Face-Off: Subaru Forester vs. Toyota RAV4

These two models vie for compact-SUV supremacy. Only one dominates the competition.

A split photo of the Subaru Forester (on the left) and the Toyota RAV4

The Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 were both pioneers of the car-based compact-SUV market, bringing a refined driving experience to a category populated with vehicles that drove like trucks.

Now, almost every automaker sells a compact SUV, but few are as accomplished as the Forester and RAV4. They have taken turns in dominating the CR Top Picks list since it started in 1997: 12 appearances for the Forester and nine for the RAV4. No other SUV in any class can match them.

More Compact-SUV Road Tests

The RAV4 is consistently among the top-selling vehicles in the U.S., and more than 427,000 were sold in 2018. The Forester sells well—more than 171,000 were sold in 2018—but it doesn’t have the same widespread appeal of the RAV4.

Subaru and Toyota have taken different tacks with their compact SUVs. Today’s upright and boxy Forester has evolved from the wagonlike styling of the 1997 original. Meanwhile, the RAV4 has undergone many, many design iterations, with today’s version having aggressive, trucklike styling. But underneath their skins, they are very similar and they match up closely.

Comparison shoppers will have questions: Does the Subaru or Toyota perform better? Which one has more interior space? Which one is easier to live with?

To answer those questions, we take an in-depth look at these two widely sold compact SUVs to compare how they fare in Consumer Reports’ testing and determine which comes out on top.

Subaru Forester

The case for it: The Forester’s styling makes it clear that this is a no-nonsense SUV. Its large windows provide excellent visibility all around, and its boxy body provides a cavernous interior, with big door openings that make it easy to get into and out of.

Few drivers will complain about the headroom—it’s as if the Forester were designed to be driven while wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat. The rear seat is particularly comfortable, with plenty of foot room and a nicely contoured seatback that provides plenty of support over long drives.

We are impressed with the 28 mpg overall fuel economy from the Forester’s 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. That ties it with the Honda CR-V for best in class.

Subaru did a very good job with the Forester’s suspension, and it’s still among the better-riding compact SUVs. It’s adept at preventing road imperfections from punching through to passengers, even on dirt or gravel roads. Yet the Subaru is also quite responsive when driving quickly through corners. It has well-contained body lean, and remains steady and composed even on bumpy pavement.