Toyota RAV4 VS Subaru Forester
- Massively practical
- Impressive standard inclusions
- Ultra-comfort ride
- Manual not great
- Thrashy engine
- Might be too big for some
- Range-wide AEB and active cruise
- Lots of kit for your $$$
- Real-world practicality
- Derivative styling
- Engine missing turbo mid-range
- Engine line-up has gone from 4-1
It speaks to the wide-ranging, seemingly infinite appeal of the Toyota RAV4 that a manual version of it even exists.
Sure, only the base car can be fitted with it, and we’re confident it will impress those vocal few people in every single comment section who demand it, but is it actually any good? Or does a manual gearbox tarnish the rather excellent package that is CarsGuide's Car of the Year 2019 overall winner?
While we’re at it, we’ll also give you the low-down on what the cheapest RAV4 is like. Read on to see what we thought.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
If you haven't seen Clint Eastwood's son, Scott, you should Google him - he's a dead ringer for his Dad. But while he might be following in his father's Hollywood footprints, he's of a completely new generation.
A similar story applies with the new fifth-generation Forester. It looks a lot like the model before it, but everything you see is actually new.
That's hardly a new phenomenon, with most previous Foresters representing a blur of evolutionary design. Subaru does this across the board, actually, to protect existing owners from feeling like they're yesterday's news, and to take advantage of feelings of fond familiarity when those owners look to update their cars.
This precludes a lot of the excitement of new design, but Subarus have rarely been about visual appeal (the fourth-gen Liberty is one big exception), rather a quirkiness that stands aside from a lot of the same-same from other mainstream brands, which is paired with the relative USP of all wheel drive.
So there's method to the mimicry, and every conceivable element has been improved. Matt Campbell was impressed after his limited experience at the Forester's international launch in July, but this week's Australian launch gave us the full picture of this latest version of Subaru's mid-size SUV.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
When Toyota launched the new RAV4 it couldn’t afford to get it wrong.
It didn’t. Even this absolute base car is incredibly well equipped, superb when it comes to comfort, and offers the largest cabin in the mid-size segment.
I’m as surprised as you possibly are that Toyota even sells it as a manual, but honestly, it’s this car’s worst attribute. It only serves to tarnish the drive experience. Pay the extra and get the auto.
It remains to be seen whether Scott Eastwood is able to match the cinematic legend of his father, but it's clear that the new Forester is better in every way than the model it replaces. If you were a fan of the old one, you'll love this one, and it's pretty tough to argue against if you're in the market for a mid-size SUV.
If you can live without leather seats, the 2.5i-Premium is probably the sweet spot of the range, given it brings all the safety gear, the bigger multimedia screen and the power tailgate for a list price of under $40,000. Having said that, the top 2.5i-S is also a pretty good deal for just $3000 more.
Would the new Forester tempt you away from a CX-5? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Also check out Matt Campbell's review video from the Forester's international launch:
The RAV4 has come far in its design and aesthetic since the previous generation. It’s much better at grabbing your eye as it cruises past, and although it borrows a lot from the Kluger which has been on the market for a while now, it still strikes the eye as modern and angular.
The double-barreled snout, air dams and chunky wheelarches add a sense of capability to its contemporary guise. Even this base car gets chunky alloys and is covered in contrast black plastic cladding, adding to its look over base-model competitors. The blue tinge of LED headlights rather than the dull tones of halogens seal the deal.
Around at the rear it modernizes the dated Kluger formula with squared-off light fittings and a roof spoiler. The wholly unnecessary dual-exhaust is nice, too.
The interior is where the most base model tells are. You’re greeted by a sea of grey plastics, although to Toyota’s credit, many of them are soft to the touch. It’s all too easy to notice the blanked-out buttons, covered over climate control dials and six-speed gearshifter that looks like it was dropped out of a last-generation Corolla.
While the big screen nestles in the dash, 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen and silver highlights help counteract the base-model blues, there’s no escaping a nasty plastic steering wheel.
