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Subaru Outback


Toyota RAV4

Summary

Subaru Outback

It never used to be like this. Families used to choose a station wagon or estate car because that body style was the smartest choice. Maybe not the most desirable choice, but wagons were, and always have been, pragmatic.  

And then SUVs came on the scene. People thought they needed these stylised hatchbacks to sit higher in traffic and live out their “weekend warrior” image. Oh, those “active lifestyle” types. And in recent times, SUVs have become the go-to – accounting for half of all new vehicle sales in 2020.

But the Subaru Outback 2021 is here to stand up to those wannabe SUVs, with its own take on the up-high recipe. Admittedly it’s not like the Subaru Outback approach to the SUV formula is new – this is the sixth generation version of the venerable high-riding wagon, but this new model is apparently more SUV than ever. Subaru Australia even calls it a “true blue, mud in its blood all-wheel drive SUV”. 

So does it have what it takes to stand out in the crowd? Let’s dive a little deeper and find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Toyota RAV4

An all-new Toyota RAV4 doesn't just happen. Over the life of the model, there have been four generations over 25 years, which suggests that Toyota invests a lot of time and effort in the development of its mid-sized SUVs.

Now there's a fifth-gen version. The Toyota RAV4 2019 model is more advanced, more high-tech, safer, smarter and more spacious than any version that has come before it.

So, what's it like? Presumably pretty good, right? Read on to find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Subaru Outback7.9/10

The sixth-generation, 2021 Subaru Outback has incrementally improved the large wagon-slash-SUV, with a number of important steps forward including better safety tech, a more powerful engine and smarter cabin. A turbo or hybrid powertrain would sweeten the deal even further.

I don’t know that you’d really need anything other than the base model Outback AWD, which seems like a truly great value offering. It’d be our pick of the range.


Toyota RAV48.3/10

This could well be the most complete Toyota model ever made. The brand has nailed the brief with this mid-sized SUV, and in a market where it has traditionally been one of the go-to players, customers now have even more reasons to look at the RAV4 than ever before.

We can't wait to see just how well it stacks up against its rivals in a comparison test. Stay tuned for that.

Design

Subaru Outback7/10

It’s an all-new car. It doesn’t necessarily look like it, and in fact – to my eye – it’s not as attractive as the fifth-generation model, which was an expert in being inoffensive, where this model has a few more design-lead changes that might divide opinions.

You won’t mistake it for anything other than an Outback, as it has that typical rugged high-riding wagon look that we’ve come to expect from it. But it’s almost like this is a facelift rather than an all-new car.

Like, literally – the features have all been cinched back at the front, and the wheel-arches have been tweaked so they stand more at attention… it literally looks like an age-denying citizen’s approach at looking younger. A bit too much Botox? Tell us what you think the comments below.

But there are still smart design highlights, like the roof rails with integrated roof racks that are stowable/deployable in the base and top models, while the mid-spec model has a fixed roof rack system. 

The fact all models have LED lighting all-around is nice, while the 18-inch wheels… well, none of them are to my taste. To me, they just aren’t as youthful as some of the other elements of the car are trying to elucidate.

And the rear-end treatment? Well, that’s the only spot where you’re most likely to confuse it with another car… and that doppelganger would be a Forester.

On the inside there are some really nice design changes, though. Check out the interior pictures below.


Toyota RAV4

This is perhaps the most masculine RAV4 ever - it's like the brand is trying to appeal to dads this time around, as well as mums.

And while it might look like it has take a step up in size, a lot of that comes down to the exterior design and the platform the brand has built the new model off.

The dimensions are as follows: the new model is 4600mm long in GX, GXL and Cruiser guise - which is 5mm less than the previous model. The Edge version is a touch longer at 4615mm. In terms of width, the new model is 1855mm (GX, GXL, Cruiser) and 1865mm broader in Edge guise - so, 10mm and 20mm wider than the old model. As for height, the new model is 1685mm (GX, GXL, Cruiser) or 1690mm (Edge), which is 30mm/25mm lower than the existing model.

That translates well to interior dimensions, too - there's plenty more space, and the cabin has a lot more design flare than it used to.

