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Many American drivers love the affordability and flexible interior of a small crossover. For years, the Subaru Forester has remained popular among drivers who prefer an outdoor lifestyle. A rugged design and ample cargo space make the Forester ready for an adventurous trip. It’s also practical enough to be an everyday family hauler. Furthermore, few models in the class can match the Forester’s extensive list of advanced safety technologies.
Another well-liked model is the 2020 Toyota RAV4. It’s reliable, stylish, and loaded with a lot of standard equipment. For 2020, Toyota has welcomed a more adventurous TRD Off-Road trim into the lineup. In this comparison test, we’ll find out whether the 2020 Subaru Forester or the 2020 Toyota RAV4 deserves the crown.
In previous years, the Subaru Forester was offered with an exciting turbocharged engine. However, that’s no longer the case. All trims now feature Subaru’s naturally aspirated 2.5-liter, boxer four-cylinder engine. It has been designed to push out 182 horsepower. With the Forester’s manual transmission being discontinued in 2018, drivers must now settle for an automatic CVT.
Powering the Toyota RAV4 is also a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. It generates a solid 203 horsepower. The overwhelming majority of SUVs in the segment have a less potent base engine. An eight-speed automatic transmission effectively manages the RAV4’s power.
Despite having a noticeable advantage in horsepower, the RAV4 isn’t much quicker than the Forester. While the RAV4 dashes to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, the Forester hits the mark in 8.5 seconds. Some test drivers have noticed that the RAV4’s engine tends to sound a bit loud and unrefined under hard acceleration. Regardless of which one of these SUVs a person decides to choose, they should have no trouble easing onto a fast-moving freeway.
Automotive testers were impressed with the Forester’s continuous variable transmission. It actually makes the Forester feel more responsive when accelerating from one traffic light to the next. While the RAV4’s traditional automatic transmission shifts quickly, it’s not as smooth.
One of the RAV4’s biggest advantages is its 3,500-pound maximum towing capacity. It will have no issues towing a couple of ATVs or a small speed boat. Meanwhile, Subaru gives the Forester a 1,500-pound tow rating.
These crossover SUVs offer strong fuel economy. According to the EPA, drivers can expect the RAV4 to deliver up to 28 mpg town/35 mpg freeway. By comparison, the Forester returns 26 mpg town/33 mpg freeway. Regular unleaded gasoline is recommended for both the RAV4 and the Forester.
When it comes to handling on the street, the RAV4 and the Forester are an extremely close match. They offer the smooth handling of a compact sedan. This is a big plus for folks who don’t want an SUV that drives like a pickup truck. Easy steering also helps ensure good maneuverability in tight spaces.
These modern crossovers can churn through the mud and snow. The RAV4’s all-new TRD Off-Road trim features all-terrain tires and a trail-tuned suspension. However, all versions of the new Forester come prepared to hit the trails. Subaru’s standard Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system and 8.7 inches of standard ground clearance make the Forester more capable than the typical crossover. It also features an adventurous X-Mode button, which automatically improves grip on more challenging terrain.
Another one of the Forester’s bright spots is its excellent braking system. Tests show the Forester has a 60-0 mph braking distance of 118 feet. This means the RAV4 can stop just as quickly as the average family sedan. While the RAV4’s 60-0 mph braking distance of 126 feet isn’t bad, drivers can expect the Forester to inspire just a bit more confidence during emergencies.
Many car shoppers recognize Toyota for producing reliable cars, trucks, and SUVs. The new 2020 Toyota RAV4 is expected to be a trustworthy vehicle. In J.D. Power’s predicted reliability test, it gives the RAV4 a 3.0 out of 5.0 score. A fairly poor 2.0 out of 5.0 rating puts the 2020 Subaru Forester behind the pack.
These crossovers offer the same amount of warranty protection. While their bumper-to-bumper warranties last for 36,000 miles, a 60,000-mile warranty covers the powertrain. However, Toyota goes a step further by providing free factory-recommended maintenance for the first 25,000 miles.
Like the 2020 Subaru Forester, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 is easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. Its four-wheel independent suspension keeps the ride smooth on most surfaces. However, drivers will find the Forester to have an even better ride quality. A refined suspension helps the Forester to softly absorb bumps.
Drivers who prefer a whisper-quiet ride will also favor the new Subaru Forester. Sound-deadening interior materials and excellent insulation help to shield outside noise. The Toyota RAV4 is louder on the inside. At highway speeds, it allows more tire and wind noise to enter the cabin. At times, harsh sounds can also be heard from the RAV4’s engine.
Both of these five-passenger crossovers are made for families. This is a big plus for drivers who need a multi-purpose vehicle. However, the Forester is the roomier of these two SUVs. While it has a total passenger volume of 111.9 cubic feet, the RAV4 provides 98.9 cubic feet of passenger space.
