Compact crossovers are selling like proverbial hot cakes in the United States. Last year nearly two million of these tall little family vehicles moved off dealer lots.
As should be expected, a booming market segment like this attracts attention. And while some vehicles like the Dodge Journey, Chevrolet Equinox and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport stretch the term ‘compact’ to its limits, nearly every manufacturer has a player on the field; some more than one.
It’s gettin’ kinda hectic in this market. To stay a step ahead, every year a swath of new compact crossovers hits our streets. Notable newcomers this year will be the Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander and, the one that started it all for compact crossovers in North America, the Toyota RAV4. Now entering its fourth iteration, Toyota took the back-to-basics approach when redesigning the 2013 RAV4. The vehicle has marginally shrunk and both the V6 engine and 3rd row seating options have been dropped due to poor uptake. Also, thankfully missing from the 2013 RAV4 is the 4-speed automatic; a new 6-speed unit can be found in its place.
For 2013, Toyota wanted to infuse more life into the RAV4. They have upped the ante when it comes to exterior and interior style, and hoped to add a little fun to the driving dynamics. But how does an “old guard” car like the RAV4 stand up to the new breed of cute ‘utes, particularly the stylish and fun Mazda CX-5.
All new for 2013, the CX-5 charmed its way into the hearts of many with its good looks, well-appointed interior, superb driving dynamics and great fuel economy. It did have one weakness though that kept it from being a homerun; it was dreadfully slow when loaded up. So, for 2014 Mazda has addressed this issue by installing an optional 2.5L SkyActiv four-cylinder engine. This new engine increases power by 29 hp and 35 lb-ft over the base 2.0 L engine. With 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, it also trumps the 2013 RAV4’s 2.5-liter in output by 8 hp and 13 lb-ft. Both vehicles feature 6-speed automatic transmissions.
FUN vs. BORING
Despite the similarities in drivetrain, on-road performance from the two vehicles differs noticeably. As can be expected, with a 25% engine size increase, the power issue in the CX-5 is now a moot point. Despite the fact our 3,532 lb all-wheel drive CX-5 weighed in at 67 lbs over the FWD RAV4, the CX-5 felt significantly faster under wide-open throttle. But that is the only time the CX-5 felt faster. In normal day to day driving, throttle response was noticeably delayed in the CX-5, as was the transmission. The RAV4 seemed more eager to get under way and all gear changes were smoother and more seamless. This made the RAV4 easier to modulate between speeds, thus making it easier to drive. The CX-5 was, however, quieter under all circumstances as the RAV4 can at times emit a peculiar, droning engine note.
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But this segment is more about efficiency than power. Rated at 24 MPG city and 31 MPG highway, the front-wheel drive Toyota RAV4 narrowly beats the all-wheel drive Mazda CX-5’s ratings of 24 MPG city and 30 MPG highway according to the EPA. However, during our real world testing, the CX-5 prevailed averaging 22.6 MPG compared to the RAV4’s less than impressive 19.6 MPG; and remember, the RAV4’s drivetrain was FWD verses the CX-5’s less efficient AWD.
Admittedly an apples to oranges comparison, had both our testers been AWD or FWD, the difference would have been even more significant. For reference, the AWD RAV4 is rated at 22/29, while just a front-drive CX-5 2.5L is 25/32.
The CX-5 also trumps the RAV4 in road manners. It handles better than a compact crossover should, and actually feels fairly neutral for an AWD, front engine, tall, wagon-like thing. The trade-off for this handling prowess is a slightly stiff suspension, but it is still more compliant than the RAV4’s overly harsh setup. The RAV4 does provide better sightlines and is the parking lot champion thanks to this.
SEXY AND SOPHISTICATED vs SPACIOUS AND COMFORTABLE
On the outside, there is no denying that the CX-5 is a good looking vehicle, but it can’t touch the RAV4’s boldness in design. Toyota wanted desperately to have their new RAV4 stand out from the crowd and well, they have succeeded. The front end features chrome accents that stretch from headlight to headlight, but it is the rear where the biggest change occurred. Gone is the trunk mounted spare tire as the RAV4 now has a conventional lift gate featuring a distinct recessed window.
Inside, this ‘boldness’ of design continues for the Toyota. The old, tired, grandparent-sensible RAV4 interior is no more. There is now a stylish dashboard cliff covered in soft touch materials that creates a lot of nooks and crannies for storing various items. It does make some of the lower place buttons hard to reach, but otherwise it is a logically laid out design.
The CX-5 features nicer soft touch materials throughout the dashboard and has a logical layout for all the various controls and screens. When compared to the RAV4, however, it is the one that looks conservative and lacks the clever storage areas found in the Toyota.
|Vehicle||2014 Mazda CX-5||Advantage||2013 Toyota RAV4|
|Engine||2.5L I4||-||2.5L I4|
|Horsepower||184 hp||CX-5||176 hp|
|Max. Torque||185 lb-ft||CX-5||172 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||24 MPG city / 30 MPG hwy||RAV4||24 MPG city / 31 MPG hwy|
|Observed Fuel Economy||22.6 MPG||CX-5||19.6 MPG|
|Rear Leg Room||37.2 in.||RAV4||39.3 in.|
|Cargo Capacity Seats up/ folded||34.1/65.4 cu. ft.||RAV4||38.4 cu. ft/73.4 cu. ft|
|As Tested Price||$26,660||-||$26,165|
COMPARE CARS: 2013 Toyota RAV4 vs 2013 Mazda CX-5
Comfort also favors the RAV4. The front seat is easier to settle into and the backseat feels larger and more comfortable despite offering only 37.2 inches of rear legroom compared to the CX-5’s 39.3 inches. Content wise, the two vehicles were equipped with options missing from its competitor in the mid-trim segment. Exclusive to the CX-5 were rain sensing wipers, a power seat, Pandora radio, push button start, automatic lights and blind spot monitor. The RAV4 however featured satellite radio, GPS and an adjustable length center armrest.
Pricewise these two compact crossovers stack-up competitively. The 2014 Mazda CX-5 Touring with AWD and an automatic transmission rings up at $26,660 after destination. The 2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE FWD, equipped with the optional Display Audio with Navigation and Entune, brings the as tested price to $26,165 after destination. The CX-5 does still offer the smaller 2.0-liter engine on Sport trimmed models and can be had at a base MSRP of $21,195, compared to the RAV4’s starting price of $23,300.
So, in the end, who wins? Well, it is close; much closer than we expected. The RAV4’s mission in life is to be an easy to drive vehicle with a side of excitement. It excels at the former and falls short in the later category. Almost anyone can get comfortable behind the wheel of this crossover thanks to excellent sightlines, linear steering and predictable manoeuvres. For those reasons, it should resonate better with consumers.
Despite all that, we give the nod to the Mazda CX-5. Not only does it feel faster and handle better, but it is also cheaper to get into and more efficient. That, in our books, is enough to eke out the most minor of victories.
2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE