2020 Subaru Outback vs Toyota RAV4
Your old vehicle just ain't cutting it these days, is it? Or perhaps you have been without one for a little while. 2020 is actually a great year for new SUVs, and you can find a good line-up of moderately sized ones that have some serious crossover appeal. In fact, we have two top contenders in that bracket to look at here: the 2020 Subaru Outback and the 2020 Toyota RAV4.
The RAV4 has an impressively quiet ride quality and offers a ton of cargo space for a vehicle in this class. Things are pretty straightforward and user-friendly in terms of controls, which makes for a short learning curve for the driver. The drawbacks? The sole powertrain option is kind of a snooze, the front passenger seat is not too comfy, and the vague steering system makes it easy for the driver to miscalculate their inputs.
And what of the Outback? This once-station wagon has been redesigned for the model year but does not lose its wagon-like vibe that drivers enjoy. The interior offers a ton of space and is packed to the brim with comfort. An optional turbocharged engine serves up a fantastic amount of power, and the loading roof and cargo area are easy to pack up due to the way they are built. Also, the Outback is a capable off-roader without needing a lot of extra features thanks to its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive (referred to from here on out as AWD and its counterpart on the RAV4, front-wheel drive, as FWD).
The Outback does have a few issues, including a large center touchscreen that takes away small item storage spaces. The turbo XT variants compromise ride comfort for all that extra power, and all trims have a touchscreen with buttons for the climate control system that are way too small.
So, which SUV is the right one for you? Which one has the better powertrain? Is one more drive-able than the other? Is one safer than the other? We will go over all of these factors as, in the end, we will consider which has the most value and is the overall best buy. Buckle up and take a ride with us as we go into detail about the 2020 Subaru Outback and 2020 Toyota RAV4!
The 2020 Toyota RAV4 is powered by just one powertrain option, as we have already mentioned. The engine is a 2.5-L 4-cylinder, and it is matched up with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Together, these elements drudge up 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, for a vehicle like this, that just is not a lot, and the RAV4 is left feeling underpowered. FWD comes standard on all but the Adventure trim level, which gets AWD equipped. AWD variants can get a TRD Off-roading package, and any trim level can get AWD swapped in (for an extra cost, of course).
Meanwhile, the 2020 Subaru Outback gets standard AWD, as is the case with all Subaru vehicles. It comes with a base 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine that gets paired up with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This powertrain generates 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. If you want a nice power boost, go for one of the XT variants. These come with a 2.4-L 4-cylinder engine that gets 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque.
What makes a vehicle worthy of being driven? Quite a few factors go into what makes a vehicle enjoyable (or not-so-enjoyable) to drive. Consider how much power output the vehicle creates, how comfy the ride is, how well the interior is constructed, what kind of technology is equipped and how function it is, and how much utility it possesses. We will consider all of these factors as we examine the RAV4 and Outback.
That being said, let us start with analyzing the 2020 Toyota RAV4. As we've already said several times, its engine is lackluster in terms of performance. While it does just fine around town, on the highway, it feels slow to accelerate. You will have to take extra care while merging or passing someone else. It can only get from 0 to 60 mph in around 9.1 seconds, which is a sluggish showing for this segment. And, of course, the vagueness of the steering makes it easy for the driver to incorrectly judge their inputs. The optional AWD upgrade has an improved torque vectoring system and advanced traction control will hill descent control and terrain settings that you can select between.
When it comes to comfort, the RAV4 has a nicely tuned suspension that is able to absorb a lot of bumps in the road surface without ever feeling like it is going to float away. The front seats are designed for comfort, but the seat bottoms feel kind of flat as you take long rides in them. The passenger's seat is not very adjustable either. The vehicle remains quiet on the highway save for when you press the pedal to the metal. The burst you get from the engine sounds pretty rough. At least the air flows well throughout the cabin!
The interior has a lot going for it. You get excellent outward visibility thanks to the wide glass and slender roof pillars. The controls are well marked and easy to use, and the door openings are wide enough for easy entry and exit from the vehicle. The front passenger seat is placed too high, and taller drivers will likely want more adjustability from the driver's seat.
The RAV4 has a fair amount of technology that functions well, but it has some issues too. The rubber climate control knobs are a nice touch, but the automatic climate control buttons on the touchscreen are way too small, making it hard for the driver to press them while driving. And the touchscreen itself is outside of the driver's reach, and its graphics quality leaves something to be desired.
Storage inside of the RAV4 is decent enough with its 37.5 cubic feet of cargo space. This number maxes out to 69.8 cubes when you take the rear seats down. The low cargo floor makes for easy loading, and the LATCH system is accessible if you need to install child car safety seats. You can easily tether up to three anchors, but placing a rear-facing child seat behind the front passenger is problematic since that seat lacks so much adjustability.
