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2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2021 GMC Terrain: Which Is Better?

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 and 2021 GMC Terrain are two compact crossovers competing in a white-hot market segment. Which is better?

Quick Facts

2021 Toyota RAV4

2020 Toyota RAV4Base Price: $27,225 / Read our 2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

What we like: Multiple powertrains including two hybrids, PHEV’s long range, standard active-safety features

What we would change: Increase headroom, quiet the standard engine

Overview: The latest Toyota RAV4 has an expressive exterior design that carries through to the interior, although there are some cheap materials on lower trims. Headroom is tight but passenger room is otherwise good, and cargo space is mid-pack. The RAV4 has an unusually wide range of model variants. The standard RAV4 has a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 203 horsepower, which is good for this segment but just adequate in practice. Engine refinement is lacking. The 2.5L is paired with an 8-speed automatic (preferable to a CVT) and FWD or AWD. The AWD system in the Adventure and TRD Off-Road variants has selectable off-road driving modes and hill-descent control. Fuel economy is 30 mpg (FWD) and 28–30 mpg (AWD). The RAV4 Hybrid with two electric motors is AWD only and musters 219 hp. More notably, its EPA combined rating is 40 mpg. The PHEV RAV4 Prime makes a whopping 302 hp, which more than compensates for its extra weight, zooming to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Impressively, it also can travel 42 miles on battery power alone, which is more than most PHEVs. Recharging takes 12 hours with a 120v source or 4.5 hours with 240v, while an upgraded charger cuts that to 2.5 hours.

What’s new for 2021: The big news for 2021 is the arrival of the plug-in-hybrid RAV4 Prime. The regular RAV4 hybrid, meanwhile, adds a new XLE Premium trim level, and the regular RAV4’s TRD Off-Road trim gets a new front skid plate.

Features and technology: The 2021 Toyota RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid offer LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited grades. The regular RAV4 also has the AWD-only Adventure and TRD Off-Road variants with revised suspension tuning and a more rugged appearance. The Hybrid additionally offers a sporty XSE trim, and the Prime is SE or XSE only. All RAV4s come standard with a solid list of active-safety features: forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-tracing assist (lane-centering), and road-sign recognition. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the LE and standard elsewhere. The infotainment system uses a 7-, 8-, or 9-inch touchscreen depending on trim level, and smartphone mirroring is standard. It all works well with hard keys to jump to main functions, but the graphics look a little dated. A head-up display, a 360-degree-view camera, and a rear camera mirror are available on upper trims.

What does the future hold: The RAV4 is recently revamped, so we don’t expect any changes soon. See 2021 Toyota RAV4 models for sale near you.

2021 GMC Terrain

2021 GMC TerrainBase Price: $26,195 / Read our 2021 GMC Terrain Review

What we like: Upscale Denali trim, user-friendly infotainment

What we would change: Underpowered 1.5-liter engine, small cargo hold, awkward pushbutton gear shifter

Overview: The GMC Terrain shares much with the Chevrolet Equinox, although GMC offers more upscale trim levels such as the deluxe Denali that Chevy can’t match. The sole engine is a 1.5-liter turbo-4 that is a tepid performer with 170 hp. The engine paired with a well-programmed 9-speed automatic that unfortunately uses an awkward pushbutton shifter. Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive are available. EPA fuel-economy estimates are 27 mpg combined (FWD) or 26 mpg (AWD). Precise steering and a composed chassis are highlights. The Terrain is roomy for five, and the interior materials are well-chosen, but luggage space behind the rear seat is less than in many competitors.

What’s new for 2021: The former Driver Alert 1 package has been renamed the Pro Safety Plus package. An option on the SLE and SLT, it includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking assist, and GM’s safety alert seat. The 2.0-liter turbo engine has been dropped.

Features and technology: The Terrain comes in SL, SLE, SLT, and Denali grades. Forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic high-beams are standard. The SL can be had only with front-wheel drive and few options. The SLE mostly unlocks more options including AWD. SLT equipment includes leather, heated front seats, and 18-inch wheels. The SL and SLE get a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while a user-friendly 8-inch unit is found in the top two trims. The SLE and SLT can be dressed up with black exterior accents via the Elevation Edition package. The top-spec Denali comes standard with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, premium audio, a 360-degree camera system, wireless charging, and navigation. But even here, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, and self-parking cost extra.

What does the future hold: GMC is adding a rugged AT4 trim level to the Terrain for 2022, and will also roll out some styling revisions. See 2021 GMC Terrain models for sale near you

RAV4 vs. Terrain: Strengths comparison

Toyota RAV4 Benefits: Hybrid and plug-in-hybrid variants, off-road specialty version, tows up to 3,500 pounds

GMC Terrain Benefits: Standard 9-speed automatic, well-tuned chassis balances ride and handling

2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2021 GMC Terrain: Which is better?

The GMC Terrain is handsome and capable, but the loss of the optional 2.0-liter engine hurts it. The RAV4 has a much broader variety of available models, including the rugged TRD Off-Road, the high-mpg Hybrid, and the PHEV RAV4 Prime. Add excellent reliability, and it’s no wonder the RAV4 is so popular. See 2021 Toyota RAV4 models for sale or See 2021 GMC Terrain models for sale

2021 Toyota RAV4 2021 GMC Terrain
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.5-liter I-4 1.5-liter I-4 turbo
Horsepower 203 hp  at 6,600 rpm 170 hp  at 5,600 rpm
Torque 184 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm 203 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm
Transmission 8-spd automatic 9-spd automatic
Fuel Economy 30 mpg (27 city/35 highway) 27 mpg (26 city/30 highway)
Also Available 2.5-liter I4 hybrid and PHEV; AWD AWD
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 105.9 inches 107.3 inches
Overall Length 180.9 inches 182.3 inches
Width 73.0 inches 72.4 inches
Height 67.0 inches 65.4 inches
Turning Diameter 36.1 feet 37.4 feet
Headroom, Front 37.7 inches 40.0 inches
Headroom, Rear 39.5 inches 38.5 inches
Legroom, Front 41.0 inches 40.9 inches
Legroom, Rear 37.8 inches 39.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 57.8 inches 57.2 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 56.4 inches 55.6 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 98.9 cubic feet 103.2 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 37.5/69.8 cubic feet 29.3/63.3 cubic feet

Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio is an author specializing in automobiles. He says, “I have been into cars ever since I started with Matchboxes, and have been sharing my opinions about them for almost as long. Granted, I was pretty young at the time, but my parents really should have listened to me when I told them not to buy an Austin Marina.”

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