But the exterior design is the real talking point - the comments on our Facebook walk around video were divided, but I reckon in person it looks really beefy. The standout is the Edge model, which brings a different look - it gets a model-specific front bumper design, grille, skid plate, wheel-arch mouldings, fog-lamp surrounds and rear bumper. It also rides on distinctive 19-inch alloys.

Lower grade models also look pretty slick, and even the low-grade GX with its 17-inch rims looks pretty smart, especially in the bright blue hue.

You'll have to use your imagination to figure out what it would look like with side steps, or a body kit with a more outlandish rear spoiler... though we have no doubt someone will do it. And hey, if you wish there was another soft top version of the RAV4 like we saw way back in the 1990s, you'll be sadly disappointed - it's a hardtop only affair.

Check out the interior photos to see what you make of the fake leather trim... More on the interior below.

Practicality

Subaru Outback9/10

Subaru has taken some pretty big steps when it comes to changing the interior of the Outback, with the most prominent change being front and centre of the cabin – that huge new 11.6-inch touchscreen media system.

It’s a really interesting looking piece of technology, and like the existing media screen in the Outback, is crisp, colourful and offers quick response times. It’s something that takes a little bit of getting used to – the fan controls are digital, for instance, but there are buttons either side of the screen for temperature control – but once you’ve spent some time with it, you’d be surprised just how intuitive it all is.

The Apple CarPlay worked a treat, connecting up without hassle. And while it isn’t wireless CarPlay, we haven’t yet tested a car with that tech that’s worked as it should… so, yay for cables!

There are two USB ports below the screen, and two additional charging ports in the back seat centre section as well. That’s good, but there’s no wireless charging pad at all, which isn’t great.

And while the big screen has done away with the multiple screen layout and the huge number of buttons in the old car, the new one still has a number of buttons on the steering wheel, which are easy to learn too. I had some trouble acclimating to the blinker stalk, with the one-touch indicator trigger seemingly being a bit too hard to activate at times. It’s a quiet “ticker”, too, so there were a few times when I was driving with my indicator on for ages without realising it.

Storage is mostly really well considered in the Outback, with bottle holders and storage sleeves in all four doors, plus a pair of cup holders between the front seats (they are a little large if you prefer a small takeaway coffee), and in the back there’s a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, too.

The front also has a small storage section below the media screen (not quite large enough for a large-format smartphone), plus there’s a covered centre console bin, and the dashboard design may have been inspired by the RAV4, as there’s a neat little rubberised shelf in front of the passenger where you could put a phone or wallet. 

In terms of space for occupants, taller people will be fine in the front or the rear. I’m 182cm or 6’0” tall, and I managed to find a comfortable driving position, and was able to sit behind it with ample knee room, toe room and head space, too. The width is great, too, with plenty of room across the cabin. Three of me could easily fit side by side, but if you have children you’ll be happy to know there are two ISOFIX and three top-tether points for baby seats.

The back seat occupants should be kept happy as there are directional vents in all grades, while the top two specs score rear outboard seat heating, too. Nice.

There are some other nice inclusions for rear seat occupants, including recline adjust for the backrests of the seats, and the seatbelts are set in such a way that they should never get in the way when you lower the back seats down (60:40 split fold, actuated by triggers in the boot area).

Speaking of the boot space, there’s plenty. The new Outback offers 522 litres (VDA) or cargo capacity, with is 10L more than before. Plus, as mentioned, the seats fold flat to allow 1267L of luggage capacity. 

Equivalent mid-size SUVs priced close to the Outback can’t match it for practicality, and the cabin’s look and feel is greatly improved over the previous model. It’s a very nice place to spend time.


Toyota RAV4

The cabin of the new RAV4 is a big step up in quality, but also in terms of space smarts.

There is good storage available throughout, with a cup holder count of four (two front, two rear in the fold-down armrest), bottle holders in all four doors, and reasonable loose item storage up front near the shifter, between the seats, and even a small Kluger-like shelf in front of the front passenger. Rear seat occupants get a map pocket, and it's not one of those nasty mesh ones.

