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2018 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2018 Mazda CX-5: Which Is Better?

Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the 2018 Toyota RAV4 review, and the 2018 Mazda CX-5 review.

While the RAV4 is the best-selling vehicle in the United States, the Mazda CX-5 is a perennial favorite among those looking for something more out of their compact crossover. Given this, a comparison is in order. Below we’ll compare the two in a number of categories to help you determine which one is right for you.

2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 Exterior

Basic Specs

The RAV4 was last fully redesigned for 2013 and received an update ahead of the 2016 model year. The 2019 RAV4 will be an all-new design. The standard engine on the current RAV4 is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder good for 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. The RAV4 Hybrid pairs that same engine with a hybrid system that increases output to 194 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque.

Non-hybrid RAV4s earn around 24 miles per gallon with all-wheel drive and 26 mpg with front-wheel drive. The Hybrid model represents a considerable fuel savings. Only available with AWD, the RAV4 Hybrid earns 32 mpg overall. As it only comes at a small price premium, we recommend strongly considering the Hybrid model. See the 2018 Toyota RAV4 models for sale near you

A 6-speed automatic transmission comes with the standard powertrain, while Hybrid models get a CVT. The 2018 Toyota RAV4 starts at $24,660 and reaches almost $38,000 in fully-loaded Platinum configuration.

The Mazda CX-5 was all-new for the 2017 model year. As of right now, one engine is offered: A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. With AWD, the CX-5 earns 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. A long-awaited diesel model is expected to go on sale at some point, but as of right now, only the standard gas-powered CX-5 is available.

The CX-5 comes exclusively with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Available in far fewer trim levels and variations than the RAV4, the base CX-5 starts at $25,450 and reaches $36,000 in fully-loaded Grand Touring trim. See the 2018 Mazda CX-5 models for sale near you

2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 Exterior


Both the Toyota RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5 should be generally reliable vehicles, though the RAV4 has the better reputation for reliability and trouble-free ownership. Both manufacturers offer a 3-year/36,000-mile basic and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, in line with the rest of the industry.

2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 Exterior


The RAV4 is 183.5 inches long, 72.6 inches wide and 65.9 inches tall and offers only 6.2 inches of ground clearance. Up front, the RAV4 offers passengers 39.8 inches of headroom and 42.6 inches of legroom. In the back, the RAV4 has 38.9 inches of headroom and 37.2 inches of legroom.

The CX-5 is 179.1 inches long, 72.5 inches wide and 65.4 inches tall, offering 7.6 inches of ground clearance. Front-seat CX-5 passengers are offered 39.7 inches of headroom and 41.0 inches of legroom. In the back, the CX-5 offers 39.0 inches of headroom and 39.6 inches of legroom.

Altogether, the exterior dimensions of the RAV4 and the CX-5 are very similar. In terms of interior dimensions, the RAV4 offers slightly more space up front, while the CX-5 has an extra 2.4 inches of second-row legroom.

The RAV4 offers 38 cu ft. of cargo space with the second row up and 73 cu ft. with the second row folded. The CX-5 is a little smaller, sacrificing space for style. The CX-5 offers 31 cu ft. and 60 cu ft., respectively.

2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 Interior

Interior and Features

The RAV4 doesn’t offer many surprises in terms of extra features. Available are heated seats, a heated steering wheel and a foot-activated power tailgate. The SE level introduces leather seats. Hybrid models get redesigned gauges that show driving efficiency and battery states of charge.

Gray, black and brown simulated-leather interiors are available. While its interior gives an impression of quality, the RAV4’s design is busy and dated, indicative of a vehicle due for a redesign.

The CX-5 has a very upscale interior for a vehicle competing in the mainstream compact SUV segment. Available features include a Bose audio system, a power tailgate, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, memory setting for the driver’s seat and a power driver’s seat, which isn’t available on the RAV4. Additional high-class features include a leather-trimmed interior available in a unique, almost white Parchment color and a highly attractive Soul Red Crystal Metallic exterior color, available at an extra cost.

Altogether, the CX-5’s interior is far and above nicer than that of the RAV4 and rivals that of competitors from Lexus and Acura. Needless to say, the excellent interior is one of the CX-5’s main selling points.

2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 Exterior


Entry-level RAV4s come with a 6.1-in touchscreen, while higher trim levels get a 7.0-in unit. Either way, buyers’ only option in the way of infotainment is Toyota’s dated Entune system, as the 2018 RAV4 lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The RAV4 offers three 12-volt outlets and 1 USB port.

Standard on the CX-5 is a 7.0-in infotainment screen that can be controlled either by a console-mounted rotary knob or by a touchscreen, but only when the vehicle is stopped. Mazda’s Mazda Connect infotainment system is competent. While the CX-5 hasn’t yet integrated Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, compatibility is supposed to be added in September by a dealer-installed update.

Even without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the CX-5’s infotainment and connectivity setup is superior to that of the RAV4. Add in Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the chasm grows even wider.

2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 Exterior


Both the Toyota RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5 perform exceptionally well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, with the RAV4 earning a Top Safety Pick Designation and the CX-5 earning a Top Safety Pick+ Designation.

A variety of driver-assistance safety features are available on both the RAV4 and the CX-5. Offered on the RAV4 are a number of standard features, including adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward-collision warning, front automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. Front and rear parking sensors and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert are optional.

Standard on the CX-5 are blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic monitoring, forward-collision warning and front automated emergency braking. Adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist and rear parking sensors are optional.

While the CX-5 performs better in crash testing, the RAV4 offers more driver-assistance safety features as standard, as well as front parking sensors.

2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 Exterior

Autotrader’s Advice

The 2018 RAV4 is dated, while the CX-5 is based on a new design, and its higher trim levels offer luxury and refinement on par with high-end automakers like Acura and Lexus. On top of this, the CX-5 actually costs a couple of thousand dollars less than the RAV4 in many comparable trim levels, likely making it the better buy at the moment. It’s important to note, however, that 2019 RAV4 models will be available in just a few short months, so it may be worth waiting to compare the new version to the CX-5. Find a Toyota RAV4 for sale or Find a Mazda CX-5 for sale

Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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