01

Choosing the right small SUV usually leads to these models.

With thousands of vehicles in our inventory, we’re here to help make car research easier for you. We’ve partnered with car-review experts from Edmunds to weigh in on what matters most when you’re looking to buy a car.

***

Vehicles Reviewed

  • 2019 Honda CR-V EX
  • 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE

Car shoppers are often in need of a do-everything vehicle that can handle all the demands of everyday family life. For many, that path leads to one of two options: the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V.

These SUVs have proven popular for many reasons. And in many ways, they are quite similar. Both the CR-V and the RAV4 can fit five people and still carry a lot of cargo. They also have an elevated ride height, which makes it easy to get in and out and provides a commanding view of the road. All-wheel drive is optional on both.

The CR-V and the RAV4 also deliver a pleasant ride and more nimble handling than a bigger three-row SUV. Driving a CR-V or a RAV4 is a lot like driving a comfortable sedan that just so happens to have more space and a higher seating position.

But there are differences in the way the CR-V and the RAV4 go about their business. So which one is for you? Edmunds' Ryan ZumMallen takes a closer look at the most recent generations of these two vehicles, walks you through the details and makes specific recommendations.

What Are Your Options?

The most recent generation of the CR-V has been available longer than the newest generation of the RAV4. Honda began selling its fifth-generation CR-V in 2017. Toyota debuted its fifth-gen RAV4 in 2019.

So while both SUVs are similar in the features they offer, there will be a wider selection of used fifth-generation CR-Vs available for shoppers. Here's how they size up:

  • 2017-2020 Honda CR-V: A thoughtfully designed SUV. It prioritizes comfort and storage space. It also offers enjoyable handling and a zippy turbocharged engine that's found on most CR-V models.
Honda CR-V vs Toyota RAV4 Review: Honda CR-V | CarMax
  • 2019-2020 Toyota RAV4: It's nearly as spacious as the CR-V, and it places more emphasis on adventure and easy-to-use controls. The engine and transmission work well together to provide a pleasant driving experience.
Toyota RAV4: Exterior | CarMax

Both of these models are available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Toyota also offers a RAV4 Hybrid. The CR-V did not come with a hybrid option until the 2020 model year.

They also come in a variety of trim levels, bringing more convenience and luxury-oriented features as you move up the lineup. Honda has the CR-V LX, EX, EX-L, and top-level Touring. Toyota makes the RAV4 LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, TRD Off-Road (2020 only), and Limited.

In general, a middle-level trim for both the CR-V and the RAV4 will have most of the features you'll need for a small SUV. Top-level trims typically have more of the stuff that's just nice to have, such as luxury-oriented features like an integrated navigation system or a premium sound system.

Powertrains

The base Honda CR-V LX (2017-2019) comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine producing 184 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. All other CR-Vs from this generation will have a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 190 hp and 179 lb-ft. Both engines are matched with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Honda CR-V Review: Engine | CarMax

All versions of this generation of the Toyota RAV4 use a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that creates 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Toyota RAV4: Engine | CarMax

While the powertrains might be different, the resulting fuel economy is very similar. Official EPA estimates can vary slightly depending on the year, trim level, and whether the vehicle has front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. But to give you the general idea of what to expect, the EPA estimates a front-wheel-drive 2019 CR-V with the turbocharged engine gets 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving. A front-wheel-drive 2019 RAV4 also gets an estimated 30 mpg combined.

The CR-V Hybrid, which became available starting for the 2020 model year, gets an EPA-estimated 38 mpg combined. For comparison, a 2020 RAV4 Hybrid is estimated at 40 mpg combined.

Interior and Utility

Comfort is the name of this 2019 CR-V EX's game. The interior is well built and has supportive front seats. It is easy to see the road clearly from nearly any angle. Both the front and back offer abundant headroom and legroom too.

Honda CR-V Review: Backseats | CarMax

The 2019 RAV4 XLE is also pleasant and comfortable on the inside. Toyota has styled the dashboard and doors to appear as if they are one flowing unit. It also has good outward visibility, though it is more difficult to find a comfortable sitting position from the front passenger seat due to a lack of adjustment range.

Toyota RAV4: Backseats | CarMax

Both SUVs make excellent use of storage space, with large front bins and cupholders for all passengers. The cargo area behind the rear seats is nearly identical. If you fold the rear seats down, however, the CR-V has the RAV4 beat. You will likely be able to fit slightly larger objects or additional gear and luggage in the Honda.

Technology

Even though some versions are several years old now, this generation of the CR-V comes with an impressive array of technology features. Excluding the base LX trim, the CR-V comes standard with Bluetooth® connectivity, plus Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto™ compatibility.

Honda CR-V Review: Dashboard | CarMax

The fifth-generation RAV4 comes with Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay on every trim. However, Android Auto is only available with 2020-and-newer models. The upside is that the RAV4's touchscreen is easier to control and navigate than the CR-V's.

Toyota RAV4: Dashboard | CarMax

When it comes to advanced driver aids, both vehicles offer features such as traffic-adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. They're standard on all fifth-generation RAV4 trim levels. On the fifth-generation CR-V, they're standard on every trim level except the base LX for 2017-2019 models and standard on all trims starting with the 2020 CR-V.

What They're Like to Drive

We like the punch from the turbocharged engine found in the 2019 CR-V EX we drove. The CR-V also offers precise handling and solid body control that gives you confidence through turns or if you have to make an emergency swerve. Drivers and passengers will also enjoy the ride―the CR-V's suspension and tires absorb uneven pavement and even potholes without disturbing the cabin.

Honda CR-V Review: Exterior | CarMax

While many drivers dislike the wind-up, elastic-like power delivery that a CVT can cause, the CR-V's CVT is well-tuned and generally works unobtrusively. There is no off-road-oriented trim level, so the CR-V isn't as capable as the RAV4 in the dirt, but it has enough ground clearance and a proficient enough available all-wheel-drive system for some trails and campgrounds.

The 2019 RAV4 XLE we drove feels more loose around turns. You can move the steering wheel around a bit before any of your commands reach the wheels on the road, for example. It noticeably leans into turns and rocks back and forth when you change speeds. Ride comfort is a strong point, however, since the RAV4 suspension easily softens cracks and bumps in the road.

Toyota RAV4: Exterior | CarMax

The RAV4's engine is a little less peppy than the CR-V's turbo engine, but the eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and at the right time. In addition to the RAV4's standard all-wheel-drive system, Toyota also offers an upgraded all-wheel-drive system exclusive to the RAV4 Adventure and TRD Off-Road trim levels. It can vary engine torque across the rear wheels to enhance traction in both on- and off-road situations. Also, the RAV4's loose steering comes in handy when you're driving slowly off-road because it provides a greater range of accuracy at low speed.

Conclusion

There is no wrong choice between the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Both are useful, comfortable, and reasonably priced. The Toyota tends to offer more at a lower price point and there is a widely available fuel-saving hybrid option. However, the Honda is more comfortable and has better-designed interior storage options.

The CR-V is more buttoned-up and has higher all-around refinement. For that reason it's our most recommended crossover for most shoppers. But the RAV4 is slightly better for recreational off-road use, and its infotainment system is more appealing. Whichever you choose, both of these little SUVs are big winners.

Ryan ZumMallen has written automotive news and buying advice for nearly a decade. As an automotive reviews editor for Edmunds, ZumMallen examines trends in both the new and used markets with a focus on sporty, affordable cars, off-road trucks and SUVs.