Human room is really good, too.

Up front there's great seat comfort and pretty good levels of adjustment, though the front passenger seat is quite high in all models, and you can't get electric front passenger adjustment on any model.

The second-row space is exceptional - possibly class leading, in fact. I'm 182cm (six-feet in the old money) and with the driver's seat set to my position I had inches of legroom space, good toe wiggle room, good shoulder room and excellent headroom. If you're a parent with tall teens, this will definitely do the trick - and if you're kids are little, there's easily enough room for a pair of child seats (maybe even three, but we'll have to get CarsGuide Family reviewer Nedahl Stelio to conduct that test on the new RAV4!).

The luggage capacity is a big improvement, too - the boot size is now 580 litres, up 33L on the existing model, with the boot space dimensions extended by 65mm. The boot also features a reversible liner for the dual-level boot floor setup, and there's a cargo cover (or tonneau cover, if you prefer) for the storage space as well. Fleet buyers or dog owners will be able to get a cargo barrier at some point, too. My main complaint for the boot is the electric tailgate system is quite slow.

The GXL, Cruiser and Edge models are fitted with roof rails - helpful for adding a roof rack system.

Price and features

Subaru Outback9/10

The Subaru Outback range remains a value-focused option for customers out there who want a lot of car for their money. 

It still starts under forty grand in sixth-generation guise, though prices have gone up somewhat compared to the old model, which Subaru says is justified by additional equipment and safety technology.

All models have the same powertrain, so it’s purely gear and goodies that separates the three variants: the entry-level Outback AWD ($39,990), mid-range AWD Sport ($44,490) and top-spec AWD Touring ($47,490). Those prices are MSRP/list pricing, before on-road costs.

Now, here’s a rundown of the range.

The base model AWD comes with 18-inch alloy wheels and a full size alloy spare, roof rails with stowable roof rack cross bars, LED headlights, LED foglights, push-button start, keyless entry, electric park brake, rain-sensing wipers, heated and power-folding side mirrors, fabric seat trim, leather steering wheel, paddle-shifters, electric adjustment for the front seats, rear seats with manual recline, and a 60:40 split-fold rear seat with boot release levers.

The AWD entry-level car – and both the variants above – have a new 11.6-inch touchscreen media screen in portrait layout, which incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech. There are six speakers standard, as well as four USB ports (2x front, 2x rear).

The next model up the range is the AWD Sport, which – like the Forester Sport model – gets a number of aesthetic changes to help split it from its stablemates.

They include model-specific dark 18-inch wheels, black exterior trim changes, fixed roof rails, a power tailgate, water repellent interior trim with green stitching, heated front and outboard rear seats, sports pedals, light-sensing headlights (auto on/off) and it gets sat nav as part of the media screen, too. This grade scores a front view and side view monitor for parking/low speed driving, too.

The top-end AWD Touring has a few luxury-focused extras over the other grades, including an electric sunroof, Nappa leather interior trim, a heated steering wheel, auto dipping passenger side door mirror, memory settings for driver’s seat, satin finish door mirrors, silver highlight roof rails (with stowable crossbars), and gloss-finish wheels. 

The interior also upgrades the stereo in this grade to a nine-speaker harman/kardon setup with subwoofer and single CD player. All grades have DAB+ digital radio too.

All grades have an array of safety technology, including a driver monitoring system that will warn you to keep your eyes on the road and monitor for signs of drowsiness, and in the top-spec model includes face recognition that can adjust the seat and side mirrors for you.

All models come with a reversing camera, Subaru’s EyeSight forward facing camera system that incorporates AEB, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control and more. There are full details on the safety systems and their operability in the section below.

Things missing from any grade of Outback? It would have been nice to have a wireless phone charger, and there are no traditional parking sensors, either.

Overall though, there’s a lot to like across multiple grades, here.

If you’re interested in colours (or colors if you prefer), then you might be intrigued to know there are nine colours available. Two can’t be had on the AWD Sport grade - Storm Grey Metallic and Crimson Red Pearl – but it can be had in any of the remaining colours, as can the other trim levels: Crystal White Pearl, Magnetite Grey Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Crystal Black Silica, Dark Blue Pearl, and the new Autumn Green Metallic and Brilliant Bronze Metallic.