The overall visual aesthetic of the RAV4 is still cool, though. On the inside there are great textures hidden everywhere. There’s a triangular pattern in all the storage areas designed to help stop objects from moving, stripped rubbery textures on the inside of the door handles and rubbery turbine patterns on the air-con and volume knobs. Nice touches.
The seats are in a plain pattern but nice to the touch and should be fairly easy to clean as they are comprised of a rugged synthetic material.
All that adds up for a cabin ambiance that easily outclasses most price-competitors, and even higher-spec cars from rival brands.
My first experience with the new Forester actually came the week before the launch, when I overtook one of the launch cars being run-in in country NSW.
It wasn't until I was within two car-lengths that I realised it was the new model, and this was approaching it from its most distinguished angle. The tail-lights are the biggest giveaway, with the slash of body colour eating into each light - as inspired by Subaru's recent Viziv concepts.
Many will probably need to see them parked side by side to pick the exterior from the old one, but the fundamental newness starts with its adoption of the latest Subaru Global Platform, as already seen with the Impreza and XV.
The body is now 53 per cent high-tensile steel, which makes for a stronger chassis that's lighter than it would be otherwise. Despite its growth and expanded list of features, the new Forester is just 26kg heavier as the base 2.5i, and 15kg as the top spec 2.5i-S.
In terms of size and dimensions, the key growth area has been an extra 30mm of wheelbase, which accounts for the lion's share of the extra 33mm between the front and rear seats that represents the biggest gain for interior dimensions.
As you'll see in the video and interior images, the inside is an evolution of the design used in the Impreza and the XV. The dashboard actually appears to be a direct lift from these, and is therefore dominated by vertical vents either side of the multimedia (6.5 inch on the lower two trim levels, 8.0 inch on the upper two) screen. There's a 6.3-inch multifunction display (MFD) atop the dash for monitoring vehicle functions, which is joined by a third screen in the instrument binnacle.
In the upper 2.5i-Premium and 2.5i-S variants (the ones we drove on test, at least), this means a good variety of materials and textures, although the soft golf ball-like surface on the centre console is hard on the door trims. It's also surprising to see leather trim limited to the top 2.5i-S.
Regardless, it all feels like a typical Subaru; good, resilient quality.
I parked this RAV4 next to a last-generation Toyota Kluger and really shouldn’t have been surprised how close they were in size. Still, bracket creep means the RAV4 is now truly gigantic compared to its forebears and that means family practicality all over.
It’s things as simple as the fact that both doors are massive and open very wide, allowing for super easy access to any seat for less mobile passengers, those lifting cargo up into the cabin, and those who might need to fit child seats.
Leg and headroom for the front two passengers is stellar, and the driver’s position is very adjustable, even with the base manual-adjust seats. Visibility is up with segment leaders like the Subaru Forester, as the RAV4 is essentially a glasshouse with massive windows and wing-mirrors.
Even the dial cluster is huge and legible, and there are big dials for operating the air conditioning and multimedia while you keep your eyes on the road.
You’ll find storage areas everywhere with that triangle pattern for holding objects in. All the bottleholders (two in the doors, two in the centre console) are massive, and there’s a huge trench in front of the shift-knob suitable for even the largest phones.
There’s even a long trench above the glove box for… aesthetic purposes? It has the no-slip surface, but objects would hurtle towards passengers under heavy acceleration, so I fail to see the point of it.
There's one USB port, one 'aux' jack, and one 12-volt socket for front passengers.
In terms of rear legroom, your second-row passengers will hardly be flying economy. I had a abundance of legroom behind my own driving position. Arm and headroom were also plentiful.
All doors have a soft strip across them for elbows. There’s a drop-down arm rest even in the base car, and the same chunky, grippy doorcards with a big bottle holder.
Rear passengers get a set of air vents on the back of the centre console, too.
The boot is ridiculous with a class-leading 580-litres (VDA) of space. It’s wide and unimpeded by styling bits, and you can even stow the roller cover under the floor paneling when not in use.
