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Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

3 Apr 2020

In this comparison test we're looking at a pair of hybrid mid-size SUVs that are designed to meet the needs of family buyers, while also aiming to do their bit for the environment.

Both of these popular models are powered by petrol-electric powertrains, meaning there's a chance they'll help you reduce your carbon footprint and lessen the impact on your wallet, too.

The carryover benchmark in this segment of the market is the Toyota RAV4 hybrid, which has been selling up a storm since its arrival in 2019 - and understandably so. The Toyota RAV4 won CarsGuide's Car of the Year in 2019, CarsGuide Family Car of the Year, and the hybrid model also won our midsize SUV comparison against a couple of likely competitors. This is one impressive Toyota hybrid SUV in either two or all-wheel drive configurations, and we've got the GXL AWD variant here, which is our pick of the range.

  • Both of these popular models are powered by petrol-electric powertrains. Both of these popular models are powered by petrol-electric powertrains.
  • This review will go through important elements like value for money, practicality, safety, how they drive and fuel consumption. This review will go through important elements like value for money, practicality, safety, how they drive and fuel consumption.

It's up against the all-new Subaru Forester Hybrid L, which might well offer an unexpected alternative for buyers after this sort of family-friendly, fuel-sipping motoring. The company admits it has the RAV4 to thank for a huge demand surge for this type of Forester model in Australia, and in this instance, the Forester L is more affordable than its rival... but we'll get to all the nitty gritty about the new Subaru hybrid SUV soon.

This comparison test review will go through important elements like value for money, practicality, safety, how they drive, ownership, and of course, how each of these SUVs performs when it comes to fuel consumption. They're hybrids, after all!

Let's get to it.

Pricing and specs

There's not much between these two SUVs when it comes to how much they cost. But while the list price (MSRP or RRP) for these two particular models is close, each plays a different role in its respective range.

For example, the Subaru Forester Hybrid L is the entry-level hybrid model in the Forester line-up, with an MSRP of $39,990 plus on-road costs. There's a more expensive top of the range Forester Hybrid S ($45,990) as well, but as always, you'll want to check the CarsGuide listings and also the Autotrader site to see if you can find a good drive away price. Go to our Subaru Forester page to compare Subaru Forester models.

On the other hand, the Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD is one of six different petrol-electric models available in the RAV4 range. This one costs $41,490 plus on-road costs and was the closest available vehicle to match-up to the Forester Hybrid L - but you can get into a RAV4 hybrid anywhere from $35,490 (GX 2WD) through to $44,990 (Cruiser AWD). Need to compare GX vs GXL vs Cruiser? Head to our RAV4 hub.

But let's take a closer look at the standard features you'll find in each of these particular SUV variants to see which offers the better value equation.

  • The RAV4 has an 8.0-inch media screen. The RAV4 has an 8.0-inch media screen.
  • The Forester has a 6.5-inch screen. The Forester has a 6.5-inch screen.

First up, let's consider the media systems offered in both models. Neither has a subwoofer, and there's a difference in infotainment screen size and functionality: the Subaru misses out on a GPS navigation system, for instance. Neither has a DVD player as part of its multimedia system, either.

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Sat nav

Y

N

Apple CarPlay / Android Auto

Y

Y

Touch screen size

8.0-inch

6.5-inch

USB ports

5 (3 front, 2 rear)

3 (1 front, 2 rear)

Radio

AM/FM/DAB

AM/FM/DAB

CD player

N

Y

Sound system speakers

6

6

Wireless phone charging (Qi)

Y

N

Beyond gadgets and technology, when it comes to trim and interior finishes, there is a different look and feel for both models - but because neither are the highest-spec variants, they're both missing items such as leather trim. Neither has a panoramic sunroof available in the specs you see here, while also missing at this price point is a power tailgate and heated steering wheel.

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Interior trim

Cloth

Cloth

Electric seat adjustment

N

N

Leather steering wheel

Y

Y

Heated seats 

N

Y

Air conditioning

Dual zone climate control

Dual zone climate control

Directional rear air vents

Y

Y

Keyless entry / smart key

Y

Y

Push button start

Y

Y

Cruise control

Adaptive

Adaptive

When it comes to exterior differentiators, there's a few to consider: the Toyota has bigger wheels and dual exhaust tail-pipes, but otherwise they're both pretty matched spec-for-spec, including in the headlight department: both have LED daytime running lights and LED headlights, so you can forget those lesser lighting technologies like xenon, projector and HID beams. While the lights are good on both, country owners might want to invest in a set of LED driving lights or a light bar.