The best news? None of the colour choices will cost you any extra money!


Toyota RAV4

How much is a Toyota RAV4? Well, that depends on which model in the range you choose. Here's a price list - model by model - that should act as a guide to the trim levels. These prices are before on-road cost (also known as RRP), but not drive away prices. You may have to wait a little while for deals.

The line-up kicks off with the GX, the standard features levels are generous.

Standard gear includes auto LED headlights (hoorah - no xenon, projector or HID bulbs!), taillights and daytime running lights as well as LED front fog lamps, heated and folding electric exterior mirrors, auto wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels with temporary spare (optional full-size wheel available), fabric seat trim, a urethane steering wheel, air conditioning with rear vents, an 8.0-inch multimedia touch screen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a sound system with six speakers stereo, AM/FM/DAB radio, one USB port, plus a GPS navigation system with SUNA live traffic is standard - yep, sat nav on every model.

There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto - yet. The brand has announced it will be fitting the iPhone iOs / Android mirroring tech to all models from the fourth quarter of this year, and every version sold before then can be retrofitted with the integration. No DVD player, though, and no CD player or CD changer. You'll just have to upgrade to the MP3 age, man.

Hybrid GX models add dual-zone climate control AC and smart key / keyless entry central locking with push button start. All GX models get an electric park brake and rear mudflaps.

The safety on offer is also solid, with all grades getting auto emergency braking with day/night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection, lane keeping assist (manual models with a slightly lower-grade system), adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go for auto models, high-speed only for manuals), auto high beam lights, road sign recognition and alerts, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, and seven airbags (dual front, front side, side curtain and driver's knee).

Next up the model range is the GXL, which adds roof rails, window tint at the rear, 18-inch wheels with a 17-inch temporary spare, front and rear mudflaps, "premium embossed fabric seats", a leather steering wheel and shifter, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone climate control, Qi wireless phone charging, keyless entry and push-button start.

The camera has active guidance lines on the display, plus you get three front USBs and two rear USBs.

Third up the ranks is the Cruiser grade, which is visually differentiated by a silver grille, chrome door handles, a "moon roof", 19-inch alloy wheels with a temporary 18-inch rims for the petrol versions (18-inch black alloys with a temporary 17-inch spare for hybrid versions).

The Cruiser's interior almost feels like it has been with the "premium package", with leather-accented seats, heated front seats, 10-way electric driver's seat adjustment with memory settings, leather-accent door trims, a 7.0-inch driver info display, ambient lighting, a reversing camera with a 360-degree monitor, a power tailgate and a nine-speaker JBL sound system with subwoofer.

Top of the range in the model comparison is the RAV4 Edge, which almost looks like a sport edition for outdoorsy people. It can be had in "Jungle Khaki" paint - none of the others can - and inside there is "Softex" fake leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, but the driver's seat weirdly loses the memory function. A panoramic sunroof is optional ($1300) in this grade.

No model comes with a heated steering wheel, nor is any equipped with a seat belt extender or Homelink smart garage door opening. But you will find a tool kit and a spare wheel under the boot floor in each instance - no tyre repair kit here.

On the topic of colours (or colors, if that's how you spell it where you're reading this), there is only one no-cost option colour in the range - Glacier White. The other options are Crystal Pearl (white - not available on GX or Edge), Silver Sky (not available on Edge), Graphite (grey), Eclipse Black, Atomic Rush Red, Eclectic Blue and Saturn Blue (dark blue - not available on Edge). There is no proper green hue, to speak of, but the Jungle Khaki paint for the Edge is close enough.

As for accessories, you should be able to get floor mats in every one of these straight off the showroom floor, and you should be able to get a bull bar, nudge bar or snorkel if you shop around.

How many seats in the RAV4? Five is the answer - there is no third row seat setup, so if you need seven seats, you'll have to shop up to a Kluger or Fortuner.

