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2018 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2018 Subaru Forester: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt August 2018
  • The 2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Subaru Forester both compete in the compact crossover segment but have very different personalities.

  • The Subaru offers standard all-wheel drive, while the RAV4 offers it as an option.

  • Every 2018 Toyota RAV4 comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense technology, while the Forester offers Subaru EyeSight on some trims.

The compact crossover segment is one of the hottest categories on the market. With just about every manufacturer offering a small SUV, it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. Two popular models are the Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester. The RAV4 is a modern, versatile crossover with some off-road capability when equipped with all-wheel drive, and the Forester has a more adventurous personality with standard all-wheel drive on every model.

Both of these crossovers are in the last year of their current generations and will get all-new replacements for the 2019 model year. But that doesn't mean the 2018 models are irrelevant. With new ones on the way, you should be able to find pretty good deals on both of these from dealers trying to make room for the new models.

Although the RAV4 and the Forester compete in the same segment, the two crossovers have several differences you should know about if they're both on your shopping list. Let's take a look at what these two SUVs have in common, what's different and which is better.

Exterior

The Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester have almost identical exterior dimensions, but look completely different. The RAV4 used to be a small but mighty off-roader, but over the years it's become more of a family vehicle. It has an aesthetic that's stylish, yet subtle. It's not the most exciting-looking SUV in its segment, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The RAV4 is good for if you want to keep a low profile. The 2018 Forester wears a distinct Subaru look. It's one of the more boxy Subaru models, making it a space-efficient SUV with a rugged look.

Interior

The rugged aesthetic of the Subaru Forester continues on the inside with a functional, utilitarian interior. The instrumentation is a no-nonsense arrangement that gives you all of the information you need and has all of its controls within reach without being too flashy. All instruments are easy to use, and generous passenger room means there's room to comfortably fit four adults -- or five in a pinch.

The interior of the Toyota RAV4 is more modern and premium looking than the inside of the Forester. When you go up through the trims, there are some interesting interior color options that can make your RAV4 a little different. For all of its modern, fashionable flair, the interior of the Toyota doesn't sacrifice functionality or practicality.

The RAV4 has a little more cargo room, while the Forester uses more of its space for passenger room. If you're not planning on carrying a lot of cargo often, then the Forester might be a more comfortable choice for you. But, if you're planning on big grocery runs or frequent weekend getaways that require more cargo space, you might want the RAV4.

Mechanicals

The Toyota RAV4 has one 4-cylinder engine available, and the Forester has two. The engine in the RAV4 is a 2.5-liter inline-4 engine that makes 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, which is adequate for this class. In most trims of the RAV4, this engine returns 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway. Every trim of the RAV4 comes standard with front-wheel drive, but is available with dynamic torque-control all-wheel drive, making the RAV4 more versatile in all road conditions and for doing some light off-roading.

The base engine in the Forester also has a 2.5-liter displacement, but it's a flat engine rather than an inline-4. It has very similar power and torque ratings as the RAV4 at 170 hp and 174 lb-ft. However, its fuel economy is a little better with EPA ratings of 26 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.

The engine in the 2.0XT Premium and 2.0XT Touring trims of the Subaru Forester is a turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-4 engine that brings some exciting performance to this crossover. It delivers 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque while returning 23 mpg city/27 mpg hwy. This engine is a great option if you want a practical crossover that's also fun to drive.

As we've mentioned before, the Forester has the distinction of coming standard with symmetrical all-wheel drive on every model. For even better traction on road and off, the Forester is available with X-Mode, which increases all-wheel drive system engagement.

It's worth noting that the Subaru is available with a manual transmission and the Toyota isn't. It's getting harder and harder to find a car or SUV with a manual transmission, but Subaru has a reputation for having manual options widely available throughout its product line.

If you're looking to do some light, occasional towing with your compact crossover, the RAV4 and the Forester both have an identical towing capacity of 1,500 lbs, and that goes for both engines available in the Forester. However, if you opt for the RAV4 Adventure with its tow prep package, you can tow up to 3,500 lbs.

If you live somewhere with frequent inclement weather and you don't want to pay extra for all-wheel drive, the Forester might be a better choice for you than the slightly more powerful RAV4.

Features and Technology

Safety is a big priority for Toyota. Over the past few years, the brand has been making more safety features more widely available. Its Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) safety tech suite includes lane-departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and automatic high beams. This safety tech is standard on every 2018 RAV4.

Since the RAV4 is all about utility, it has a few special features to make life easier. It has a flexible cargo area with an available cargo net hammock that allows you to fit more stuff into this compact crossover. You can also get a hands-free, foot-activated power liftgate on the RAV4, which is very useful when your hands are full.

Subaru has a safety tech suite similar to Toyota Safety Sense called EyeSight. Subaru EyeSight features pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning. Unfortunately, it isn't standard on all trims like TSS-P is on the RAV4. It's available on mid-range trims and standard on higher-end models.

One nice feature that's standard on all 2018 Foresters is the Starlink infotainment system. While it doesn't feature Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, it's a solid system with Pandora, SiriusXM, Aha and, of course, Bluetooth connectivity.

Both of these SUVs can get pretty luxurious without assuming luxury car prices when you get into the higher trims. They both offer features like navigation, leather seats, premium audio and much more.

The Subaru can be pretty well-appointed when optioned right, but the Toyota has an advantage over the Subaru when it comes to features and technology. Standard TSS-P is a huge plus for any safety-conscious buyer.

Pricing

The Subaru Forester has a lower starting price than the Toyota RAV4. The starting MSRP for the Forester is $22,795, and it's $24,660 for the RAV4. This makes the Forester a great value, considering AWD is standard on the Forester and the most affordable AWD RAV4 starts at $26,060. However, there are some features in the RAV4 that you can't get in a base Forester, most notably the safety tech that comes with TSS-P.

When you go up through the model range, the RAV4 generally costs more than similarly equipped Foresters, especially when you account for AWD. But the Forester has a higher price ceiling than the RAV4 because of the available turbocharged engine driving up the prices of the top trims. The most affordable Forester you can get with the 2.0-liter engine is $30,410, which is still a pretty strong value.

If you want an AWD compact crossover on a budget, the Forester can offer a better value. If AWD isn't that important to you and safety is a high priority, then the RAV4 is more your speed.

Conclusion

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 and 2018 Subaru Crosstrek both have a lot to offer in the compact crossover segment, but in different areas. Which one is right for you depends on what you're looking for in an SUV. If you're the rugged, outdoorsy type who's planning on spending a lot of time off the beaten path and need an affordable companion, the Subaru Forester might be perfect for you. If you don't think your crossover will leave the pavement very often and you want a nice, modern interior with generous safety tech at a reasonable price point, you should test drive a Toyota RAV4.

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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.
2018 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2018 Subaru Forester: Which Is Better? - Autotrader