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Alloy wheels

18-inch

17-inch

Tyres

Bridgestone Atenza 225/60/18

Bridgestone Dueler H/P 225/60/17

Roof rails

Y

Y

LED headlights 

Y

Y

LED daytime running lights

Y

Y

Auto headlights

Y

Y

Auto high-beam lights

Y

Y

Auto rain sensing wipers

Y

Y

Auto dimming rear view mirror

Y

N

You might be wondering what sort of accessories are available, and thankfully it extends beyond floor mats and different rims, even on these trim levels. You can option a nudge bar, window tint, cargo barrier, cargo net, cargo liner (the RAV4 comes with a reversible mat), roof rack, side steps and tow bar for these models - essentially, you can make up your own sport edition! But you'll need to go to the aftermarket for a bull bar or snorkel.

As for colours (or colors, depending on where you live) our two cars were specced up in eye-catching hues, but here's a rundown for each model.

The Forester is available in Jasper Green metallic as you see here, as well as Crystal Black pearl, Horizon Blue pearl, Sepia Bronze metallic (light brown), Magnetite Grey metallic, Crimson Red pearl, Ice Silver metallic and Crystal White pearl. The best news about that is all of them are no-cost. That's $0!

The RAV4's colour options include the rather aptly named Eclectic Blue metallic, as well as Eclipse Black Mica, Saturn Blue metallic, Graphite grey metallic, Atomic Rush metallic red, Silver Sky metallic and Crystal Pearl white. All of those cost you $600 extra, while Glacier White solid white is the only no-cost option.

These two models are very closely matched, and while the Toyota has a few more additional goodies, it is more expensive. We can't split them in this section.

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD8
Subaru Forester Hybrid L8

Design

As we all know, you'll decide which one you like the look of most when it comes to styling, but both of these models barely stray from their petrol-powered (non-hybrid) counterparts in terms of their exterior design, aside from a few minor details.

Forester Hybrid models, for instance, have a black valance on the boot, but little other design differentiation aside from ‘e-Boxer' badges on the front quarter panels. And the same is the case for the RAV4 Hybrid models, which have blue-themed Toyota badges and additional hybrid icons on the front quarters, but otherwise would be trainspotter material in terms of visual changes.

  • The Forester is taller (a lot of that comes down to the roof rails), plus a little longer and narrower. The Forester is taller (a lot of that comes down to the roof rails), plus a little longer and narrower.
  • In this instance, the Forester L is more affordable than its rival. In this instance, the Forester L is more affordable than its rival.
  • The Forester is available in Jasper Green metallic as you see here. The Forester is available in Jasper Green metallic as you see here.
  • Forester Hybrid models, have a black valance on the boot. Forester Hybrid models, have a black valance on the boot.
  • The Subaru Forester Hybrid L is the entry-level hybrid model in the Forester line-up, with an MSRP of $39,990 plus on-road costs. The Subaru Forester Hybrid L is the entry-level hybrid model in the Forester line-up, with an MSRP of $39,990 plus on-road costs.

You might be thinking, "Surely they could have put a body kit with a rear spoiler, rear diffuser, skirts and a front spoiler to give it more aerodynamic efficiency?". Well, maybe. But as it is, there's none of that stuff fitted. They've got to look like family SUVs to entice family buyers, after all.

Let's take a look at their dimensions, as it's a pretty close run thing when it comes to size - but you can see that the RAV4 is lower and wider, where the Forester is taller (a lot of that comes down to the roof rails), plus a little longer and narrower.

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Length

4600mm

4625mm

Wheelbase

2690mm

2670mm

Height 

1685mm

1730mm

Width 

1855mm

1815mm

That's only part of the equation, though, because these two are close for interior dimensions. We'll talk more about that in the section below (you'll find interior photos there, too).