Engine & trans

Subaru Outback7/10

The engine in all Subaru Outback 2021 models is a “90 per cent new” 2.5-litre four-cylinder “boxer” horizontally opposed petrol engine.

The motor produces 138kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 245Nm of torque (from 3400-4600rpm). Those are modest increases – 7 per cent more power and 4.2 per cent more torque – compared with the old Outback. 

It is only available with a “refined” Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, but all grades come with paddle-shifters as standard, so you can take matters in to your own hands – Subaru says there’s an “eight-speed manual mode”.

Towing capacity for the Outback range is 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 2000kg for a braked trailer, with a 200kg down weight for the tow bar. You can option a towbar as a genuine accessory.

Now, the elephant – or elephants – in the Outback are that it doesn’t launch with a hybrid powertrain, which means it’s falling behind the class leaders (yes, we’re talking about the likes of the Toyota RAV4, but even the Forester has a hybrid powertrain option!).

And the old diesel engine has been axed, plus there’s no six-cylinder petrol variant as there was in the previous model.

Plus while other markets get a four-cylinder turbo engine (a 2.4L with 194kW and 375Nm), we don’t have that option here. So, it’s naturally aspirated 4-cyl petrol power, or bust.


Toyota RAV4

If you love nothing more than deciphering specifications and ratings, you're in for a treat.

The GX, GXL and Cruiser can be had with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which is only available in front-wheel drive layout, but can be had with either a six-speed manual transmissions (GX only) or CVT auto gearbox (GXL and Cruiser). The 2.0-litre motor is good for 127kW of power and 203Nm of torque.

Stepping up in engine size, the GX, GXL and Cruiser models are also available with a 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid, which teams a four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle engine (with 131kW and 221Nm) to an 88kW/202Nm electric motor. The total combined power output is 160kW for the 2WD. The figure jumps to 163kW for the AWD, which gets an additional on-demand 40kW/121Nm electric motor at the rear axle. As is Toyota's way, there's no combined torque figure. All hybrid models run a CVT automatic transmission as standard, and you can run on EV mode under light loads.

The top-spec Edge variant is the only model not available with a hybrid powertrain. Instead, it cops a 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine with 152kW of power and 243Nm of torque. It has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and comes with all-wheel drive - the AWD system can split torque between 100 per cent front bias down to a 50:50 ratio front/rear, and rear-axle dynamic torque vectoring. It's not a proper 4x4 system, but Edge models also get a terrain select system with mud & sand, rock & dirt, and snow modes.

Now if you're wondering about the diesel vs petrol argument, forget it - there's no turbodiesel available. Nor is there an LPG model, and there's no plug in hybrid either. No turbo petrol, either.

Towing capacity varies depending on the model - but it's safe to say that if you plan on fitting a tow bar and pulling a large load, you ought to get a version with AWD as the load capacity is bigger and better.

The GX/GXL/Cruiser 2WD (or 4x2) petrol models can deal with 800kg braked towing, while the 2.5L AWD Edge model has a maximum braked towing capacity of 1500kg.

The GX/GXL/Cruiser front wheel drive hybrid models offer a measly 480kg maximum towing, while the AWD hybrid models match the Edge, with 1500kg braked towing.

No gross vehicle weight is specified, but the RAV4 range spans from 1515kg (kerb weight) for the entry-level petrol up to 1745kg for the AWD hybrid.

If you're concerned about manual transmission issues, clutch and gearbox complaints, automatic transmission problems, or battery concerns, check out our Toyota RAV4 problems page.

Fuel consumption

Subaru Outback7/10

The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure – that’s the claimed fuel economy the brand reckons you should achieve across a mix of driving – is stated at 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres.

That’s pretty good, and it’s aided by the engine’s start-stop technology that even has a readout that tells you how many millilitres of fuel you’re saving when it’s active. I like that.

In our real world testing we saw a return – at the pump – of 8.8L/100km across highway, urban, back road and traffic jam testing. That’s not bad, but in similar driving in a Toyota RAV4 hybrid I’ve seen economy of about 5.5L/100km.

