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We compare two of the best mainstream mid-size SUVs: Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0MPi 2WD vs Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD


Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by

18 May 2021

There’s a new kid in the class of mid-size SUVs, and style is its middle name. It’s the all-new Hyundai Tucson 2021 model, the fourth-generation version which has a very sharp new look and plenty of new technology and equipment. 

It is more expensive than ever before, though, so can it justify its expense against our pick of the medium SUV market - the Toyota RAV4, which is CarsGuide's reigning 2019 Car of the Year winner?

We’ve got the Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD model here to take on the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD. There’s a big difference in powertrains, but the prices are almost the same. Which is the best mid-size SUV? Let’s find out!

Pricing and specs

It’s worth noting that we’re comparing specific variants here, not the entire ranges of these two SUVs. The Toyota RAV4 line-up kicks off at $32,695 and tops out at $48,915; the new-generation Hyundai Tucson range is a more expensive proposition, starting at $34,500 and ranging through to $52,000. 

To set the scene for this test, however, our RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD model has a list price/MSRP of $46,415 - the Cruiser model is the best-equipped version of the RAV4 hybrid range, and we’ve gone with hybrid because that’s what the vast majority of people are buying.

Our Tucson Highlander retails for $46,000 (MSRP), while the RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid is priced at $46,415 (MSRP). (image credit: Rob Cameriere) Our Tucson Highlander retails for $46,000 (MSRP), while the RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid is priced at $46,415 (MSRP). (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

The Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD model is $46,000 (MSRP). Highlander grades are the top-spec models in the range, and this version was the only one available at the time of testing. We asked for an all-wheel drive, but it wasn’t possible (a shame, because AWD is available with a better turbo-petrol engine, or a turbo-diesel). 

Let’s run through the differences in equipment between the Cruiser and Highlander trims we’ve got here. 

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Sat navYY
Apple CarPlay/Android AutoYY
Touchscreen size10.1-inch8.0-inch
USB Ports45
RadioAM/FM/DABAM/FM/DAB
CD player--
Sound system speakers8 - Bose9 - JBL
Wireless phone charging (Qi)YY
Instrument cluster10.25-inch full digital7.0-inch part digital

The digital screen advantage goes to the Hyundai, clearly, with a larger multimedia screen and bigger digital driver display. The Toyota’s dash is part-digital, part-analogue, and its media unit looks a bit small by comparison. But at least the Toyota has an array of hard buttons and proper control knobs, which you might appreciate more than you’d think.

Next, let’s look at some other interior trim elements.

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Interior trimLeatherLeather appointed
Colours availableBlack standard, optional grey or brownBlack standard, optional mutmeg (light brown)
Front seat adjustmentElectric (driver and passanger)Electric (driver only)
Leather steering wheelYY
Heated front seatsYY
Ventilated/cooled front seatsY-
Heated steering wheelY-
Heated rear outboard seatsY-
Air conditioningDual zone climate controlDual zone climate control
Directional rear air ventsYY
Keyless entry/smart keyYY
Push button startYY
Cruise controlAdaptiveAdaptive
Auto dimming rearview mirrorYY
Electric tailgateYY
SunroofY - panoramic glass roofY - front seats only

Pretty clear the interior equipment competition is won by the Tucson, with an array of comfort and convenience features the RAV4 simply can’t match.

Next, here are some of the exterior differentiators. 

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Alloy wheels19-inch18-inch
TyresNexen Roadian 235/55/19Bridgestone Alenza 225/60/18
Spare wheelFull size spareSpace saver alloy
Roof railsYY
LED headlightsYY
LED daytime running lightsYY
Fog lights-Halogen
Auto headlightsYY
Auto high beam lightsYY

They’re closely matched for exterior goodies, though you might prefer the larger wheels of the Hyundai, or the fog lights of the Toyota, depending on where you live.

These two are also very closely matched for safety specs and technology, and we’ll get to that in the section below. 