The GX ships with a space-saver spare, but you can upgrade to a full-size alloy spare for $300. If you do so you’ll remove the false-floor paneling.
Real-world practicality has always been a Forester hallmark, and the new model pushes the envelope even further.
Starting up the front, driver visibility has been improved by increasing the gap between the A-pillar and the rear-view mirrors, meaning you can see more through the quarter windows when turning corners or when judging parking situations.
As you'd expect, there are a couple of cup holders in the centre console, plus a 12V charge point in the lidded bin, and another in the centre stack, while the lower two trim levels get one USB port, and the upper two get two. All trim levels get a sunglass holder in the overhead console.
The backseat scores the aforementioned extra 33mm between the front and rear seats, which extrapolates to an extra 65mm of net rear legroom. Shoulder room is up by 20mm and hip room by 15mm, which is well in excess of what's needed for my 172cm frame.
The flat beltline allows big windows to maximise child visibility. All versions get a backseat armrest with two cupholders and two ISOFIX points. Without a sliding rear seat, though, it'll be worth trial-fitting a rear-facing child seat, if that's part of your life, to ensure there's enough room left for front-seat occupants.
The back of the centre console now comes with directional air vents, which sit above two quick-charge USB points.
There are bottle holders in each door, and as a nod to the many Foresters you see wearing roof racks, the rear door sill has been broadened and grip has been added to improve its function as a step ladder when loading something onto the roof.
The upper two trim levels come with a power tailgate that now operates nearly twice as quickly as before (hallelujah!) and locks the rest of the car automatically once it's closed.
The rear opening is nicely squared off and measures 1300mm across, or sufficient dimensions to load a set of golf clubs, width-wise. The boot size is 76 litres bigger with the seats up, now measuring 498 litres, which expands to a luggage capacity or maximum storage space of 1481 litres with the 60/40 rear seatback folded. The top two variants also now score a one-touch electric folding function for the rear seat.
Unless you've suffered the inconvenience of a flat tyre with just a space saver or inflation kit as backup, you won't fully appreciate the fact that the new Forester still packs a full size spare wheel across the line-up. Most of its rivals do not.
The boot area is also adorned with tie-down points, cargo hooks and a third 12V charge point.
If you're looking to tow, all four versions of the new Forester carry a maximum braked towing capacity of 1500kg, with a maximum towball weight of 150kg - which is about average for its class. We're aiming to bring one to a towing review in the near future.
Price and features
That’s right. The GX manual is the cheapest way to get into a Toyota RAV4 today. Starting at $30,640 (MSRP – before on-road costs) we’d even consider it great value despite the manual 'box.
To understand why you just have to take one look at its specification sheet. Remember, this mid-sizer competes against the (also surprisingly still manual) Nissan X-Trail ST ($29,890), Honda CR-V Vi (auto - $28,290), and Mitsubishi Outlander ES ADAS (auto - $33,290).
If you’re happy milling your own gears, you get better kit than the auto entry-level CR-V, the manual X-Trail ST and even significantly undercut the entry-level Outlander (if you include the fact that the Mitsubishi requires the ADAS pack to even compete on safety).
Included spec on this absolute base car includes not-so-budget stuff like 17-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (which will ship have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto imminently, but if you buy a current-stock car you will have to return to the dealer for a software upgrade), DAB+ digital radio, built-in sat-nav, manual air conditioning (this base grade strips the cool little screens out of the dials), auto LED headlights, a 4.2-inch display in the dash, front and rear parking sensors, and heated auto-folding wing mirrors.
Other regular sort of spec items include six speakers and a reversing camera.
That’s the best kit at this price in the mid-size SUV world by a solid margin. That’s not all though, even this manual RAV4 features the full 'Toyota Safety Sense' suite. More on that in the safety section of this review (spoiler: It’s good).
Among the few giveaways that the GX manual is the cheapest one is the turn-key ignition, cloth seat trim, and urethane steering wheel. Still… are you really going to complain against its unprecedented list of inclusions at this price?
