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

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Chris O'Neill October 2018
  • 2018 Toyota RAV4 is available with a Hybrid powertrain and in Adventure trim level.

  • 2018 Subaru Outback offers 2.6 more inches of ground clearance than RAV4 does.

  • An all-new RAV4 goes on sale for 2019.

The Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Outback are two of the most popular compact SUVs on the market. The Outback was all new for 2015, while the RAV4 was last fully redesigned for the 2013 model year. As these are two of the most trusted SUVs on the market, we'll compare the two below to help determine which is a better buy now in 2018.

Basic Specs

The RAV4 last received a full redesign for the 2013 model year and was updated for the 2016 model year. While an all-new RAV4 will be released for 2019, this comparison will focus on the outgoing 2018 model. The 2018 RAV4 comes standard with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. A Hybrid variant is offered, pairing that same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a hybrid system to produce a combined output of 194 hp and 216 lb-ft of torque.

Non-hybrid variants earn 26 miles per gallon combined with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive models earn 24 mpg. The Hybrid model earns 32 mpg combined -- a rather impressive figure considering it comes standard with AWD. Since it costs such a small price premium, we highly recommend opting for the more efficient Hybrid model.

Hybrid models feature a continuously variable transmission, while all other variants come with a 6-speed automatic. The 2018 Toyota RAV4 starts at $24,660 and reaches almost $38,000 in the fully loaded Platinum configuration.

The Subaru Outback was released for the 2015 model year. Derived from the Legacy sedan, the Outback features a wagon body style and an increased ride height. AWD is standard, and two engines are offered. Most examples you see on the road are fitted with a basic 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque and earning 22 mpg combined. Those wanting more power can opt for the 3.6R, which comes with a 3.6-liter horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engine making 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, earning 28 mpg combined. All Subaru Outbacks come equipped with a continuously variable transmission.

The Outback has a base price of $26,345 and reaches around $40,000 in the fully loaded 3.6R Touring guise.

Reliability

Both the Outback and the RAV4 are generally reliable vehicles. Toyota and Subaru both offer a 3-year, 36,000-mile basic warranty and a 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty, on par with the rest of the industry.

Dimensions

The Outback is 189.6 inches long, 72.4 inches wide, 66.1 inches tall and offers a rather impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance. The RAV4 is a little smaller. It's 183.5 inches long, 72.6 inches wide, 65.9 inches tall and has only 6.1 inches of ground clearance.

The interior dimensions of the Outback are slightly larger as well. Front seat Outback occupants get 40.8 inches of headroom and 42.9 inches of legroom. In the back seat, the Outback offers 38.9 inches of headroom and 38.1 inches of legroom. The RAV4 offers 39.8 inches of headroom and 42.6 inches of legroom in the front. Second row passengers get 38.9 inches of headroom and 37.2 inches of legroom.

The Outback and the RAV4 offer similar cargo capacities. The Outback offers 36 cu ft. of storage behind the second row, while the RAV4 offers an additional two feet for a total of 38 cu ft. With their second rows folded, both vehicles offer 73 cu ft.

Features

When it comes to features, neither of these vehicles have many surprises. The RAV4 comes standard with a tilt-telescopic steering column and can be had with heated seats, a heated steering wheel, premium audio, a power and memory driver's seat, and a foot swipe-activated power rear lift gate. SE models introduce a sport-tuned suspension and leather seats, while Hybrid models get redesigned gauges that help drivers monitor their efficiency. An Adventure trim level is available that adds simple off-road elements like a 1-in lift, beefier tires and rubber floor mats.

The Outback likewise offers a tilt-telescopic steering column and can be had with a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and heated rear seats, power driver's and passenger's seats, a memory driver's seat, premium audio, and a power tailgate. The Outback also offers a party trick on its roof: It hides crossbars in its roof rails that can be deployed when needed, and stowed when not needed.

Interior

Like most Toyota products, the RAV4's interior is robust and durable, but the design is busy and dated, lacking that premium feel. It isn't a surprise that the RAV4 will be fully redesigned for 2019 -- it's due. Still, a variety of colors and seating surfaces are available, including gray, black and brown simulated leather.

The Outback offers a slightly more upscale interior, although it's still far from the nicest in the segment. Like the Legacy, the Outback employs a symmetrical design, considerably different from the RAV4's 2-tier center stack. Black, gray or beige fabric is offered on lower-end models, while the high-end Touring models come with luxe brown leather.

Infotainment

Base model RAV4s are fitted with a basic 6.1-in touchscreen, while higher trim levels come with a 7.0-in unit. Unfortunately, Toyota's Entune infotainment system is dated and laggy; the RAV4 lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The RAV4 offers one USB port.

Base Outbacks come with a 6.5-in infotainment screen, while all other models get a new-for-2018 8.0-in screen. Every single Outback offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The Outback comes with four USB ports in all but the base trim.

Safety

Both the Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Outback perform well in crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. While the RAV4 earns a Top Safety Pick designation, the Outback earns a Top Safety Pick Plus designation, scoring top marks in every single category.

Both the Outback and RAV4 offer a bevy of driver-assistance features. Standard on the RAV4 are adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward-collision warning, front automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors are optional. The Outback offers available adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitoring, forward-collision warning, front and rear automated emergency braking, and lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist.

In sum, the Outback performs slightly better in crash testing, while the RAV4 offers standard driver-assistance features and available front and rear parking sensors.

Autotrader's Advice

Subaru owners tend to love their cars, and models like the Outback are so popular that Subaru often has trouble keeping up with demand. Since it's a newer vehicle than the RAV4 and offers superior design and driving dynamics, we recommend the Outback over the outgoing RAV4. Still, as your desired Outback may be difficult to come by, you can't go wrong with a RAV4, and there will likely be deals on outgoing 2018 models as dealers make room for the all-new 2019 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 Outback: Which Is Better? - Autotrader