  • The Tucson Highlander wears 19-inch ally wheels. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The Tucson Highlander wears 19-inch ally wheels. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • The RAV4 rides on 18-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 rides on 18-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

That said, for this part of the test it’s the Hyundai that steps ahead, with a lot of standard gear and inclusions. The Toyota might claw some points back for powertrain tech, though...

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD - 9

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 7 

Design

You’re going to like the look of one of these SUVs more than the other, and we understand that.

Both carve their own place in the market, with the Hyundai clearly going for a futuristic, origami-inspired appearance, while the Toyota’s own angular appearance - which made some scratch their heads when it first arrived - now looks a bit less outlandish than before.

Let’s start with the Hyundai, which manages to have LED daytime running lights that disappear into the brand’s 'parametric grille', and it looks even better in person, trust us. There are LED headlights on the Highlander, and the lower skid plate broadens the look, too.

In profile there are more creases than the book of paper aeroplanes you gave your nephew last Christmas, with lines and angles that are dazzling to behold. The door pressings are intricate (though we hate to think what could come of them after some shopping centre car park dings), while the length of the Tucson is accentuated by a couple of bold, lengthy lines along the sides.

  • The Tucson features Hyundai's 'parametric grille'. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The Tucson features Hyundai's 'parametric grille'. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Tucson measures in at 4630mm long. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The Tucson measures in at 4630mm long. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • At the rear of the Highlander is an LED light strip. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) At the rear of the Highlander is an LED light strip. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

The rear is interesting in many ways - that LED light strip on the Highlander, and those Mustang/Sorento-like rear lights are really special looking. See if you can spot the rear windscreen wiper on the Tucson. See it? No? It’s tucked up under the rear spoiler. Very, very tidy.

And if you think you need even more pizzazz, you can option an N Line pack on the Highlander, which adds a body kit, different wheels and the interior trims gets sportier, too. 

It is a decidedly interesting looking car, and looks very futuristic - even against the angle-heavy RAV4, which remains one of the better lookers in the class.

The Toyota’s sharp front end has matured nicely, and even after two years there are plenty of nice lines and finishes to the body of the Toyota SUV. It may have been considered brash initially, but now it’s almost sedate in its styling compared to the Tucson. 

  • The Toyota’s sharp front end look is ageing well. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The Toyota’s sharp front end look is ageing well. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • The RAV4 is 4600mm long. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 is 4600mm long. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • The RAV4's front and rear indicators are halogens. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4's front and rear indicators are halogens. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

As with the Tucson, the RAV4 looks substantial in its appearance, with a determined stance and a bit of a boot-like body design. The LED lighting at the front is nice, but not as modern looking as the Hyundai, and the indicators are halogens front and rear, as well as the fog lights. 

There’s no sports pack or luxury pack for the RAV4, but if you’re not into the black leather-accented interior, you can choose a ‘nutmeg’ finish. Same goes for the Tucson Highlander, which comes with black, brown or grey leather interior trim (or that N Line sports pack finish, which adds $1000 but extends far beyond just the trim).

Wondering about colours? The RAV4 is available with one zero dollar paint option - 'Glacier White'. The others are $675, and comprise 'Crystal Pearl' white, 'Silver Sky', 'Atomic Rush' red, 'Graphite' grey, 'Saturn Blue', 'Eclectic Blue' and 'Eclipse Black.'

For Hyundai, the only no-cost option is 'White Cream.' You’ll have to pay $595 more for 'Shimmering Silver', 'Amazon Grey' (actually dark green), 'Silky Bronze', 'Deep Sea Blue', 'Crimson Red', 'Titan Grey', and 'Phantom Black.'

Let’s take a look at the dimensions.