When it comes to the interior design, the Subaru's bigger glasshouse gives the driver better visibility, and that's a plus for it. But it does have a much busier design to its dashboard - there are lots of buttons, and the steering wheel is covered in buttons as well and some of them don't control what you think they should. And there are three screens, and it all feels a bit confusing to operate at times - though you do get used to it, the longer you spend in the car.

  • The Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD is one of six different petrol-electric models available in the RAV4 range. The Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD is one of six different petrol-electric models available in the RAV4 range.
  • The Toyota RAV4 hybrid has been selling up a storm since its arrival in 2019 - and understandably so. The Toyota RAV4 hybrid has been selling up a storm since its arrival in 2019 - and understandably so.
  • The RAV4 is lower and wider. The RAV4 is lower and wider.
  • The RAV4 Hybrid models, which have blue-themed Toyota badges. The RAV4 Hybrid models, which have blue-themed Toyota badges.
  • The Toyota has bigger wheels and dual exhaust tail-pipes. The Toyota has bigger wheels and dual exhaust tail-pipes.

The Toyota's interior design is clearer and cleaner by contrast, and we especially like the rubberised controls and touch points around the cabin.

Frustratingly, the neat little design highlight that the Driver Monitoring System (aka Driver Focus) in the Subaru offers in higher spec models is absent in this grade. In the top-spec Forester (petrol or hybrid) you can set up a profile and when the car recognises that you, in particular, have jumped in the driver's seat, it'll adjust your side mirrors and seat to suit your preferences.

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD8
Subaru Forester Hybrid L7

Interior and practicality

How many seats? Need third row seating? Well, sadly, unlike some of the competitors in the mid-size SUV segment - namely the Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-Trail - both the Forester and RAV4 are five-seaters only. But they're still very practical.

Let's start with boot space, and the boot dimensions of these two are very close.

The Forester offers a claimed 509 litres (VDA) of storage space with the rear seat up, and that is said to expand to 1779L with the back seat folded down. While those numbers are impressive, it is a narrower space (as the dimensions dictate) and can therefore be a little harder to load odd-shaped items, and it doesn't have a spare wheel under the boot floor at all - instead, there's just a puncture repair kit (and the hybrid battery pack is where the spare would be!). That seems a bit of a miss for an adventure focused brand like Subaru.

For the RAV4, the boot capacity is up to 580L (VDA) with all seats in play, with 1690L available with the seats folded down. However, it has a wider boot space that makes loading easier, and there's a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor, too.

Dimensions and measurements aside, these are both impressive when it comes to luggage capacity. We had to remove the soft tonneau cover or cargo cover to do it, but we managed to fit all three CarsGuide suitcases (124L, 95L and 36L) and the CarsGuide pram in the back of each of these models.

  • For the RAV4, the boot capacity is up to 580L (VDA) with all seats in play. For the RAV4, the boot capacity is up to 580L (VDA) with all seats in play.
  • It has a wider boot space that makes loading easier. It has a wider boot space that makes loading easier.
  • The Forester offers a claimed 509 litres (VDA) of storage space. The Forester offers a claimed 509 litres (VDA) of storage space.
  • It is a narrower space (as the dimensions dictate) and can therefore be a little harder to load odd-shaped items. It is a narrower space (as the dimensions dictate) and can therefore be a little harder to load odd-shaped items.

Now, let's move to the back row.

Rear seat space in both of these models is impressive, though the back seat experience is different because of the shapes of these two SUVs.

In the Forester, for instance, you feel as though you sit a lot higher in the seat, and because there's such a big glasshouse, your view out is better as a result. Whereas in the RAV4, you sit down in the seat a bit more, and it's more "cocoon-like", as 177cm-tall back-seat expert tester Mitchell Tulk put it, before stating "the Forester is almost like a double decker bus compared to the RAV". The windows aren't as big in the RAV4, but the seat itself is more cushioned and comfortable for longer drives, and it has better backrest adjustability, meaning you don't feel as "straight-backed" in the Toyota as you do in the Subaru.

Both models have the necessities sorted, with a pair of adjustable air vents, two USB ports, bottle holders in the doors and a fold-down armrest with cup holders (the Toyota's felt better made and more sturdy). The Subaru is a bit better for storage, with a pair of dual-pocket sections in the back of each front seat, while the Toyota has only one map pocket.