Now, what about the 2020 Subaru Outback? We'll be honest, the base engine is not that great. It takes over 8 seconds to get from 0 to 60 mph, but the turbo engine definitely does a lot better and is the better decision. The CVT shifts gears smoothly, never spending time searching or feeling clunky. Body roll feels controlled enough, but you will feel some while rounding through turns. Steering always feels on center and gives you plenty of feedback through the wheel. And, with that 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard AWD, you can feel secure when taking this vehicle off of the beaten path.
Inside of the vehicle, you will experience a ton of comfort. The front seats are soft but come with plenty of lateral and lumbar support. Their excellent bolstering means they feel great over the course of a long ride. The ride quality is great too; a few vibrations will get in, but they get quickly dispatched without the vehicle starting to feel like it will drift off. Overall, the ride is controlled and compliant with your commands. The only downside is that the climate control system's settings are difficult to change on the touchscreen display. But the system works well at actually distributing air flow.
The seats are easy to adjust as needed even though they are not as upright as they are in regular SUVs. (This is a carry-over from the Outback's wagon days.) There is plenty of head and leg space in the rear, and the entire cabin has an open feeling to it. The large windows make for expansive outward visibility and diminished blind spots. The controls that are routed through the touchscreen are distracting since they are so slow to respond. You will have to look through numerous menus just to change your navigation settings.
Technology is hit-and-miss here. The stereo system sounds delightful, and there are plenty of charging ports to go around. It is best to skip the optional 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen since it takes forever to do anything and renders the bottom half of the screen useless when using the top half for smartphone app integration. Built-in voice command struggles to even recognize simple requests. Best to stick to your smartphone.
Storage on the Outback is slightly limited by the reduced cargo space (as this is essentially a lifted wagon), but the cargo floor is flat so that you can easily load an unload items. Installing gear on the roof is simple too since the ride height is not that high. There are a lot of clever storage areas for smaller items, but they aren't the biggest out there. The center console is also smaller than what you will find in other SUVs.
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Safety is, quite naturally, a major concern for buyers and automakers. Subaru and Toyota have done a lot to improve safety features and ratings over the years, but you still need to know what they've got going on before you decide to buy. Knowing what features are included and how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (better known as NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (referred to as IIHS) rate their crash test performances.
The 2020 Toyota RAV4 has a lot of standard driver aids bundled in with Toyota Safety Sense. You get an adaptive cruise control system that functions all the way to 0 mph, which is not something you will find on any ol' system. There is also automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, a nifty lane tracing feature, automatic high beams, and a feature that detects when the driver starts to become drowsy or distracted.
NHTSA has given the RAV4 an overall 5-star rating, but it lost a star each on the front driver and overall front crash tests. Recalls as of the time of writing this include the engine possibly leaking coolant, loss of electric power steering, and the front lower suspension arms coming apart. IIHS gave the RAV4 "Good" ("G") ratings on everything but the headlights. Lower trim level headlights received "Marginal" (""M") or "Poor" ("P") scores for showing too much glare.
The 2020 Subaru Outback has a lot of driver aids packed in as well. It comes with the Subaru Eyesight bundle of driver aids. The problem it has is that some of the notifications are intrusive and beep a lot. NHTSA gave the Outback a 5-star overall rating with only one star lost on the rollover test. Recalls include one for a loose or missing brake pedal mounting bracket bolt. Complaints include a crack that shows up mysteriously on the windshield, which is happening on other Subarus this model year. IIHS named it a 2020 Top Safety Pick Plus, giving it "G" grades on all but the lower trim levels' headlights.
Which Has the Best Value
When it comes to value, both vehicles have some. The RAV4 has an EPA estimated 27-30 mpg combined depending on which configuration you get. When loaded up and driven for thousands of miles by testers, the EPA estimate held up at a combined 28.6 mpg. The interior is well-built, and there are a lot of physical controls. If you get the simulated leather, you will appreciate how soft it feels. The 2-year/25,000-mile free scheduled maintenance plan is pretty generous too. But a lot of features and design elements leave more to be desired.
The Outback has an EPA estimate of 29 mpg combined on the base engine, but in the real world, it comes out to about 20 mpg because of how underpowered the engine is. The XTs also do get pricier but provide with a better power output. It still offers a lot of value with a decent warranty and well-crafted interior padded with comfort.
Which is Better?
Overall, the 2020 Subaru Outback has the edge over the 2020 Toyota RAV4 since it offers more power from a turbocharged powertrain option and has more adjustability to the front seats. It is a cozy vehicle to sit in and has excellent safety ratings. While the RAV4 has a lot going for it, the Outback manages to come out on top with a better powertrain performance.
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