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Length4630mm4600mm
Wheelbase2755mm2690mm
Height1655mm1685mm
Width1865mm1855mm

There’s not a lot separating these two SUVs, but the most notable difference is the wheelbase length. The new platform used under the Tucson is designed to offer a lot of extra interior space. Fun fact - there’s a shorter-wheelbase (2680mm) for the Tucson in Europe, which goes some of the way to explaining why the electrified versions of that car aren’t sold here.

You can see that length in the rear doors of the Tucson, and for what it’s worth, they’re large but open wider than the RAV4’s - which will be good if you’re a parent to young children. More on practicality in the next section.

Let’s next look at the weight and towing capacity ratings for these two mid-size SUVs.

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Towing capacity - unbraked750kg750kg
Towing capacity - braked1650kg1500kg
Kerb weight1530kg1755kg

The Tucson is a whole lot lighter thanks to its less complex powertrain, with no electric motor(s) or heavy battery pack components to consider. Surprisingly, the Tucson is capacity rated to tow a heavier braked trailer than the RAV4, despite not being AWD and having a considerably less grunty powertrain.

Neither of these SUVs should be considered a serious off-roader, but you won’t have issues negotiating gravel tracks to camping grounds. Ground clearance is rated at 190mm for the Toyota and 181mm for the Hyundai. 

The RAV4 we’ve got here is all-wheel drive (AWD) because that’s the closest match on price to the high-spec front-wheel drive (2WD/FWD) Tucson Highlander.

There are AWD versions of the Tucson coming - a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel - but neither was available to test at the time we put this story together.

Considering the style and size advantages of the Tucson, it just pips the RAV4 in this part of the test. Let’s check out which has the more thoughtful interior next. 

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD - 9

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 8 

Interior and practicality

There are some vast differences between these two SUVs and you might be surprised just how different the approaches from these two brands are. Check out the interior images to see for yourself.

The cabin of the RAV4 Cruiser doesn’t feel as luxurious or prestigious as its rival in this test, with a few elements of the cabin dating it badly, even after just a couple of years on sale. And if cabin plushness matters to you, maybe you’ve already made up your mind.

The RAV4 has a rugged and adventurous design. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 has a rugged and adventurous design. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

But there are still plenty of things we love about the interior of the RAV4, like the practicality of that long shelf that runs the width of the dashboard, and the big rubberised dials and door grab handles. It feels more rugged, more ready for anything than the Tucson.

The Hyundai’s cabin design is more about wow-factor, with a really beautiful look to it. It’s at odds with the angular styling of the outside, with swoops and curves and lovely lines, plus materials that feel as good as cars twice the price of this one. 

The Hyundai’s cabin design is really beautiful to look at. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The Hyundai’s cabin design is really beautiful to look at. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

It’s not just about the perception, though - the finishes and feel of the cabin is high-spec, like you’re getting what you’re paying for. It’s a really upmarket cabin, and if there were stickers over the Hyundai badge on the steering wheel, you might think you were actually sitting in a Genesis luxury SUV.

Toyota's 8.0-inch tablet-style media screen looks small and a bit old-school (though I love the fact it has hard buttons and knobs to adjust the volume and tuning). It still has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the menus are easily learned, too. 

The RAV4 has a 8.0-inch multimedia unit. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 has a 8.0-inch multimedia unit. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

Don’t love that it won’t let you dial phone numbers or type addresses in sat nav/maps apps when you're driving, though. Also, the sat nav graphics are out of date, and the reverse camera/surround view camera quality is comparatively poor.

The Hyundai, by comparison, runs a beautiful 10.25-inch screen integrated into the dashboard, and no, it doesn’t seem to be affected by sun glare. It looks a lot more modern and sleek, but it doesn’t have control knobs - instead there are buttons at the bottom of the screen, and they can be hard to come to grips with at speed, especially on bumpy roads.