Adults my size (182cm) can sit comfortably behind someone of a similar size. I set the driver's seat for myself, and had ample leg room, toe room and headroom in both models, though the RAV4 was a little broader and would more comfortably suit three adults across. Both models have three top-tether points and dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points, and in the Subaru, they're even covered up.

  •  In the back of the RAV4 you sit down in the seat a bit more, and it's more "cocoon-like". In the back of the RAV4 you sit down in the seat a bit more, and it's more "cocoon-like".
  • The Toyota seats are sculpted better with more lateral support. The Toyota seats are sculpted better with more lateral support.
  • In the back of the Forester you feel as though you sit a lot higher in the seat. In the back of the Forester you feel as though you sit a lot higher in the seat.
  • The Subaru's seats have a few more "outdoorsy" textures and finishes. The Subaru's seats have a few more "outdoorsy" textures and finishes.

Now, front seat space and comfort.

The Toyota offers more comfortable seats, which are simply sculpted better with more lateral support during long drives. Both of these models have nice trim, though the Subaru's seats have a few more "outdoorsy" textures and finishes.

Both models have a pair of cup holders and door pockets with bottle holders, as well as reasonably sized centre bins and glove boxes. But the Toyota adds a couple of extras - its caddy in front of the gear shifter is bigger and more usable, plus the shelf that runs across the dash board in front of the passenger (and even continues to the driver's side) is very handy. For what it's worth, our testers liked the feel of the steering wheel in the Toyota, even though it didn't have paddle shifters like the Subaru.

While we covered off the media screen specs in the pricing section, it has to be said the Subaru's 6.5-inch screen falls behind Toyota's 8.0-inch unit in a couple of key ways. It doesn't have sat nav, and it looks absolutely tiny, plus it's lacking the ease of use that you get with the RAV4's big buttons on the side. But it does have neat menus and a vivid display.

The Toyota is just more family-focused, with the inclusion of two additional USB ports to keep devices charged, plus it also has a wireless phone charging pad (Qi) - meaning up to six charging options, compared to the Subaru's three.

But hey, it wasn't all roses and perfume for the RAV4. It has one of the most annoying features known to mankind - a voice that tells you whenever you're entering or leaving a school zone (no matter whether it's school hours or not!), or if you happen to exceed the posted speed limit for a split second. It took a lot of effort, but we managed to disable it.

The Subaru isn't without its own electronic nannies, with the driver-monitor camera system regularly beeping to tell you to keep your eyes on the road, or warn you of a car having moved away in front of you. More on this in the driving section below.

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD9
Subaru Forester Hybrid L8

Drivetrains

Both of these models are hybrids, but not all hybrids are created equal. Especially not these two vehicles, as the specifications vary by some margin. Trust us, though - it's hard to directly compare this pair, because they use different methodology for outputs and horsepower ratings.

Suffice to say the Toyota has a bigger, more powerful petrol engine, and it has a trio of electric motors as well - two up front, and one at the rear axle. That's what it relies on for its all-wheel-drive traction. It can switch on and off as required, unlike the Forester, which is a permanent all-wheel drive setup.

The Subaru's petrol engine is a smaller capacity, and has lower outputs overall. And rather than having electric motors at the axles, it integrates its single electric motor within the CVT auto transmission.

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Petrol engine

2.5-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder

Engine outputs

131kW/221Nm

110kW/196Nm

Electric motor

Two front motor generators (88kW/202Nm), one rear motor (40kW/121Nm)

Integrated electric motor (12.3kW/66Nm)

Power output (combined maximum)

163kW

N/A

Torque output (combined maximum)

N/A

N/A

Transmission

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) auto

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) auto

Drivetrain

All-wheel drive (AWD) - electric rear axle

All-wheel drive (AWD) - symmetrical AWD

It's worth noting that both of these models are series hybrid systems, meaning they're not designed to work as a plug in hybrid. Therefore neither comes with the capability of plugging in to a powerpoint, and each has a different electric-only driving range.

For instance, the Subaru can use its electric motor alone at speeds up to 40km/h, while it will also assist the petrol engine under increased load (hills, hard acceleration). The regenerative braking system will top up the lithium-ion battery pack when the car is coasting or braking.

