Economy

Both the RAV4 and the CX-5 offer only 4-cylinder engines. The RAV4 has one powerplant, a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, while the CX-5 offers two choices: a 155-hp 2.0-liter or a 184-hp 2.5-liter.

In the RAV4, fuel economy tops out at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with 2-wheel drive, or 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is much better in the CX-5: The base engine is good for up to 29 mpg city/35 mpg hwy with 2-wheel drive and a stick shift, or 26 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with an automatic. All-wheel drive drops it to 25 mpg city/31 mpg hwy. But even the CX-5's 2.5-liter engine tops the RAV4's numbers, returning 25 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with 2-wheel drive, or 25 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive. As a result, the CX-5 is a better choice for drivers looking to maximize their fuel economy.

Safety

The CX-5 outperformed the RAV4 in government crash tests, earning a perfect 5-star score to the RAV4's 4-star rating. The CX-5 also dramatically outperformed the RAV4 in testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as the CX-5 earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating -- a score the RAV4 couldn't snag due to its poor performance in the challenging small-overlap front-crash test.

Interestingly, the RAV4 offers extra safety features that the CX-5 doesn't have. Of course, both SUVs include all the basics: items such as curtain side airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control. But while both SUVs tout blind spot monitoring and a backup camera, only the RAV4 includes a rear cross-traffic alert system and lane-departure warning technology. As a result, our verdict on safety is a split decision: If you're interested in gadgets, pick the RAV4; if you're looking for crashworthiness, the CX-5 is your best bet.

Technology

Although Mazda tends to be a leader in technology, the CX-5 isn't the brand's most high-tech vehicle. It's missing some items offered on other, newer Mazda models, such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Still, both the CX-5 and the RAV4 boast roughly the same equipment, including navigation systems, high-end sound systems, backup cameras and automatic headlights. To us, this category is mostly a toss-up, except for the gadget differences we've discussed in the Safety section.

Value

When it comes to value, both crossovers offer about the same level of equipment for the money. Admittedly, the CX-5's base price is cheaper, but it comes standard with a manual transmission and a fairly lethargic 2.0-liter engine. Move up to an automatic and the optional 2.5-liter, and you'll find that the CX-5 holds no great price advantage over the RAV4. As a result, the two vehicles are tied in terms of value.

AutoTrader's Advice

If you're looking for a competent small crossover, the 2015 Mazda CX-5 and the 2015 Toyota RAV4 are both excellent choices -- but we'd rather have the CX-5. One reason is its gas mileage: Whether you get the 2.0-liter or the 2.5-liter, your fuel economy will trump the RAV4's numbers. We also like its strong crash test ratings, and we're a little unnerved by the RAV4's poor performance in IIHS testing. The CX-5 still offers nearly every gadget the RAV4 does, along with a lower starting price for shoppers who don't want their new SUV to break the bank. The only drawback? J.D. Power reliability ratings place the RAV4 far ahead of the CX-5 for dependability -- and for some shoppers, that alone might be enough to choose the Toyota over the Mazda.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2015 Mazda CX-5: Which Is Better? - Autotrader