The Toyota RAV4 was the best-selling non-truck in the U.S. in 2018
Both vehicles offer a good array of standard and optional active safety features
The 2020 Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester are two of the leading SUVs on the market. Both were fully redesigned for 2019. The RAV4 last year held onto its crown as the best-selling non-truck in the United States, while the Forester also sells in respectable numbers and remains a favorite among those who perceive Subarus to be rugged. Below we’ll compare the RAV4 and Forester in a number of categories to determine which is a better buy in 2020.
Neither of these vehicles wears revolutionary exterior styling. Both stick with the same two-box SUV design (one ‘box’ for the hood area, a second ‘box’ for the greenhouse) ubiquitous to the segment. That said, the RAV4 offers more variation to its styling through the offering of different trim levels and powertrains. In Adventure and TRD Off-Road guise, the RAV4 gets a unique front-end treatment with a rugged-looking black plastic grille and additional body cladding. The Adventure and TRD Off-Road models also get taller, more functional roof rails and unique interior trims. The TRD Off-Road adds to the equation mild all-terrain tires, black 18-in wheels and an off-road tuned suspension. The RAV4’s Hybrid model comes with a chrome grille, while the sporty XSE Hybrid gets additional unique trim pieces. Finally, the RAV4’s special trims are available with a unique contrast roof: white on the Adventure and TRD Off-Road models and black on the XSE Hybrid. See the 2020 Toyota RAV4 models for sale near you
The Forester offers a somewhat unique trim level in its Sport model, which comes with orange exterior stickers but no other real changes. See the 2020 Subaru Forester models for sale near you
The RAV4’s interior feels more modern than the Subaru’s. The RAV4 employs a number of clever, charming design elements, like a storage shelf that runs the width of the dashboard and big, knobby HVAC controls on the center stack. There’s also a number of different interior color combinations, highlights of which include orange accents on the Adventure model, red on the TRD Off-Road and blue on the Hybrid. While the RAV4’s infotainment screen sits atop the dashboard, the Forester’s is integrated into the center stack itself. In its top-of-the-line Touring trim, the Forester gets brown perforated leather upholstery.
The regular RAV4 uses a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that puts out 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. In front-wheel-drive guise, this powertrain returns an EPA-rated 26 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in combined driving. With all-wheel drive, those figures dip to 27 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined. Adventure and Limited models return 25 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined, while the TRD Off-Road comes in at 25 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined. Adventure, TRD Off-Road and Limited models use a unique AWD system with torque-vectoring capability. An 8-speed automatic is the only transmission offered.
The RAV4 Hybrid uses a similar version of the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder paired with a hybrid component. AWD is standard on the RAV4 Hybrid, and functions via two electric motors that drive the rear wheels. Altogether, the RAV4 Hybrid puts out 219 hp and returns EPA fuel economy figures of 41 mpg city/38 mpg hwy/40 mpg combined. As in many hybrids, it has a continuously variable transmission.
The Forester offers just one powertrain and comes standard with AWD. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy comes in at 26 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined. The Forester uses an automatic CVT.
As far as towing capacity goes, the RAV4 Adventure and TRD Off-Road models are capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds: an impressive figure for a compact SUV. The Forester is rated at up to 1,500 pounds.
Mid- to top-tier trim levels of the Forester and RAV4 both come with an 8-in infotainment screen, while lower-end trims get a slightly smaller screen. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard on both vehicles.
Active safety features are abundant on both the Forester and RAV4. Both vehicles come with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control as standard. Also standard on the RAV4 are automatic high beams, a lane tracing feature, a sway warning system, road edge detection and traffic sign recognition. Aside from blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic detection (which is just a $590 option on even the base model), the RAV4 offers basically all the active safety features you could want as standard. The Forester requires you to move to upper trim levels to get some of the more sophisticated active safety features that come standard on the RAV4. The Forester is unique in that it offers a feature that will alert you if the vehicle ahead of you at a red light or in traffic has started moving again.
Both vehicles perform well in crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning top marks across the board.
Other options available on the RAV4 include a panoramic sunroof, a 7-in gauge cluster display, a wireless charging pad, premium audio, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a foot-activated power liftgate. Different drive modes are offered across the board. Outdoor-oriented models get a version of Toyota’s clever Multi-Terrain Select system.
The Forester can be had with many of the same features, including a panoramic roof, a heated steering wheel, premium audio and different traction modes. Heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel are also offered but ventilated seats are not. Other features offered on the Forester include a PIN code access system, steering responsive headlights and different drive modes.
Factoring in destination fees, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 carries a base price of just under $27,000 and tops out at about $42,000 for a fully loaded TRD Off-Road model. The 2020 Forester starts at $25,505 — again, factoring in destination fees — and tops out at about $36,000 for a loaded Touring model.
Altogether, if you’re looking for a compact SUV in a mid-tier trim level, either of these SUVs will do the job, as both are thoroughly modern and are among the more competitive offerings in their segment. That said, if you’re looking for a unique powertrain or a more adventurous aesthetic, the RAV4 offers more choice. It’s available with an optional hybrid powertrain that returns significantly better fuel economy than the non-hybrid model, while also offering more power. And it’s offered in two outdoor-oriented trim levels in the Adventure and TRD Off-Road models, the latter of which is the only trim level out of either of these two vehicles that offers appropriate tires for long-distance, off-road travel. On top of that, the RAV4 offers a better interior than the Forester and a better powertrain, regardless of whether you go with the Hybrid or not. For that reason, we think the RAV4 will make a slightly more exciting choice for most buyers than the Forester, and it gets the nod in this comparison. Find a Toyota RAV4 for sale or Find a Subaru Forester for sale