Options are limited to premium paint (every colour except for ‘Glacier White’ - $600).
If you're stretching the budget to reach for a Forester, you'll be disappointed to read that the cost of entry has risen by $3250 to $33,490 (MSRP) for the new entry-level 2.5i variant. This is because the previous price-leading 2.0-litre petrol engine has been dropped, in addition to the 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 2.0-litre turbo petrol performance option in favour of an all 2.5-litre petrol line-up.
The absence of the two turbo engines also means the Forester range now tops out $6,250 earlier (for now), and consolidates your options down to just four trim levels. The price list moves from the 2.5i up to the $35,490 2.5i-L, then the $38,490 2.5i-Premium, before the $41,490 2.5i-S at the top of the range.
All told, the range represents pretty stunning value with no shortage of gadgets, and as of this week you'll be able to buy a Forester directly from Subaru online at a drive-away price.
All versions are now equipped with AEB via the EyeSight system, but more on that under Safety.
Apple CarPlay (for iPhone users), Android Auto (for pretty much everyone else), and digital radio (DAB) are also available, and fitted standard across the range for the first time, and if you're not the smartphone-mirroring type, the built-in satellite navigation (GPS) fitted to the top two models is a new TomTom system.
The top three models also come with the new Driver Focus driver-monitoring system which detects drowsiness, but can also recognise the driver's face and adjusts to your preferences when you sit in the driver's seat. Each Forester so equipped enables more preferences to be remembered depending on how much you spend, but the system will remember up to five drivers. In practice, it's pretty amazing technology; the moment you sit down and look forward it gets to work and your settings are restored before you can think about it.
Key standard features for the base 2.5i include a 6.5-inch multimedia touch screen, Harman Kardon sound system with six speakers, dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, leather steering wheel and gearknob, active cruise control, tinted windows at the rear, rain sensing wipers, automatic active LED headlights, daytime running lights and LED tail-lights, front and rear foglights, heated folding door mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, hill start assist, the basic version of the off-road focused X-Mode drive mode, hill descent control, Bluetooth and 17-inch alloys.
The 2.5i-L brings Driver Focus in its most basic form, which includes distraction and drowsiness warnings and will remember your previous climate control settings, along with how you left the dash top and driver instrument screens.
The second-tier model also adds a third camera beyond the EyeSight system, mounted in the grille, which enables the Vision Assist suite of safety features. This is comprised of Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. More sensors in the back of the car enables Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB).
The 2.5i-Premium brings dashes of extra chrome to the outside, upgraded cloth seats and dash and door trim, alloy pedals, 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in navigation system, eight-way power front seats with memory settings, auto folding door mirrors with dipping passenger mirror, power folding rear seats, power tailgate, and 18-inch rims.
The Driver Focus system also adds driver's seat and door mirror setting recollection.
The top-spec 2.5i-S brings even more exterior and interior garnishes, including leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio plus a subwoofer, and the X-Mode off-road drive program scores two modes to choose from, tailored for either snow/dirt or deep snow/mud.
Engine & trans
The six-speed manual version of the GX as tested here can only be had with a 127kW/203Nm 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol engine.
Those power figures are so-so and you’ll need to push up the rev-range (and compromise your fuel economy while doing so) to make the most out of them because there’s no turbo.
There are more sophisticated powertrains available in this segment with superior outputs, although not many at this price.
The manual transmission does let you wrangle the most out of this engine, although I was less impressed with the way it feels. More on that in the driving segment.
Rather than the four engine choices and manual transmission option of the Forester it replaces, the new model is available with just one of each. That means no turbo diesel and no turbocharged petrol. The 2.5-litre auto was by far the most popular option before, so it's not all fire and brimstone.
This is the first application of the 2.5 motor with direct injection, which is 90 per cent new according to Subaru. The most measurable specifications gain is an extra 10kW and 4Nm, which now totals a decent 136kW/239Nm for this engine size without a turbo.
