It wasn’t long before Toyota launched a letter our way expressing discontent with the result. And rightfully so. The previous verdict came, in part, because the all-wheel drive CX-5 scored more points in driving dynamics than the front-wheel drive RAV4 Toyota lent us for the shootout. Insisting on a rematch, the brand brought AutoGuide a more comparable model equipped with all-wheel drive.
This time around, the two are not only competing on a more level playing field, but the RAV4 actually has an ace up its proverbial sleeve, sporting a more sophisticated all-wheel drive system.
Naturally, and a little cheekily, we found ourselves at the AutoGuide test track, taking the two compact crossovers for back-to-back laps. Silly nonsense? Maybe, but there was only one question to answer: which one of these sporty compact crossovers truly deserves the driving dynamics crown?
To recap, both vehicles are equipped with automatic transmissions and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines. The CX-5 makes a little more power with 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque to the RAV4’s 176 hp and 172 lb-ft.
In almost every category, the two are about as close as a UFC pre-fight stare down. For example, the RAV4 is only 53 lbs heavier than the CX-5. On average, the two should be within a single mile per gallon of each other; the CX-5 is rated at an average 26 mpg and the RAV4 at 25.
The RAV4 will send power to the rear wheels more readily than the CX-5. Both systems are based on front-wheel drive layouts, but Toyota’s will send power to the back half more readily.
Like many other augmented front-drivers, the CX-5 uses a slip-and-grip approach to governing power distribution. It’s reactive in the CX-5 instead of the RAV4’s proactive approach.
In “sport” mode, the RAV4 sends up to 10 percent of the car’s power to the rear as soon as the steering wheel is turned. That’s important because it means the RAV4 should have a big advantage over the CX-5 while cornering.
If the RAV4 senses understeer, it can send up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels. But the key difference is the ability to have all four wheels powered before entering a turn.
With this impressive technology in its corner, betting on the RAV4 to turn faster laps would seem like a sure thing, but that’ not how things went. It turned out to be a full 1.5 seconds slower than the CX-5.
Mazda really does deserve a pat on the back. The company is a fraction the size of Toyota. It’s presumably operating on a shoestring budget by comparison, yet the CX-5 proved to be quicker.
Track testing these cars makes as much sense as dumping a bowl of tapioca pudding
on your head. Miley Cyrus is more likely to reclaim her dignity after her “twerking” incident than you are to see either of these at a track.
Should the improbable happen, you would notice a few key differences between the two vehicles. Toyota’s all-wheel drive system delivers the goods as promised. While exiting hard corners, you’ll be able to feel the rear end rotate as the car attempts to combat its inherent oversteer. Unfortunately, the push from the rear seems to emphasize the push on the front tires, adding understeer to a package that’s already prone to it.
The RAV4 also feels heavier. While cornering, both vehicles tend to lean left or right more than a “purple” state, but the CX-5 inspires more confidence during hard driving. Its stiff chassis feels less strained than the Toyota product. Both use MacPherson strut front suspensions, but where the RAV4 feels vague and soft, the CX-5 seems comparatively precise.
At an AWD technology disadvantage, the CX-5 had another hurdle to overcome to set the faster lap time. Stability control can’t be turned off.
While the RAV4’s nannies can be fully deactivated to push the car to its limits, the CX-5 will shut down the power early if it detects an overly aggressive slip. Still, in true zoom-zoom fashion Mazda allows plenty of leeway before the electronics click in. If the CX-5 came with a ‘stability control off’ button, the difference between the two cars would be even greater.
Mazda also built a better car to sit in over bumpy sections. That’s because the RAV4’s rear suspension is surprisingly stiff; probably as a low-cost way to enhance handling. As a result, the Mazda doesn’t just feel sportier, it is sportier, and at the same time, more comfortable too.
The CX-5 also pulled ahead with ease during a friendly sprint down the drag strip. There’s no question which car is the winner from a driver’s perspective.
Exterior styling accolades belong to Mazda, but Toyota’s cabin is decidedly more premium. The RAV4 has a little more rear seat leg room and a little more cargo capacity, but otherwise they’re darn close to being doppelgangers.
Pick the CX-5 if you value entertaining driving dynamics and exterior style. If you’re more concerned with cargo space and a stylish cabin, the RAV4 is a better fit – if you can live with the stiff ride.
While the RAV4’s new all-wheel drive system does deliver improvements, the winner in the “sporty department,” and our pick overall, continues to be the CX-5.