  • The Tucson Highlander has a fully digital 10.25-inch display. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The Tucson Highlander has a fully digital 10.25-inch display. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • The 10.25-inch media screen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The 10.25-inch media screen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

Unlike the Tucson Highlander, the RAV4 has a part-digital dashboard. There’s a 7.0-inch display and analogue dials, but the Tucson’s fully-digital 10.25-inch display is much more modern and appealing.

There's a 7.0-inch display with part-analogue elements. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) There's a 7.0-inch display with part-analogue elements. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

And further, the sunroof in the RAV4 only covers the front seats, where lots of other rivals - including the Tucson - have much larger panoramic glass roof sections. 

If you’re tall and you happen to find yourself in the front passenger seat of the RAV4, you might end up wishing for seat height adjustment. But it doesn’t exist! There’s manual slide and backrest adjustment only. 

The Tucson gets electric seat adjust for the front passenger, including height adjust - and the 'walk-in' feature, where the driver can slide/tilt the seat to allow easier rear seat room or simpler sit-in space for the front passenger. And then there’s the heated and cooled front seats, plus steering wheel heating, which just add to the luxe-factor of the Hyundai experience.

Both models have big bottle holders in the doors, cupholders between the front seats (they’re more commodious in the RAV4 - chubby cups may not fit in the Tucson’s spots), good sized covered centre console bins, loose item storage in front of the gear shifter, and flip-down armrests in the back seats with cupholders, too (again, the RAV4’s are larger). Plus rear seat occupants get bottle holders in the doors, and the Toyota has one map pocket where the Hyundai has two.

The RAV4 offers good room for adults and kids alike. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 offers good room for adults and kids alike. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

The Toyota has five USB ports (three front, two rear), while the Hyundai has four total (two front, two rear). 

Back seat space in the RAV4 isn’t quite as accommodating as in the Tucson, and that’s saying something because the back seat of the mid-size Toyota SUV is roomy indeed. 

But note, you can fit three adults across the back of both of these models if you need to, and if you have kids, there are dual ISOFIX and three top-tether points in both back rows. We liked the Tucson’s hard plastic seat backs, which should cope better with kids’ feet kicking the seats ahead (if they can reach!).

There’s a touch more legroom in the Tucson compared to the RAV4. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) There’s a touch more legroom in the Tucson compared to the RAV4. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

There’s just a touch more legroom in the Tucson (about an inch more with the driver’s seat set for me, at 182cm/6’0”), while both have good toe room and shoulder space, and really good headroom, too.

Both vehicles have rear seat directional air-vents, but passengers in the back of the Tucson Highlander will love the heated outboard rear seats on chilly mornings. 

What about boot space?

  • With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 580 litres. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 580 litres. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • The RAV4 managed to fit all the luggage with room to spare. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 managed to fit all the luggage with room to spare. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • The RAV4's rear seats can be folded flat. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4's rear seats can be folded flat. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)
  • Underneath the boot floor is a space saver spare. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) Underneath the boot floor is a space saver spare. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

The RAV4 is said to offer 580 litres of cargo capacity (VDA) when the boot floor is in its lowest position, which drops to 542L (VDA) in the higher floor setting. 

  • Boot space is rated at 539 litres. (Highlander variant pictured) Boot space is rated at 539 litres. (Highlander variant pictured)
  • Following the rear seats increases the cargo capacity to 1860L. (Highlander variant pictured) Following the rear seats increases the cargo capacity to 1860L. (Highlander variant pictured)
  • We managed to fit the CarsGuide luggage set with room to spare. (Highlander variant pictured) We managed to fit the CarsGuide luggage set with room to spare. (Highlander variant pictured)
  • Underneath the boot floor is a full-size alloy. (Highlander variant pictured) Underneath the boot floor is a full-size alloy. (Highlander variant pictured)

In the Tucson there is a claimed 539L boot capacity, but remember, the Tucson has a full-size spare alloy wheel, where the RAV4 gets a space-saver spare. 