Max horsepower is developed at the same 5800rpm as before, while max torque now arrives 300rpm later at 4400rpm. Impressively, these numbers are still possible with Regular 91 RON unleaded.
Unlike the Subarus of old, the 2.5 uses a timing chain instead of a timing belt, which is designed to last the life of the engine. The CVT automatic transmission has also been revised, now with a greater spread of ratios, and the manual mode now has seven stages.
Like all Subarus aside from the BRZ, the new Forester drives all four wheels (front wheel drive is not an option) through the tried and tested Symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Therefore, it's the only mainstream mid-size SUV without price-leading front-wheel-drive variants.
The manual version of the RAV4 wears a claimed/combined fuel consumption rating of 6.8 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. That’s pretty low, although nowhere near as low as the Hybrid auto’s amazing 4.7L/100km combined rating.
Over a week of driving in conditions I would consider true to combined freeway/urban driving, I scored 8.0L/100km which is not bad at all considering the RAV4’s size.
The RAV4 drinks base grade 91RON unleaded petrol and a 55L fuel tank. There’s no diesel version this time around.
With one engine and transmission across the board, there's just one fuel economy figure to note. The new Forester's official combined petrol consumption figure of 7.4L/100km is 0.7 better than the previous 2.5 auto, and is line-ball with the CX-5 2.5's mileage. It's also within cooee of the diesel fuel consumption figure of 6.4 in the outgoing model.
As mentioned above, it is worth noting that the Forester manages this on Regular 91 RON unleaded fuel, where a lot of its rivals demand more expensive Premium 95 RON to generate decent figures.
The fuel tank size is a generous 63 litres, which suggests a theoretical range of 851km is possible between fills.
The idea of a six-speed manual with rev-matching technology (complete with three modes) sounds fantastic on paper. Comment section pundits will be overjoyed. The bad news is it’s simply not that great.
It seems to be geared quite tall, and there’s a long throw between each cog. There’s not much feel to it locking in, nor is there any feel through the extremely light clutch pedal, so I admittedly ground the gears on more than one occasion.
As much as I hate to admit it, I prefer the CVT auto in this SUV for the same reasons I believe all SUVs this size should have spongy suspension.
It’s not meant to be a driver’s car. This is a practicality appliance for families that just so happens to have wheels. It should be comfortable and easy to use.
Thankfully, the rest of the RAV4’s drive experience is exactly that. The suspension has a lovely soft comfort-focused tune, and the combination of soft springs and small wheels (shod with relatively high profile rubber) makes for a quiet and refined cabin.
Of course, the trade off is that the RAV4 is hardly a corner carving sport machine, but ask yourself – do you need that?
The steering is very light, making the big body easy to swing around city streets, but it does lose a little feeling at speed.
As already mentioned, the visibility is excellent out of this car, the amenities are easy to use without becoming distractions, and it’s reassuring that the safety stuff is all really rather good.
A riveting drive the RAV4 is perhaps not, but it nails the brief as an easy-to-use family machine.
Matt's number-one question mark over the new Forester from its international launch was how it would handle rough Australian roads, given he only drove it on a billiard table-smooth, road-cycling track in Japan. Matt's concern is underpinned by the fact that the Liberty and Outback's latest suspension revisions lack the poise of the versions they replaced.
Thankfully, there was no shortage of dirt roads for the Australian launch, which was held around the Grampian Mountains in Victoria. I can report that the new Forester is still a dirt-road expert, its off road capability helped by decent suspension travel, body control and the same ground clearance mm (220mm) as before, along with unpainted plastic around its perimeter to mitigate stone damage.
The stability control is well calibrated for dirt, too, although its intervention is rarely required given the all-wheel-drive system's ability to maintain composure and put power to the ground via the front and rear. We didn't get the chance to test its off-road capability properly on launch, but keep an eye out for our Adventure review in the near future.
It offers similar performance on the road, still feeling compact and nimble (10.8m turning circle) for its class, despite the new model's growth, and the steering feel is good for a car of its type.
