- The Toyota RAV4 was all-new for 2019 and adds a TRD Off-Road trim level for 2020.
- The Mazda CX-5 offers three available engines, including a new diesel for 2020.
- The 2020 Toyota RAV4 is functional and economical, while the 2020 Mazda CX-5 focuses on luxury.
Two of the most appealing compact crossovers currently on sale are the 2020 Toyota RAV4 and the 2020 Mazda CX-5. While the RAV4 was fully redesigned for 2019, the CX-5 has been out in its current form since 2017. The CX-5 has quietly moved up the scale in the ensuing years, but the RAV4 comes in more flavors, including two outdoor-oriented models and a sporty hybrid trim, which also happens to be the best performing RAV4 yet. Altogether, the RAV4 is probably the more functional vehicle of the two, while the CX-5’s luxury tilt makes it an excellent value when you cross-shop it against premium compact SUVs, such as the Lexus NX and the Acura RDX. Either way, these two vehicles are at the top of their class, so we’ll compare them in a number of categories below to help you determine which one might be better for your individual needs.
With its recent redesign, the RAV4 took on a rugged demeanor in the vein of Toyota‘s off-road-oriented trucks and SUVs. Mainstream models get a pretty pedestrian-looking grille, while the rugged Adventure model gets a unique matte black grille, plastic wheel-arch cladding and raised roof rails. Step up to the TRD Off-Road model, which is all-new for 2020 and builds on the Adventure package, and you get mild, all-terrain tires more appropriate for tackling a dirt road along with off-road-tuned coil springs and bump stops. There’s also an XSE trim, reserved for the Hybrid model, which comes with its own unique grille, black wheels and a contrasting black roof. See the 2020 Toyota RAV4 models for sale near you
The CX-5 emphasizes luxury, and few people would disagree with you if you called it the best looking compact SUV on sale today. While it’s priced similar to a mainstream vehicle, the CX-5 boasts premium styling with a nearly vertical front fascia, an aggressively sculpted body and narrow headlights and taillights that feature circular elements in their respective lighting signatures. The CX-5 doesn’t have the different appearance packages that the RAV4 has, but it’s a much more upscale vehicle all around. See the 2020 Mazda CX-5 models for sale near you
Inside is more of the same — the RAV4 is functional, while the CX-5 is luxurious. Both vehicles feature their center infotainment screens perched above their respective dashboards. The RAV4 incorporates orange trim on its Adventure-grade model, red trim on the TRD Pro and blue on the Hybrid. A 7-in color display is available for the gauge cluster. One of the best features of the RAV4’s interior is the shelf that runs the width of the dashboard; perfect for stashing phones, sunglasses, toll booth tickets or whatever you need.
The CX-5 uses upscale finishes and touchpoints, such as soft-touch materials and intricate patterns. Basic plastic is kept to a minimum, and vents and surrounds are all finished with silver trim. Another area where the CX-5 differentiates itself is in upholstery. Top-spec Signature models employ brown Nappa leather, modern-looking trim made of real wood and a black headliner, among other things. With what is by far the nicest interior in its segment, it isn’t out of the question to cross-shop the CX-5 with more premium offerings from the likes of Lexus, Acura and Infiniti.
In terms of space, the RAV4 comes with 38 cu ft. of cargo room behind the second row and 70 cu ft. with the second row folded. The CX-5 is a little tighter, offering 31 cu ft. and 60 cu ft., respectively. The CX-5 makes up for its smaller cargo area by offering slightly more second-row legroom than the RAV4.
The 2020 Toyota RAV4 comes with a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder that makes 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. On most trims, the Environmental Protection Agency rates this engine at 26 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in combined driving with front-wheel drive, and 27 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. The rugged Adventure and TRD Off-Road trims, which come with extra components that increase drag, give up about 2 mpg in all categories with standard AWD. Adventure, TRD Off-Road and Limited models also get a more sophisticated AWD system with torque-vectoring capability.
