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2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2021 Mazda CX-5: Which Is Better?

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 and the 2021 Mazda CX-5 are both compact crossovers in a highly competitive segment.  Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The 2021 Toyota RAV4 recently added a plug-in-hybrid version to its lineup.
  • The 2021 Mazda CX-5 gets a new “Carbon Editon” model this year, which gives it a special appearance package.

2021 Toyota RAV4

2020 Toyota RAV4 Front Driver Side in Hunter Green

Base 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; make the standard engine quieter

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 continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) — and front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (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 plug-in hybrid (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 a fully depleted battery takes 12 hours with a 120-volt (Level 1) source or 4.5 hours with 240 volts (Level 2), 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 PHEV RAV4 Prime. Meanwhile, the regular RAV4 hybrid 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 additional 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 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 Mazda CX-5

2021 Mazda CX-5 Front Passenger Side in Metallic Grey

Base price: $26,315 / Read our 2021 Mazda CX-5 Review

What we like: Sharp looks, sporty handling, optional turbocharged upgrade engine.  

What we would change: The ride could be a bit smoother, and the infotainment system is sometimes unnecessarily complicated. We would also add a hybrid option.

Overview: There’s a lot to like about the 2021 Mazda CX-5, from its attractive styling to its sporty and entertaining driving manners and its abundant standard safety features. Sometimes we feel the ride could be smoother,  and the rear quarters can feel a bit cramped for more than two.

What’s new for 2021: Trim levels increase from five to seven; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on all models; 10.25-inch center display; standard off-road braking assist on all-wheel-drive models; Standard Mazda Connected Services; Signature Trim gets smart rear braking and a 360-degree monitor.

Features and technology: There are an impressive seven trim levels for the 2021 Mazda CX-5, up from five in 2020. Impressively equipped right out of the gate, the base Sport model comes standard with a 10.25-inch center display, 17-inch alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB ports, LED lights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Other features include a push-button starter and an electric parking brake. The Sport gets Off-Road Traction assist with all-wheel drive, which brakes individual wheels in slippery off-road conditions. Other features include smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

Up from that, the Touring model adds dual-zone automatic climate control, rear USB ports, a six-speaker stereo, and an auto-leveling feature for the headlights. The new-for-2021 Touring Preferred SV model adds leather upholstery, a 10-speaker Bose audio system, a power moonroof, and power front seats.

Another new trim for 2021 is the Carbon Edition, similar to the Touring Preferred SV but with different paint, black 19-inch wheels, and different trim both inside and out. The Carbon Edition is also available with the 2.5-liter turbo.

Next up is the Grand Touring model, with leather upholstery, paddle shifters, satellite radio, and a 10-speaker Bose audio system. The Grand Touring comes with the standard engine, but the Grand Touring Reserve adds the turbo and a head-up display.

At the top is the Signature, with Nappa leather seats, smart rear braking, a 360-degree surround-view camera, and Sirius XM satellite radio.

What does the future hold: We’re hoping for more refinements to the ride and possibly a hybrid option. See the 2021 Mazda CX-5 models for sale near you

RAV4 vs. CX-5: Strengths comparison

Toyota RAV4 Benefits: Hybrid and plug-in variants; off-road version; better resale

Mazda CX-5 Benefits: Optional turbo engine upgrade; sharp styling; fun-to-drive

2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2021 Mazda CX-5: Which is better?

While the Mazda CX-5 is fun to drive and offers plenty of sportiness, the infotainment system is a bit clunky, and the resale isn’t nearly as strong as the Toyota RAV4. The RAV4 also beats the CX-5 in optional fuel-efficient versions since there is no hybrid or plug-in hybrid variant.

Find a 2021 Toyota RAV4 for sale or Find a Mazda CX-5 for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 Toyota RAV4 2021 Mazda CX-5
Engine 2.5-liter I4 2.5-liter I4
Horsepower 203 hp @ 6,600 rpm 187 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm 186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission 8-spd automatic 6-spd automatic
Fuel Economy 30 mpg (27 city/35 hwy) 28 mpg (25 city/31 hwy)
Also Available Hybrid, PHEV; AWD 2.5-liter turbo I4; 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 Safety Rating 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 105.9 inches 106.2 inches
Overall Length 180.9 inches 179.1 inches
Width 73.0 inches 72.5 inches
Height 67.0 inches 65.4 inches
Turning Diameter 36.1 feet 36.0 feet
Headroom, Front 39.5 inches 39.7 inches
Headroom, Rear 39.5 inches 39.0 inches
Legroom, Front 41.0 inches 41.0 inches
Legroom, Rear 37.8 inches 39.6 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 57.8 inches 57.1 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 56.4 inches 54.8 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 98.9 cubic feet 103.6 cubic feet
Cargo Volume 37.6/69.8 cubic feet 59.6 cubic feet



Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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