When resting in the Forester’s backseat, passengers will have an extra 1.6 inches to extend their legs. There’s also noticeably more head- and legroom in the front of the Forester. This could be a key attraction for taller drivers. The only downside to the Forester is the position of its center console, which can rub against your leg.
In terms of overall seat comfort, the Subaru Forester topples the Toyota RAV4. Its seats provide just the right combination of support and softness. While the RAV4’s seats aren’t uncomfortable, they feel less cushioned.
On paper, the RAV4 provides the most cargo space. It provides 37.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, which is more than the Forester’s 35.4 cubic feet of rear storage space. However, a lower load floor makes it easy to toss hiking and biking gear into the Forester.
The Forester offers great outward visibility. This fact can be attributed to the SUV’s boxy design. Not only will drivers have a clear view of the road, but they’ll also be able to easily check their blind spots for other vehicles. While forward visibility in the RAV4 is good, a narrow rear window creates a few more rear blind spots.
Easy-to-use interior controls make these SUVs more rewarding to drive every day. Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system is especially simple to operate. Even smartphone integration proves to be an effortless task. However, large on-screen buttons and large physical knobs make Toyota’s Entune infotainment system nearly just as easy to use.
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Based on their crash scores, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 and the 2020 Subaru Forester are among the safest small crossovers in America. They both snagged a five-star overall safety rating from the feds. Nonetheless, better front driver-side protection gives the Forester an advantage over the new RAV4.
Fortunately, both SUVs also received good crash scores from the IIHS. However, only the Forester received the organization’s best-in-class Top Safety Pick+ rating.
Even the least expensive versions of these two crossovers receive active safety technologies, including pre-collision braking and lane departure prevention. However, a convenient Lead Vehicle Start Alert feature is exclusive to the Forester. This standard technology tells you when the next vehicle ahead has started to move forward. It’s a big help in heavy traffic. While automatic high beams are standard on the RAV4, they’re not found on the base Forester.
Both vehicles offer blind-spot monitoring and reverse automatic braking as options. An advanced DriverFocus system is offered on the Forester. It uses an infrared camera and facial recognition software to monitor the driver’s level of awareness. While both SUVs are mandated by the government to have a standard backup camera, only the RAV4 offers a surround-view parking camera. Toyota also offers a rear camera mirror for the RAV4, which is designed to minimize blind spots.
Which has the Best Value?
The 2020 Subaru Forester’s MSRP begins at $24,500. Meanwhile, prices for the 2020 Toyota RAV4 start at $25,850. However, available incentives could decrease the RAV4’s price difference. Both base models are considered to be strong values.
When looking at the list of standard equipment, car shoppers will notice that the RAV4 has just a few advantages. Unlike the Forester, it provides a standard Wi-Fi hotspot. Families will appreciate being able to connect to the web at any location. Both vehicles receive advanced smartphone support, satellite radio, and as standard equipment. However, an extra USB port is found on the base Forester.
The range-topping Forester Touring goes head-to-head against the RAV4 Limited. While the Forester Touring has a listed MSRP of $34,600, the RAV4 Limited has an estimated cost of $34,380. Buyers will enjoy heated front seats, an upgraded sound system, and navigation. While a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats are standard on the Forester Touring, these features are optional on the RAV4 Limited. Keep in mind that ventilated seats are only offered on the RAV4 Limited.
Which is Better?
These vehicles are neck and neck in several categories. Drivers who need an affordable family vehicle with ample cargo and passenger space can’t go wrong by choosing either SUV. There’s definitely not a huge difference in cost. While the Subaru Forester has a slightly lower starting price, this shouldn’t impact the decision of most people. Nevertheless, Subaru’s standard AWD system is a perk for folks living in the Snowbelt. Toyota tacks on an additional $1,400 for the RAV4’s all-wheel-drive system.
When it comes to performance and driving fun, neither SUV has a clear-cut advantage over the other. While these SUVs are obviously not made for racing, they accelerate quickly enough to get the job done. Fuel economy is the primary focus.
Fortunately, adventure-seeking families can take these SUVs off-roading. The all-new RAV4 Off-Road is nearly just as capable as the Subaru Forester. However, Subaru’s X-Mode feature does help to further reduce the likelihood of becoming stuck on a muddy trail.
When viewing these crossovers beside each other, the Toyota RAV4 clearly looks more aggressive. Some car shoppers will prefer the RAV4’s meaner appearance. However, most people will find the Forester to be handsome enough. Orange accents and upsized wheels help give the Forester Sport some extra flair.
The 2020 Subaru Forester wins this comparison by just a small margin. While its softer ride and plushier seats ensure greater comfort, a standard AWD system prepares the Forester to face adverse weather. However, below-average reliability will scare some people away from the Forester. A 3,500-pound tow rating also gives car shoppers more reason to choose the 2020 Toyota RAV4.