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD  - 9

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 8 

Under the bonnet - drivetrains

The majority of Toyota RAV4 sales are of the hybrid model, and it owns this segment of the market in terms of sales. Every month, Toyota sells more RAV4 hybrids than Hyundai sells of its entire Tucson range. That’s how popular the segment-leading model with the class-leading powertrain has become.

So it was weird to see Hyundai announce this all-new Tucson wouldn’t be offered with any form of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, mild hybrid or electric / electrified version at all when it launched in May 2021. Maybe that strategy will change, but the company says it can’t secure stock of electrified models - which are commonplace in Europe and the US - because we get our cars out of Korea, not the Czech Republic, where the hybrids are built.

The Tucson's 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine produces 115kW/192Nm. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The Tucson's 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine produces 115kW/192Nm. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

So it is, then, that we’ve got the RAV4 that goes all-in on electrified driving (without a plug), and the Tucson that doesn’t even offer customers the option of a hybrid or electrified model.

That may matter to you, or you might be happy to continue on the combustion-engine path for the time being. But here’s a rundown of the engines fitted to the test cars we have in this comparison. 

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Engine2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Engine output115kW at 6200rpm152kW at 6600rpm
Engine torque output192Nm at 4500rpm243Nm at 4000-5000rpm
Transmission6-speed automaticContinuously variable transmission (e-CVT) automatic
DrivetrainFront-wheels drive (2WD)On-demand all-wheels drive
Electric motor(s)-Two front motor generators (88kW/202Nm), one rear motor (40kW/121Nm)
Battery type and capacity-Nickel metal hydride (NiMH), 1.6kWh
Combined output-163kW/Torque not listed

The Tucson’s powertrain really is basic for a new car released in 2021, and even its outputs aren’t that great. In fact, they’re lower than the outgoing Tucson’s 2.0-litre engine, which happened to be a higher-tech, more modern direct-injection unit instead of the multi-point injection (MPi) powertrain employed in the all-new car.

For a bit of context, Toyota has its own 2.0-litre petrol non-turbo engine available in the Cruiser grade, and it has a healthier set of engine specs: 127kW and 203Nm. Like the Tucson, it’s front-wheel drive only, but unlike the Tucson, it’s actually considerably cheaper. The Cruiser 2.0L FWD RAV4 is $40,915, and gets basically all the same gear as the Hybrid AWD we’re testing here.

The RAV4 has a combined total output of 163kW. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 has a combined total output of 163kW. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

A few crosses against the Tucson for this powertrain, then. You should note there is a 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder all-wheel drive Tucson Highlander model coming ($50,000) and also a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel AWD Tucson Highlander ($52,000), and we’re telling you now, either of those would be a better engine choice than this wheezy 2.0L. 

Now, the RAV4 has a pretty complex powertrain - technically it’s a series-parallel hybrid system, with a pair of electric motor generators up front, a rear axle electric motor for AWD on demand, and a CVT automatic (continuously variable transmission) teamed with regenerative braking. These components split the work and jump from petrol to EV to petrol-electric while aiming to recharge the batteries to help lower fuel use. 

There’s an EV button to drive in full electric mode if you want to, but it’s hardly going to scratch your Tesla itch. That said, the neat thing about the AWD system is that the rear axle is fully electric, with up to 80 per cent of torque being to the rear when needed. Toyota calls it 'eFour' all-wheel drive, and you can even choose Trail mode for off highway driving (we didn’t do an off road review in this test). 

A clear winner here, then.

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD  - 6

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 9

Fuel consumption

It might seem like a stacked contest here, but the fact is that the fuel consumption figure of the RAV4 Hybrid is amazingly low for a mainstream SUV, where the Tucson 2.0 MPi 2WD is on the high side.

Bear in mind the official combined cycle fuel consumption figures presented below are calculated as a result of a complicated lab test stipulated by ADR 81/02, and in reality your litres per 100km will probably vary.