We assume Subaru Australia will add a hybrid version of the Outback at some point (like it has with the XV Hybrid and Forester Hybrid), but at this point in time, the petrol engine is your only choice.

Fuel tank capacity is 63 litres, and it can take 91RON regular unleaded.


Toyota RAV4

The 2.0-litre petrol model claims official combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual, and 6.5L/100km for the auto. We've leave you to figure out the km/l numbers!

Fuel economy for the 2WD hybrid is 4.7L/100km, while the AWD uses a claimed 4.8L/100km -two new petrol benchmarks for the segment. It's like an eternal eco mode!

Fuel use for the Edge's AWD 2.5L engine is 7.3L/100km - this engine is only in the Edge model, yet it still undercuts most of its rivals with similarly-sized engines and AWD.

The fuel tank capacity is 55 litres in size across all models, but it's fair to say your mileage will vary based on the drivetrain.

On test, I was extremely impressed by the dash-displayed average in the AWD hybrid models I drove - 5.5L/100km in the car that we drove through the city and outskirts of Adelaide to the hills; and 5.8L/100km for the version that did a longer freeway stint.

The Edge model saw a return of 10.5L/100km displayed, while the GX 2.0L manual indicated 8.3L/100km, and the GX 2.0L CVT was showing 9.2L/100km.

Driving

Subaru Outback8/10

If you’ve driven a previous-generation Subaru Outback, you’re not going to feel like this is unfamiliar territory.

That’s because this version, well, it sticks to the formula. Even if you’ve driven the new Forester, it might feel pretty familiar.

Much of that comes down to the engine and transmission. The 2.5L four-cylinder boxer is a strong engine, but not a punchy one. It offers good response and smooth power delivery for the most part, and it will push you back in your seat if you plant your foot, but not in the same way a petrol-electric hybrid or a turbocharged four-cylinder might.

And while there is still some Subaru “boxer” rumble from under the bonnet, it’s largely a pretty hushed place to be when you’re driving it in normal circumstances. If you accelerate hard you’ll hear the engine more, and that’s down to the behaviour of the CVT automatic.

Some people will hate it because it’s a CVT, but Subaru does a pretty good job with these transmissions, and in the Outback it’s as inoffensive as they come. And yes, there is a manual mode with paddle shifters if you want to take matters into your own hands, but for the most part, you shouldn’t really need to.

The steering is direct and offers good weighting and response, pivoting pretty well in corners while also allowing you to turn the car easily when you’re parking. There’s not much feel to the steering, but that’s not what this car is about, and thankfully the trademark Subaru visibility from the driver’s seat means it is easier to park than some other SUVs out there. 

The ride is mostly good, with a supple character that is more about comfort than anything else. It’s a little more softly sprung and a touch underdamped than some people might like, meaning it can be a little wobbly or jittery depending on the road, but I think it’s the right balance for the intent of the car – a family wagon / SUV that has some potential off-road chops.

It is all-wheel drive after all, and there is Subaru’s X-Mode system – with snow/dirt and deep snow/mud modes – that should be helpful if you find yourself off the beaten path. I did some light gravel track driving in the Outback, and found its 213mm ground clearance to be plentiful, while the suspension was pretty well sorted.


Toyota RAV4

The all-new RAV4 lives up to our expectations.

The brand has some form when it comes to vehicles that have been built off the "Toyota New Generation Architecture", or TNGA, which underpins the new Corolla, Camry, C-HR and Prius. So we expected the RAV4 to be good to drive, more fun than the last one and more confident and refined, too. And it is.

The drivetrains are perhaps the most impressive piece of the puzzle - and yes, the hybrid is the standout. The way the petrol engine, CVT transmission and electric motors work together to ensure the best propulsion in any given circumstance is, quite frankly, excellent.

There is easily enough performance for the vast majority of families, too - sure, you won't be bragging about a scorching "0 100 acceleration" time, but the hybrid RAV4 gathers speed with less effort than you might think, as the battery can give you a boost when you plant your right foot.

And it doesn't sound bad, either, aside from a little bit of whirring from the drivetrain at lower revs. There's a little bit of road noise to contend with - the bigger the wheels, the thinner the tyres, the more noise you'll notice - but it's never deafening, even in the back seat.