The 2.5-litre engine will indeed suit most buyers, but it doesn't have the easy low-rev urge or outright refinement of a smaller turbo unit used by the likes of the CR-V, Tiguan or Escape. The Mazda CX-5 is about the same as the Forester in these areas, which doesn't appear to hurt its popularity.
The previous model's automatic transmission was already one of, if not the best, CVT in the business, and it continues to work well, with the characteristic drone only overcoming road noise in the cabin under sustained full-throttle acceleration. Speaking of which, the new model carries a decent 9.5 second 0-100 acceleration claim.
So all told, the new Forester continues its tradition as a nice all-round drive.
Even though this is a rare manual, it doesn’t miss out on much of the RAV4’s impressive standard active safety suite.
Included is auto emergency braking (AEB – with pedestrian and cyclist detection day and night), active cruise control (yes, even on the manual), lane departure warning (with lane keep assist), but no ‘lane trace alert’ available on the auto, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert.
That’s among the best active safety in the entire mid-size SUV category, and it’s all on the manual base model. Toyota’s here to win.
The RAV4 also has an above-average seven airbags, hill start assist, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera (pretty good), and ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outer two rear seats.
It also has the expected stability, traction, and brake controls.
Somewhat unsurprisingly once you’ve digested all that, the RAV4 wears a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating (with excellent scores across the four new categories) as of May 2019.
Subaru is known to be one of the leaders when it comes to safety, and the new Forester's credentials don't disappoint.
The standard fitment of EyeSight across the range is a key step, as it brings AEB that will automatically detect potential collisions and bring the car to a full emergency stop at speeds up to 40km/h. The system continues to apply lesser drgrees of braking intervention right up to 145km/h.
EyeSight also brings rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot monitor, lane departure warning and lane change assist across the board, but the active safety list continues on the 2.5i-L with the Vision Assist system.
Using a third camera mounted in the grille, Vision Assist brings a Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. Clever parking sensors in the rear bring Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB), which we'd describe as rear AEB.
These active safety features are backed up by dual front and side airbags, curtain airbags covering the front and rear, a driver's knee bag, and stability control (or ESP).
Another noteworthy new feature is the washer that sprays the reverse camera whenever the rear windscreen wiper is activated.
As mentioned above, the rear seat is equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the outboard positions, while the centre position makes do with just a top tether baby car seat mount.
The new Forester is expected to match the existing model's maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating - and based on more stringent 2018 standards - but this result is yet to be confirmed. Our safety score is based on the assumption it will score five stars, so please double check.
The RAV4 is covered by a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty that Toyota thankfully upgraded to earlier in 2019.
But that’s not quite the whole story. If you keep your service record genuine and up-to-date Toyota will cover the engine for an extra two years, and you’ll also be covered by seven years of roadside assist and a 60-day money-back guarantee (if your car should suffer an issue which renders it ‘undrivable’ inside that period).
The five-year base coverage also includes panel work and any genuine accessory you might have fitted.
The RAV4 requires servicing once a year or every 15,000km whichever occurs first, and is covered by a capped price of just $210 (incredibly cheap) for the first four years.
The RAV4 is built in Japan.
The Forester is covered by Subaru's regular three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which now lags behind the five-year terms offered by most mainstream brands. Subaru has occasionally offered a five-year extended warranty as a limited offer, but is investigating a permanent extension. Watch this space.
The Forester's service intervals have now been brought into line with the Impreza and XV, doubling the scheduled time between services to 12 months, but retaining the same 12,500km distance.
Capped-price servicing is available for the first three intervals, which amount to $346,39, $584.45 and $346.39 respectively, resulting in a total service cost of $1,277.23 over the first three years. Several other brands offer capped pricing beyond the warranty period, and Subaru's scheme is still on the pricey side, but the doubling of the time interval has resulted in a net maintenance cost value improvement over the previous model.
Being an all-new model, the new Forester starts with a clean reliability slate, but any common problems, durability or reliability issues, complaints, faults will likely be revealed in time on our Subaru Forester problems page.