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Official combined cycle fuel consumption8.1L/100km4.8L/100km
Actual fuel use of test (150.5km)8.2L/100km5.4L/100km
Difference between claim and actual0.1/100km / 1.2 per cent over0.6L/100km / 12.5 per cent over
Fuel tank size54L55L
Theoretical total driving range658km based on actual fuel use1018km based on actual fuel use
C02 emissions combined184g/km109g/km

If you had to choose one of these SUVs based on CO2 emissions - maybe you’re a fleet buyer or just want to do your bit for the environment - then it’s no contest.

And while the Hyundai was close to its claimed fuel use figure in our lengthy real-world test drive, the RAV4’s real-world consumption across the exact same driving shows that you can have more power and torque, plus all-wheel drive, and still use less fuel. We’re talking savings of hundreds of dollars per year for the average driver just in petrol costs.

We did the maths, and based on fueling up at the consumption we saw, you’d spend $1662.12 for 15,000km of driving (the national annual average) at $1.35/L of petrol (the national average at time of writing) in the Tucson 2.0 MPi 2WD. Whereas in the RAV4, the same distance would cost you $1093.70, based on our results. That’s a $568.42 saving per year. And we haven’t even discussed servicing costs yet...

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD  - 7

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 9 

Driving

Our test saw us take these two SUVs across the same roads. We wanted to see how the RAV4 and Tucson compared in terms of driving dynamics, comfort and efficiency, and we had a section of testing that included three-up running with front and rear passengers present. 

Here are our findings. 

Hyundai Tucson 2.0 MPi 2WD 

If you’ve driven any of Hyundai’s other recent offerings you’ll know the brand has established a level of ‘common feel’ to its models, with the company regularly getting its local engineering team to fettle the suspension and steering to tune it to ‘Australian tastes.'

That didn’t happen with the new Tucson, and as a result it doesn’t have that same character we’ve come to expect from the brand’s models. Hyundai Australia did sign off the ‘global tune’ applied to the new-generation Tucson, but it simply has a completely different character to what we’ve come to expect.

The engine in the Tucson is a bit of a dud. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The engine in the Tucson is a bit of a dud. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

It doesn’t have that steering weight or directness. Instead, it has a lightweight motion to it that takes a bit of getting used to. It’s not as engaging or involving to drive as the keen steerer might hope for, but one thing’s for sure - that light steering makes low-speed parking moves easy to manage.

The ride, too, is softer and less controlled than in the older Tucson, which was firmer almost to a fault. It just has more wobble and jostle to the body than we thought we’d see, and over bumpy corners it can feel like it’s getting a bit out of shape, especially the rear suspension.

In urban driving and regular highway stints, the suspension is nicely suited to commuting, with a supple softness. But as with any car on 19s with low-profile tyres, you can feel sharp edges when you find them, and overall it just doesn’t have the surefooted feel of other Hyundais.

The new Tucson doesn’t have the same character we’ve come to expect from other Hyundais. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The new Tucson doesn’t have the same character we’ve come to expect from other Hyundais. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

What it does have is one of the quietest cabins going, with a really hushed environment at high and low speeds, and even on coarse-chip road surfaces it remains pretty serene.

That is, until you have to plant your foot to get that 2.0-litre engine to offer up the power and torque you need, and you have to give it a fair boot for that, too.

The engine is a bit of a dud. It’s going to be fine for people who don’t really care about how fast they get to work, especially those who don’t take anyone else with them for the drive. But with a few people and luggage on board it feels sluggish.

The ride is softer and less controlled than in the older Tucson. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The ride is softer and less controlled than in the older Tucson. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

The six-speed auto has to work hard to keep momentum going, and it does - but not smoothly or effectively, as it can hunt for gears and jump between them rather than just relying on the engine’s pulling power. Admittedly, that’s probably for the best, as the engine is a bit undercooked.

Again, a lot of these issues won’t be that bad if you just do city commuting, but as soon as you ask more of this powertrain, you realise how little it has to offer.