The braking confidence of the hybrid model is good too - there's very little of that 'wooden' feel that some hybrid brake pedals exhibit, and it pulls up strongly.

I thought the 2.0-litre base petrol engine might feel undercooked - but it isn't. It's really quite vibrant. I sampled it with the six-speed manual (which was an absolutely charmer - admittedly one that will only account for about two per cent of sales) and the CVT auto, which is going to be vastly more popular.

It isn't a 'regular' CVT - like the Corolla it has the brand's 'Launch Gear' system, a conventional mechanical first gear that then steps across to a variable ratio when it reaches 'second' gear. It worked an absolute treat, and I was impressed by the amount of power available, and likewise the refinement of the engine. It's better than you think it might be.

The 2.5-litre non-hybrid in the Edge model has a bit more of a raucous nature to it. The eight-speed automatic does a real good job, and some people will prefer that to a CVT auto for obvious reasons. It was gusty and eager, and on the rainy test loop we drove it, the mechanical all-wheel drive system did a great job at stopping it from spinning up the front tyres, pushing power to the rear axle with a pleasant (yet very minor) drivetrain thunk.

But with the drivetrain tech being so finessed in the hybrid, it's hard to see why you would choose the top-spec Edge over one of the more affordable petrol-electric versions... aside from the look, of course.

As for ride comfort, things are mostly pretty good. There's a bit of jitter at higher speeds over less-than-perfect surfaces, but it was comfortable enough on the highway, and even better around town - an important stipulation, given most people will spend a lot of time running around in their RAV4.

The electric power steering is very nice - predictable and accurate, with some feel to proceedings that other SUVs in the segment simply can't match. It's engaging to drive, and a huge improvement over its predecessor in that regard.

And if you're interested in how the tech performed, the blind spot monitor came in handy because there's quite a blind-spot over your shoulder when you driving, and while the lane departure warning is a little eager, the lane assist system that keeps you centred on highways is quite handy.

If you're wondering about off road specs, here are the details: approach angle - 17.5 degrees; departure angle - 20.0 degrees; break-over / ramp-over angle - not listed; ground clearance mm - 195mm for petrol models, 190mm for hybrids.

How does that translate to off road capability? Luckily, for this launch review, we had a chance to sample the RAV4 in the rough stuff at JAKEM farm outside Adelaide - and look, the tracks that were chosen were probably doable in a Corolla, for the most part, but there was a section of moguls where we managed to get a feel for the hybrid version's active torque split and torque vectoring system (for the rear axle) and it was pretty capable, even on big wheels. The off road drive modes help in that regard, allowing the VSC (stability control system) more leeway, and the Edge model has a centre diff lock, too.

That could be the biggest downfall of the RAV off-road - the rim sizes are big. You might want to fit some 17 inch alloy wheels or steelies with off road tyres, instead of the 18s and 19s that are on higher-grade versions. Sure, they mightn't look quite as tough under the Edge's wheel arch extensions, but the grip improvements could be worth it if you're serious about adventure.

We didn't get to test the wading depth of the RAV4 - and the brand doesn't state a figure, as such. But the 11.0-metre turning radius meant it was easy to pivot through tighter corners off road. The front suspension was a marginally more resolved than the rear over choppy surfaces, but honestly, I wouldn't be thinking of this as a successor to the FJ Cruiser - even if it does have funky design on its side.

One omission is a downhill brake assist system, or hill descent control. You can get that on some rivals in this segment.

Safety

Subaru Outback9/10

There is no ANCAP crash test safety rating as yet for the 2021 Outback range, but it has a lot of the technology and safety goodies that customers shopping for a family SUV or wagon would expect. 

As standard there is Subaru’s EyeSight stereo camera system that reads the road ahead, and it incorporates forward/front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) for vehicles that works between 10km/h and 160km/h. There's also pedestrian AEB (1km/h to 30km/h) and cyclist detection and AEB (60km/h or less), and it has lane keeping technology with emergency lane keep assist that can swerve the car to avoid impacts with cars, people or cyclists (approximately 80km/h or less). Lane departure prevention works from 60km/h to 145km/h.