  • The RAV4 has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. The RAV4 has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine.
  • The Forester has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The Forester has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

The Toyota, on the other hand, is much more active in its battery use. In some situations the petrol engine will run on its own, or use the electric motors and nickel metal hybrid (Ni-MH) battery pack to drive, or use those and the electric motor at the rear (up to 80 per cent of the hybrid system torque can be funneled only to the back, if it's deemed necessary). The RAV4 is much more likely - not to mention more eager and more comfortable - to run on EV power, and it will do it at higher speeds, too.

Both of these models are all wheel drive (AWD), which essentially means they can both run in 4x4 (4 wheel drive) mode, though neither has a low-range transfer case. And the Toyota's system is constantly variable, meaning it will shuffle between front wheel drive (4x2 FWD) or rear wheel drive (RWD), depending on what's needed. The Subie is permanently in AWD mode.

There's a gap when it comes to towing capabilities: whether you're pulling a box trailer or hauling a small caravan or camper trailer, this table could be important!

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Towing capacity - unbraked

750kg

750kg

Towing capacity - braked

1500kg

1200kg

If you're worried about your weight - aren't we all - here are some figures you should know:

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Kerb weight

1730kg

1643kg

Tare mass

1695kg

1603kg

Gross vehicle weight / gross vehicle mass (GVM)

2230kg

2223kg

Gross combination mass (GCM)

3730kg

3423kg

 

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD9
Subaru Forester Hybrid L7

Fuel consumption

Forget diesel fuel economy - petrol hybrid fuel consumption figures are what we're talking about here, but there's a bit of a difference in both the sticker claim for L/100km in these two SUVs, plus what we actually saw when measured at the pump across a mix of different driving.

For our test we covered several hundred kilometres across highways, urban arterial roads, city streets, back streets, traffic jams - if you experience it in day-to-day life, we did it.

Here are all the facts and figures you need to know:

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Official combined cycle fuel consumption

4.8L/100km

6.7L/100km

Displayed fuel use on test

6.1L/100km

6.1L/100km

Actual fuel use on test (measured at the pump)

4.9L/100km

7.8L/100km

Difference between claim and actual

0.1L/100km / 2 per cent

1.1L/100km / 16 per cent

Fuel tank size

55 litres

48 litres

Theoretical driving range

1122km at our actual fuel use rate

615km at our actual fuel use rate

You'll note just how good the RAV4 was at meeting its expectations. It simply has a smarter hybrid system that works better across a range of situations, and as a result, its mileage and fuel economy was - and will always be - better in real-world driving than the Forester.

Oh, it's worth noting, too, that both can run on regular unleaded (91RON) petrol. No need for premium unleaded here.

This part of the test was a resounding, thumping and enthralling win to the Toyota.

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD10
Subaru Forester Hybrid L7

Driving

For this test, we took both models out for a driving loop including a lot of the urban drudgery you'd expect for a mid-size SUV, including traffic lights, traffic jams, speed humps and roundabouts. We also did a longer highway stint, country kilometres and pushed through some winding roads, too.

Below we'll go through how each performed in these situations.

We took both models out for a driving loop including a lot of the urban drudgery, as well as a longer highway stint and country kilometres. We took both models out for a driving loop including a lot of the urban drudgery, as well as a longer highway stint and country kilometres.

Subaru Forester Hybrid L

It's not all that different to drive the Forester Hybrid as it is to drive a ‘normal' petrol-only Forester. That's good and bad.

It's good because you mightn't even notice you're in a hybrid. But that's also why it's bad - because if you're after the overtly hybrid experience, this mightn't be suitable for you.

It's not all that different to drive the Forester Hybrid as it is to drive a ‘normal' petrol-only Forester. It's not all that different to drive the Forester Hybrid as it is to drive a ‘normal' petrol-only Forester.

That said, it's mostly pretty good when it comes to switching between petrol and battery power, with the electric motor (integrated into the CVT auto transmission) switching on to assist the petrol engine, or simply taking over proceedings altogether, without a lot of fuss or hassle.

Its integration is mostly seamless, apart from the odd low-speed lurch between battery and petrol (when the gradient of the surface changes, for instance). It is Interesting to watch the top centre screen to see the illustration of the powertrain as it cycles between battery and petrol power. Though it relies rather heavily on the petrol engine in most situations.