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD

It’s amazing to think that the Toyota RAV4 is now one of the stand-out cars in this segment for driving dynamics and fun factor. The last generation model was one of the least impressive in its class,  but this one is terrific to drive.

It has firmer, more controlled suspension that makes it feel really agile and fun to drive, and if you’re the sort of person who likes the drive as much as the destination, you’re going to enjoy going places in this car. Its stiffer suspension mightn’t be to all tastes, but the price you pay for a slightly edgy ride cashes itself in when you put the car through some twists and turns - even at low speeds it’s a more enjoyable drive through roundabouts and city streets than the Tucson.
The RAV4 suffers from more road noise. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 suffers from more road noise. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

The steering is considerably more involving for the driver, with a more direct and precise action. It's the sort of steering that doesn’t require you to think - just point it where you want to go, and it has a nice, natural response and feel.  

And while the loudness of the petrol engine (it’s an Atkinson cycle four-cylinder, and those are notoriously noisy) is noticeable, it can be fairly quiet on smooth surfaces. Country roads will offer up more roar in the RAV4 than in the Hyundai, so you may need to bear that mind.

The RAV4 remains one of the best SUVs in its class. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The RAV4 remains one of the best SUVs in its class. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

But when you’re in EV mode, there’s only that road roar to hear aside from a slight electric whirr, and some graunchy noise from the brake pedal, too. I’ve never been a big fan of the brake action in Toyota hybrid cars, and the RAV4 - while better than early examples of the breed - does take some getting used to. 

The powertrain itself is astounding.

It’s so refined and smooth in the way it switches between petrol and electric power, either at pace or urban speeds. You might find yourself watching the diagram on the info screen that shows where the power is coming from and how its being shuffled around the car, but it simply does what it needs to, and if you need more power at any given time, there’s no hesitation to contend with. 

The steering of the RAV4 is on another level. (image credit: Rob Cameriere) The steering of the RAV4 is on another level. (image credit: Rob Cameriere)

EV driving isn’t going to be all you do in the RAV4 - the petrol engine kicks in to assist or take over readily, but the benefits are that it has notably more power and torque, is considerably more rapid in its response, and the CVT automatic seemingly has no issues in delivering the grunt to the ground, with excellent traction and pulling power in all situations.

The RAV4 isn’t perfect, sure - but its leagues ahead in this test for driving manners and enjoyment.

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD  - 7

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 9 

Safety

These two models are among the best-equipped cars in their segment for active safety technology, and so they should be. As family cars first and foremost, the tech on offer in mid-size SUVs offers a lot of food for thought.

Also, keep this in mind: the Toyota RAV4 scored the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating in 2019, but the criteria has become stricter since then. Having said that, Hyundai’s Tucson range hasn’t yet been crash tested, so we can’t say what its score is at the time of writing.

But a glance at the specs suggests the Tuscon should achieve the maximum safety rating. We’ll have to wait and see. Here’s a rundown on the inclusions across these two SUVs. 

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Reversing cameraY - 360 degree surround viewY - 360 degree surround view
Front parking sensorsYY
Rear parkinG sensorsYY
Airbags7 - dual front, front centre, front side, curtain7 - dual front, driver's knee, front side, curtain
Auto emergency braking (AEB)Y - 10km/h to 180km/hY - 10km/h to 180km/h
Pedestrain detection/brakingY - 10km/h to 65km/hY - 10km/h to 80km/h
Cyclist detection/brakingDay and night - 10km/h to 65km/hDaytime only - 10km/h to 80km/h
Auto high-beam lightsYY
Adaptive cruise control YY
Lane departure warningYY
Active lane keep assistY - 60km/h to 200km/hY - 50km/h to 180km/h
Lane following assist/lane trace assistY - 0km/h to 150km/h - active when adaptive cruise onY - TBC
Junction turning assistY - 10km/h to 30km/h-
Blind spot monitoringY - with collision avoidance swervingY
Rear cross traffic alertYY
Rear AEBY - below 10km/h-
Speed sign recognition with adaptive cruise adjustYY
ANCAP safety rating (year tested)Not yet rated5 star (2019)

The Hyundai has a few features the Toyota can’t match, like rear AEB that can brake the car if a potential collision is detected. 

