2021 Subaru Forester vs Toyota RAV4
Looking for a small SUV that can function as a spacious family hauler while also providing you with some off-roading strength? If so, you might have already considered either the 2021 Subaru Forester or the 2021 Toyota RAV4. Both slate close to the top of their segment, but we definitely have our preference of one over the other. And we think you will too.
Both SUVs are great choices for small to medium-sized families. Fitting child seats in the back is not a problem in either vehicle since the cabins are remarkably spacious. And both offer excellent amounts of cargo space. If you need to cram in a double stroller or stash a week's worth of groceries in the cargo area, it is easy to do. That is one of the biggest benefits of investing in a small SUV like the Forester or RAV4.
So, which of these small SUVs is the better buy? Which one offers you the most bang for your buck? We can tell you right now that we prefer the Forester to the RAV4, but our reasoning definitely warrants some explanation. Bear with us through 'til the end of this comparison review so that you can make a better-informed buying decision.
Get ready for some serious power when you get behind the wheel of the 2021 Subaru Forester. Powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, it cranks out 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, all managed by an efficient CVT to keep your wheels spinning together in AWD harmony - a standard feature across Subarus! But don't expect any record times from this beast; clocking at 9.3 seconds from 0 to 60 miles per hour might not break any speed records, but with its reliable engine powering every journey confidently forward nothing can stop you now.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 receives its power from a 4-cylinder engine that generates 203 hp and sends it to the front wheels (or all four wheels if you opt for AWD) via an 8-speed automatic transmission. The Adventure and TRD Off-Road trim levels do come with a standard, upgraded version of the AWD system for improved off-roading capabilities. This engine is slow like the Forester's, taking about 9.1 seconds to make it up to 60 miles per hour. The drive is drama-free around town, but it is painstaking to merge and pass on the highway.
What makes a vehicle a pleasure or a pain to drive, aside from its powertrain's capabilities? Drivability is an umbrella term that we use to describe things like how well a vehicle accelerates, brakes, handles, steers, its ride quality and comfort, and how well its tech gadgetry works.
The 2021 Subaru Forester is characterized to an extent by its sluggish engine. While cruising around town, it feels just fine. But out on the highway is a different story. You will need to plan your merges and passes accordingly. The brakes, however, feel remarkably solid. And, while this vehicle is not meant to feel sporty, its steering and handling offer a performance that is all about road grip and being able to wind along mountainous roads. Oh, and you can certainly enjoy some off-roading with its 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
Comfort is where the Forester really strikes a cord with buyers. Day in and day out, the Forester offers supreme levels of comfort. The front seats are extremely well padded and sculpted for lateral and lumbar support. Even the cushions on the rear seats hold up well over long journeys.
As far as the suspension goes, its level of compliance is superior to a lot of its competitors, offering a smooth ride quality over any road surface. While its tall stature produces a little wind noise, it is nothing obnoxious or out of the ordinary for this segment. The cabin is otherwise well muted from outside and engine noise. The climate controls are easy to use and located well within the driver's reach; the system itself distributes air flow throughout the entire cabin with ease and maintains the set temperature.
The Forester's interior is spacious with plenty of leg and head room fore and aft. You can even fit a fifth adult in the rear center seat. Getting in and out is easy since the doors are tall and the vehicle has a SUV-type ride height. Everything is intuitive, and the materials look solid despite not being that eye-catching.
Subaru's standard infotainment system is straightforward and easy to use. Even more tech-friendly folks will appreciate its design. The menus are clear and the graphics crisp. Smartphone app integration is standard, and you get numerous USB ports in the front and rear. Even the built-in navigation system is user-friendly and has a voice control system that recognizes natural speech patterns. It is truly a fuss-free set-up and one of the best in its class.
If you're looking for a car that offers superior handling capabilities even in the most rugged landscapes, then 2021 Toyota RAV4 may be just right for you. Its responsive steering and selectable all-wheel drive system provide complete control no matter where your adventure takes you. Whether off-roading or cruising down city streets, the impressive ground clearance of this incredible vehicle will keep any journey safe and secure.
The RAV4's suspension is finely tuned for comfort and performance. Moderate bumps can be dispatched with ease, and there is no sense of floaty-ness when rounding through tight turns. The one comfort-related issue we have is with the front passenger seat, which lacks a fair amount of adjustability. The RAV4 typically stays quiet on the highway, but the engine will sound growly when you step down hard on the accelerator. The air flow system feels nice with front and rear HVAC vents, and the controls up front are easy to use.
Since the front passenger seat cannot be adjusted downward and is set kind of high, the RAV4 loses points for spaciousness. The cabin is otherwise pretty generous. Unfortunately, the touchscreen display is placed outside of the driver's reach, meaning you will have to lean forward to try to press buttons while driving.
Despite having a simple system, the infotainment set-up - which is extremely new - comes off as dated. The Entune software seems old and clunky, but you can at least switch over to smartphone app integration. The standard sound system works well enough, but we suspect that buyers will like the optional 11-speaker JBL premium audio system a lot better.
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The 2021 Subaru Forester is equipped with Subaru EyeSight, a bundle of standard driver aids. This bundle includes adaptive cruise control (which sets a safe following distance to the vehicle in front of it), forward collision mitigation (a system that detects, warns, and applies the brakes in the event of an impending frontal crash), lane departure warning (which lets you know when the vehicle is straying outside of the lane), and lane keep assist (which will gently steer the Forester back into its intended lane). A blind spot monitoring system can be equipped starting on the Premium trim level. You can also opt for rear automatic braking and a driver monitoring system on the higher trims. These features are all known for acting only when they need to, never issuing false alarms.
Toyota equips the 2021 RAV4 with a similar bundle called Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. This gives you forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, and a traffic sign reader. Opting up from the base trim can get you blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree surround-view camera system. Adaptive cruise control works down to 0 mph, which is rather impressive and not something you can get on all systems.
Which is Better?
Overall, the 2021 Subaru Forester is the better small SUV. While it is not Number One in its class, it comes very close. Were it not for the engine, it would probably usurp the Honda CR-V. Its ground clearance and standard AWD make for an off-road-oriented ride, but it behaves just as well on the beaten path.