And because it has the ‘boxer' horizontally opposed engine up front, which is inherently pretty refined and quiet, you're getting a rather pleasant drive experience in a lot of situations - though the brakes are very touchy, and can take some getting used to.

The Forester is quieter than the RAV4 at speeds below 80km/h, but as you get further around the speedo dial there is more noticeable wind noise than in the Toyota.

The Forester is quieter than the RAV4 at speeds below 80km/h. The Forester is quieter than the RAV4 at speeds below 80km/h.

The steering in the Forester is also better at lower speeds. On multiple occasions we had the lane keeping assistance system switch off at higher speed, which can be disconcerting if you're actively steering when it happens. And it seems the assistance has a tendency to make the car feel twitchy on centre, and its steering response can be hard to judge as a result.

As family transport it is mostly very comfortable in terms of the suspension setup, with the tune designed to deliver on comfort more-so than cornering control. It can wobble a little bit over bumpy corners, but it is generally nicely sorted, and it handles pretty well. It's not fun, per se, but it hangs on well.

Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

If you want a more full-fat hybrid experience, the Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD will deliver. It's not like you're going to sit in the middle of a science experiment - but it is considerably more conspicuous in the way it wants to operate, more readily using its battery system to motivate things.

Its hybrid system is more refined in the way if shuffles power and torque from front to rear, electric to petrol - essentially, you can tell that it's more reliant on using battery power rather than always relying on the engine, and that Toyota has had about two decades longer in developing its tech.

If you want a more full-fat hybrid experience, the Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD will deliver. If you want a more full-fat hybrid experience, the Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD will deliver.

We kept the RAV4 in Normal drive mode for our entire test. There is that mode, as well as Sport, Eco and Trail (more on that below). Likewise, the Forester was in Normal (it also has Off, and X-Mode - reard about that below).

Even so, there was a huge difference in acceleration. The response in the RAV4 is excellent, and it feels about 50 per cent quicker when you push hard on the throttle. Its transmission is really well sorted too, and convincing enough to make you forget it's a CVT.

The engine is, however, noisier in the Toyota - that's one of the advantages of the Subaru's boxer engine. And you need to be aware of the brake pedal feel in the RAV4, which has a slightly twitchy, clicky feeling at the top of the pedal action. But generally there is good response, and it's easier to modulate the pedal in the RAV4 than it is in the Forester.

The RAV's steering weight is heavier than in the Forester, but also more enjoyable as a result. It is more engaging at lower speeds, more involving and entertaining at higher speeds, and more likeable as a result.

The response in the RAV4 is excellent. The response in the RAV4 is excellent.

The ride comfort is more composed, too. It is still very much focused on passenger comfort rather than outright control in corners, but a very relaxing car to drive and a little bit more balanced when it comes to cornering than the Forester. It needs to be said, though, that there is a slight trade-off - it is slightly firmer at lower speeds and can pick up a lot more of the little lumps and bumps in the road and transmit them into the cabin, but it's never to the point of discomfort or annoyance.

Our only other minor criticism is the RAV4's visibility is not as good as the Subaru's. It's not bad, and it's not hard to see out of, but it simply doesn't have as much glass as the Forester.

Off road review 

There was no call for us to test the off road capability with an off road review in this test - our aim was to be more urban-focused, more real-world. That said, you might be interested to note that the RAV4 AWD hybrid models have a Trail mode for unsealed roads which again can shuffle the torque around the vehicle to wherever traction is needed most. The Forester hybrid models have X-Mode, which includes hill descent control and can "optimise traction in low speed and slippery conditions" by managing the torque of the powertrain.

And while we're at it, here are some important performance figures: ground clearance: RAV4 (190mm), Forester (220mm)... and that's about it. Neither brand states a wading depth figure, nor approach, departure or break-over/ramp-over angles.

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD8
Subaru Forester Hybrid L7

Safety

In order to make it easy to understand the safety features fitted to each of the models tested here, the table shows what safety equipment each of these SUVs has as standard. There's more to it than just a safety rating, and safety features for SUVs like these now extend well beyond a reverse camera and park assist.

