The Toyota RAV4 has been around since the early days of the compact crossover, with the first versions sprouting up in the mid-1990s and doing battle with another segment founder, the Honda CR-V. Mazda’s CX-5 is a much newer addition to the segment, having first arrived in 2012. Now in its second generation, the Mazda proves a worthy competitor to compact SUV segment stalwarts such as the RAV4 thanks to the automaker’s affinity for nimble handling and streamlined designs. Both SUVs have their strengths, but there is one of these small utes we’d rather see in the driveway every morning. Keep reading to find out how the 2021 Toyota RAV4 compares with the 2021 Mazda CX-5.
2021 Toyota RAV4: Pros Over the CX-5
These vehicles both use 2.5-liter non-turbo four-cylinders as their base engines, but the Toyota’s achieves better fuel economy, due in part to the Toyota transmission’s two additional gears. The RAV4 is EPA-rated at 28/35 mpg city/highway for an FWD base model; a comparable CX-5 returns 25/31 mpg. With AWD, the RAV4 achieves 25-27/32-34 mpg, and the CX-5 tops out at 24/30 mpg. Across the board, you’ll spend less on fuel driving the Toyota.
Unlike the CX-5, the RAV4 offers options for those seeking hybridized propulsion in their compact SUV. The RAV4 Hybrid features standard AWD and is EPA-rated at an outstanding 41/38 mpg city/highway. Earning a couple bonus points, Toyota even offers the plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime, which can travel up to 42 miles on electric power alone.
The RAV4 has one of the more spacious cargo areas in the segment, measuring 37.5 cubic feet behind the rear seat. If you fold down the rear bench, that number swells to a generous 69.8 cubes. The Mazda is tight by comparison, with 30.9 cubic feet behind the rears and 59.6 with the seats folded down.
Not only does the RAV4 offer over an inch more ground clearance than the CX-5 (8.6 versus 7.5 inches), Toyota also builds a variant designed for use away from pavement: the RAV4 TRD Off-Road. Rally-inspired suspension hardware, knobby off-road tires, and standard AWD round out the changes over a basic RAV4.
2021 Mazda CX-5: Pros Over the RAV4
Turbo Power and Performance
Whereas the RAV4 only offers one engine, higher-spec examples of the CX-5 are fitted with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder developing 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. The quickest RAV4 reaches 60 mph in 8.0 seconds, and RAV4 Hybrids can accomplish the same in 7.1 seconds, but the turbo CX-5 can sprint to 60 in just 6.5 seconds. Sure, Toyota claims the 302-hp RAV4 Prime will hit 60 in 5.7 seconds, but that SUV starts at a hefty $39,375 (before tax credits, that is) and makes up a tiny percentage of overall sales. You can pick up a turbo CX-5 for $31,760.
The CX-5 earns the highest honor for its performance in IIHS safety testing; all examples of the compact Mazda carry the 2020 Top Safety Pick+ designation. No RAV4 variant gets the same praise, due to the headlight ratings. Hybrid examples with the Adaptive Front Headlight System package, however, achieve Top Safety Pick status.
Although the Toyota offers more cargo volume, we’d rather ride in the back seat of the CX-5. Rear legroom in the Mazda measures a spacious 39.6 inches. In the RAV4, rear seat passengers make do with 37.8 inches of legroom.
In our most recent eight-way compact SUV Big Test, we called the CX-5 the obvious athlete of the group. Its four-cylinder engine emits an eager snarl, and the six-speed automatic is unafraid to hold gears and make the most of the four-pot’s modest output. The CX-5 is engaging on a twisty back road, too, with great body control and light, communicative steering.
RAV4 vs. CX-5: The Verdict
The current RAV4 is the best compact SUV Toyota has ever built, but for our money, we’d go for the CX-5. Its elegant, premium design and engaging driving experience make it the perfect small crossover for the motoring enthusiast. The RAV4 is underwhelming in terms of its powertrain and dynamics. That said, if you’re seeking hybrid efficiency, maximum cargo space, or capability away from the pavement, the RAV4 isn’t a bad choice.
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2021 Toyota RAV4 Pros Over the CX-5
- Fuel efficiency
- Hybrid variants
- Cargo volume
- Off-road capability
2021 Mazda CX-5 Pros Over the RAV4
- Turbo power
- Safety ratings
- Rear legroom
- Driving fun