All grades also get blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a driver monitor camera that watches the driver and warns them if they’re not paying attention to the road or starting to get drowsy (the top-spec model’s version of this also includes seat and mirror adjustment memory based on your face!), plus there is speed sign recognition, too.

All grades have a reversing camera, while the top two specs have front view and side view cameras, but none have a 360-degree surround view camera. All models also have rear AEB, a system Subaru calls reverse auto braking (RAB) that can halt the car if it detects there’s something behind it when you’re backing up. It also doubles as reversing sensors for all grades, but none have front parking sensors.

And there are other elements to the safety matrix, including Lead Vehicle Start Alert (the cameras tell you when the car in front has driven off) and lane centring (to keep you in the middle of your lane), both of which operate between 0km/h and 145km/h, and there is adaptive high beam lights on all grades, too.

The airbag count for the Outback is eight, with dual front, front side, driver’s knee, passenger centre-front, and full-length curtain coverage.


Toyota RAV4

At the time of writing, the hasn't yet been an ANCAP safety rating awarded to the new RAV4 - but the company has stated it anticipates a five-star score under the strict 2019 criteria.

A lot of that comes down to the features available in the new model - and there's plenty of safety tech fitted across the entire range.

All grades are fitted with auto emergency braking (AEB) with day/night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection, lane keeping assist (manual models with a slightly lower-grade system), adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go for auto models, high-speed only for manuals), auto high beam lights, road sign recognition and alerts, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

That spec list is strong, but it doesn't have rear AEB which you get on every CX-5, and there's no head-up display, either. That, combined with an unknown safety score, mean the model range can't quite get a top score here.

All models have a reverse camera along with front and rear parking sensors, but there's no semi-autonomous park assist like you'll find in a Tiguan.

Every RAV4 has seven airbags (dual front, front side, side curtain and driver's knee), and there are dual ISOFIX baby car seat attachments, and three top-tether hooks, too.

Where is the Toyota RAV4 built? Australian-delivered models are sourced from Japan.

Ownership

Subaru Outback7/10

Subaru doesn’t go beyond expectations in the mainstream class, with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty now par for the course.

The brand also has shorter maintenance intervals than some, with services scheduled every 12 months or 12,500km (most are 15,000km intervals).

The costs of maintenance aren’t that low, either. After an initial free checkup at one-month, the services cost: $345 (12 months/12,500km); $595 (24 months/25,000km); $351 (36 months/37,500km); $801 (48 months/50,000km); and $358 (60 months/62,500km). That averages out at about $490 per service, which is high. 

If you’re worried about budgeting for that cost every year, you can bundle a service plan into your financing – a smart move, if you ask me. There are two options available: a three-year/37,500km plan and a five-year/62,500km plan. Neither saves you money over pay-as-you-go, but these plans also include three years roadside assist and the option of a free loan car when it comes time to service your own Outback. And if you decide to sell, you can pass that service plan on to the next owner.

 Just make sure you don’t smash the windscreen – the camera system integrated into the glass means a new windshield is a $3000 part!


Toyota RAV4

Toyota recently introduced its new customer promise - a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, which can be extended to seven years extended warranty provided your car has "logbook servicing" - and that doesn't necessarily have to have been carried out by Toyota's own dealer workshops, either.

The brand also has a capped price servicing plan for the RAV4, and no matter the model, the service cost is the same - $210 per maintenance visit, and these are due every 12 months/15,000km, whichever occurs first. That's incredibly good value.

If you're concerned about potential problems or common faults - possibly around battery defects or or issues - Toyota will do a "battery health check" at the five-year point, and will monitor the battery health every year thereafter, with the warranty for that part of the hybrid model drivetrain spanning 10 years.

Our Toyota RAV4 problems page is the best destination if you want to understand reliability ratings find out common complaints, and it should even give you an idea about resale value, too. Oh, and while you might find the info online, it also pays to check the owners manual for info on oil type, capacity and consumption.