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Parking camera

Reverse

Reverse, front and kerb

Park assist sensors

Front and rear

Rear

Airbags

7 (dual front, driver’s knee, front side airbags and curtain airbags)

7 (dual front, driver’s knee, front side airbags and curtain airbags)

Auto emergency braking (AEB)

Y - city and inter-urban (from 10-180km/h)

Y- city and inter-urban (up to 80km/h)

Pedestrian detection

Y

Y

Cyclist detection

Daytime

Y

Rear AEB

N

Y

Auto high-beam lights

Y

N

Adaptive cruise control

Y

Y

Lane departure warning

Y

Y

Lane keep assist

Y - from 50km/h-180km/h

Y - from 60km/h-145km/h

Blind spot monitoring

Y

Y

Rear cross traffic

Y

Y

ANCAP safety rating (year tested)

5 stars (2019)

5 stars (2019)

There are elements you might consider that are also important, here. The Subaru also has driver facial detection and will beep at you if you take your eyes off the road, plus its front-facing stereo camera EyeSight system can warn you if the car in front has applied its brakes, or if it has moved away (if your eyes aren't on the road).

And while Subaru doesn't crow about it, the EyeSight system is capable of pedestrian and cyclist detection, though by the company's own admission it is focused on reducing car-to-car collisions, first and foremost.

The RAV4 misses out on rear auto-braking, and while it has front parking sensors, the Subaru has a front-view camera and kerb-view camera - but neither has a proper surround-view 360 degree camera. And the integration of those cameras could be better.

If you have kids, baby car seat usability could be a vital consideration: both of these models have three top-tether child seat attachment points in the second row, and two ISOFIX points in the outboard seats.

If you're thinking to yourself, "Where are Subaru Foresters built?" The answer is Japan. And it's the same answer if you're asking, "Where is the Toyota RAV4 built?".

On the whole, both of these models offer comprehensive safety equipment, and both score equally high on this front.

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD9
Subaru Forester Hybrid L9

Ownership

There's a bit to consider when it comes to the ownership promise of these two family-focused SUVs, namely the maintenance cost difference between the two. As you'll see in the table below, the Subaru's capped price servicing plan isn't as agreeable as the Toyotas - both financially, and that it requires servicing more regularly due to shorter intervals.

 

RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD

Forester Hybrid L

Service interval

12 month/15,000km

12 month/12,500km

Annual service cost (avg over three years)

$215

$431

Capped price servicing plan

5 years/75,000km

5 years/62,500km

Warranty cover

5 years/unlimited km, with 7 years powertrain cover if logbook service history maintained

5 years/unlimited km

Battery warranty

10 years/unlimited km if checked annually after 5 years

8 years/160,000km

Roadside assist included?

None - additional cost

12 months complimentary

The Toyota essentially comes with an extended warranty compared to the Subaru. Toyota covers the powertrains of its cars for up to seven years if logbook servicing has been carried out (your owner's manual/logbook doesn't even need to have been stamped at a Toyota dealer), and the RAV4 also has a longer warranty for its hybrid battery, too, provided it has an annual health check.

That should help ease your mind when it comes to potential reliability issues regarding the battery pack or electric motor, but you can always read our Toyota RAV4 problems page or our Subaru Forester problems page for any other common faults, complaints, durability issues and ownership ratings.

Which is best for resale value? Glass's Guide predicts that after three years/50,000km, the RAV4 Hybrid GXL AWD will hold 52.5 per cent of its initial purchase value, while the Subaru Forester Hybrid L will retain 57.5 per cent. That's some crystal ball stuff, but it might factor into your decision.

Otherwise, though, it seems Toyota offers the better ownership prospects of these two SUVs.

ModelScore
Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD8
Subaru Forester Hybrid L7

Verdict

Which one of these SUVs appeals most to you might depend on your specific requirements, and what you prioritise most.The Subaru Forester Hybrid L is a very practical mid-size SUV in plenty of ways, but our testing showed some shortcomings in terms of both the drive experience and the real-world fuel use. It’s not a very hybrid hybrid at all - and depending on who you are and what you like, that might be exactly what you want.

But there was a clear winner here, and it was the Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD. It’s the better of these two petrol-electric models in a number of ways, including - arguably most importantly - in its fuel consumption and its application of hybrid technology.  

Tell us if you agree or disagree in the comments section below. 

Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD8.5
Subaru Forester Hybrid L7.5


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