The RAV4 Hybrid also uses a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, but in this case, it’s paired with a hybrid system. Total system output is 219 hp. AWD is standard, and in the Hybrid model, the RAV4’s rear wheels are propelled by electric motors. The EPA has rated the RAV4 Hybrid at 41 mpg city/38 hwy/40 mpg combined.
The CX-5 is available with three different powertrains. Lower-level trims use a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder that makes 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. FWD models with this basic 2.5-liter engine return 25 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined. AWD gets you 24 city/30 hwy/26 combined.
For the 2019 model year, the CX-5 gained a turbocharged 2.5 liter 4-cylinder. The same engine is optional in the Mazda6 and standard in the CX-9. Offered on the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims, the turbo-4 puts out 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque (as long as you fill it with premium). With the turbo (which comes standard with AWD), the CX-5 returns 22 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined.
Finally, new to the CX-5 for 2020 is a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Rumored for years, the CX-5 Skyactiv-D, as Mazda calls it, is really too little too late and offers little to no benefit over the turbocharged model. The CX-5 diesel puts out a paltry 168 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque — both lower figures than the turbocharged gas engine — and returns only 27 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined, which is not enough of an improvement to justify the added cost in our eyes. Altogether, the CX-5 diesel is a tough sell here in 2020, and as a result, dealers are rumored to be offering them at steep discounts. If you want one, act now, as we don’t see the CX-5 diesel being around for too long.
Both of these vehicles come with a good array of technology. The RAV4 can be had with a panoramic sunroof, a 7.0-in gauge cluster display, a JBL-branded premium audio system, wireless charging capability, a foot-activated power lift gate, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a 120V/100W home-style power outlet located in the rear cargo area — great for charging up all of your electronics. The RAV4 now comes with three different drive modes as well: normal, sport and eco. Adventure and TRD Off-Road models come with Multi-Terrain Select, as well. This allows drivers to select between different traction modes, which should help in low-traction situations.
The CX-5’s value is in its upscale interior, but it offers a good array of technology, too. The CX-5 can be had with a Bose audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and power-folding sideview mirrors. Nappa leather is available on the top-spec signature trim, and the available Soul Red Crystal Metallic exterior color is visually stunning to see in person. While a sport mode for the transmission is standard, the CX-5 doesn’t offer any of the different driving or terrain modes available on the RAV4. The CX-5’s infotainment screen is controlled primarily via a rotary dial located on the center console. It also offers touchscreen functionality, but only when the vehicle is stopped.
Both vehicles also come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
For their performance in crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the RAV4 and CX-5 both earn Top Safety Pick+ designations — the Institute’s highest award.
Both vehicles also come with an array of standard and available active safety features. Standard on both are automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is standard on the CX-5 and optional on the RAV4.
The 2020 Toyota RAV4 has a starting price of $26,970 when you factor in delivery and destination fees, while fully-loaded Limited and TRD Off-Road models will exceed $41,000. Hybrids require about a $2,200 premium.
As far as gas-powered models go, the 2020 Mazda CX-5 starts at $26,135 for a FWD base model and approaches $39,000 for the AWD Signature trim, which comes with the turbocharged engine. The seldom-seen CX-5 diesel carries an MSRP of about $43,000, but current dealer discounts can bring that figure down by as much as $10,000.
The Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 are clearly two of the best vehicles in the compact SUV segment, and both are deserving of a spot on any list of the best all-around vehicles on sale today. That said, they go about things in different ways. The RAV4 is slightly more modern and takes a more functional approach. Its available hybrid and outdoor-oriented trim levels will appeal to buyers in ways that the CX-5 can’t, and Toyota’s reputation for great reliability should contribute to slightly better resale value. The CX-5, on the other hand, is essentially a luxury car at an economy car price and presents exceptional overall value. It’s refined in ways that most vehicles at its price point are not and is worthy of comparison with everything from the RAV4 to the more upscale Lexus NX. Find a Toyota RAV4 for sale or Find a Mazda CX-5 for sale