It has a few advanced items that the Toyota doesn’t, too, like a collision avoidance system integrated into its blind-spot detection, and it has the new front-centre airbag technology that may be required for newer cars to meet five-star ANCAP to avoid head collisions by front-seat occupants in side-on impacts.

Plus the Hyundai’s camera system is considerably higher resolution than the pixelated version in the Toyota. And Hyundai also has new technology like rear occupant alert and safe exit assist that can stop your back-seat occupants from opening their door into oncoming traffic - it uses the rear radar system to monitor the car’s surroundings.

Oh, and if you’re wondering “Where is the Toyota RAV4 made?”, the answer is Japan. Asking “Where is the Hyundai Tucson made?”, the answer is South Korea.

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD - 9

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 8

Ownership

Have you had a good experience with Hyundai or Toyota? That could make your mind up when it comes to choosing one of these two SUVs, because there’s not much splitting them.

We can’t speak for the real-world reliability of these two cars, but we can give you a rundown on the peace-of-mind each brand offers when it comes to their ownership promise. 

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Service interval12 months/15,000km12 months/15,000km
Annual service cost (avg over five years)$319$215
Capped price servicing planLifetime pay-as-you-goFive years/75,000km
Prepay servicing available?Y - up to five years/75,000km, no discounts-
Vehicle warrantyFive years/unlimited kmFive years/unlimited km
Extendable warranty conditions-Seven years/unlimited km for powertrain if logbook servicing maintained
Battery warranty-10 years/unlimited km if checked annually after five years
Roadside assist included?Up to 10 years if you service with Hyundai-

These two are pretty close on ownership prospects, and if you’re buying a hybrid you’ll probably be happy to see that Toyota backs its powertrain and its battery separately, so long as you keep going back to have the battery health checked.

It’s a compelling option, with such low service costs over the first five years. But the RAV4 doesn’t come with any roadside assistance included, and you can’t prepay your services and roll them into your finance payments like you can with the Hyundai. That little extra might just help your budget.

As mentioned above, there could be issues that crop up, reliability problems with engine, transmission, battery, electrics, suspension, or you might just want to read about any common complaints? Check out our Hyundai Tucson problems page and our Toyota RAV4 problems page to stay up to date with reported issues and recalls for these cars.

Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WD  - 8

Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD - 8 

Verdict

You might be won over by the styling of the Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi FWD, and we’d understand that. You may also be struck by its interior styling and big-scale media and driver info screens, its array of safety tech and its agreeable ownership promise. Again, all points that help push the prospects of Hyundai in this test. It’s the drive experience that lets it down most, and that engine really isn’t fit for it - like we said, there are other options coming, and they’re definitely worth waiting for/spending more for, if you can justify it. 

If you’re more the sort of person who appreciates driving for the joy it can offer, even when you’re using very little petrol, then maybe the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD is going to be your better bet. It may not feel as fancy inside and doesn’t have as many luxury touches as the Hyundai, but it is still a terrific mid-size SUV and remains the standard setter for driving and accessibly-priced hybrid power. In this comparison, against our criteria, it’s our winner. Check out the scores below.

Agree? Disagree? Think you’d choose something completely different? Have your say in the comments, and be sure to watch the video to see these two cars in action. 
 

 Hyundai Tucson Highlander 2.0 MPi 2WDToyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD
Pricing and specs97
Design98
Interior and practicality98
Drivetrain69
Fuel consumption79
Driving79
Safety98
Ownership88
Overall8.0/108.3/10


Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.

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