Crossovers

How the 2019 Toyota RAV4 stacks up to the new Forester, CR-V and Rogue

The RAV4 is all-new for 2019, but how will it compare to its rivals from Subaru, Honda and Nissan?

Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

At the New York Auto Show, we were shown new versions of two of the world's favorite crossover SUVs: the 2019 Toyota RAV4 and 2019 Subaru Forester. While they both attempt to do the same thing, they go about it in different ways, so let's see how they stack up against each other -- and two of their biggest competitors, the Nissan Rogue and the Honda CR-V.

Aesthetics

This is a subjective category, of course, but all four vehicles have something going for them. The new Toyota RAV4, particularly in Adventure trim, has a newfound aggression and masculinity in its styling that is really refreshing. For the first time, maybe ever, it looks like something you'd want to try and take off-road like its larger sibling, the body-on-frame 4Runner. Its exterior dimensions are almost identical to that of the Honda CR-V, with the exception of having a slightly longer wheelbase.

The Subaru Forester is, as Roadshow's managing editor, Steven Ewing, pointed out, a pretty basic two-box design, but its simplicity begets great visibility and tons of room, and there is a kind of beauty to be found in its pure functionality. At the end of the day, the new Forester still looks like a Forester, and for Subaru fans, that's a good thing. The new generation grows a bit over the outgoing model, gaining 1.2 inches of wheelbase (105.1 inches) and gains interior room, thanks to a platform change.

The Honda CR-V is a seriously heavy hitter in the compact SUV, segment and has historically been the RAV4's arch rival. As part of its new generation, it received an all-new look in 2017, but it still looks like a jellybean, and while it's not offensive looking, it's not what everyone on the Roadshow team would call handsome, either. 

Nissan's Rogue isn't exactly a looker, but with its 2017 restyle, it lost some of its blob shape and gained a few hard edges which happen to be serving it well. The Nissan Rogue is almost 6 inches longer than both the RAV4 and the CR-V, but the difference isn't dramatic for first or second-row passengers. What is unique in this company is that the Rogue offers an optional "occasional use" third row. Most entries in this crowded class do without such a feature, though the Volkswagen Tiguan and Mitsubishi Outlander do offer these in-a-pinch way-back seats.

Drivetrain

The 2019 RAV4 is getting some new engine options, which is great, but Toyota is keeping the output and efficiency specs secret for now. We do know that the base gasoline option will be a 2.5-liter I4, which will be mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. There will also be a performance-oriented hybrid version bolted to a continuously variable transmission (less cool). Nothing earth-shattering here, but what did you expect? A V8? A twin-turbo V6? It's a RAV4 -- calm down. All-wheel drive is optional, and it features both torque vectoring and rear-axle disconnect for the first time.

The Subaru Forester gets a boxer four. It is a new, naturally aspirated, direct-injected 2.5-liter H4, which is good for 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. The big -- and frankly, super-disappointing -- news is the discontinuation of the turbocharged XT model. Oh, and the fact that the only transmission available is a CVT. That said, most people shopping for a crossover will be plenty pleased with the Forester's powerplant. All-wheel drive is standard on the Forester, because Subaru.

The Honda CR-V is available with a plain-jane naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine in lower trim levels but from the EX on up, you get the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes nearly 200 horsepower. This is saddled with a CVT as well, although Honda has been working on making that transmission a little more pleasant to drive while taking advantage of this type of unit's inherent efficiency.

The Rogue has a mandatory 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, and unfortunately, that engine produces just 170 horsepower, leaving it wanting when compared to the Subaru, and particularly the turbocharged Honda engine. Throw in the now seemingly de rigueur CVT and you have a fairly sedate, though adequate driving experience.

Interior

The RAV4, now being built on Toyota's TNGA architecture that also underpins the new Camry, gets a little roomier inside despite being slightly smaller on the outside. The cabin appointments are typical Toyota: nice enough, if a little uninspired in some trims. That said, the 2019 model feels more premium than the outgoing car. Entune 3.0 with Apple CarPlay makes an appearance, but the word is out on how we feel about this new version of an infotainment system, about which we've been less than enthusiastic in the past.

The Forester looks great inside, but we wonder how it will feel on the road. Interior noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) has long been a weak point for the brand, though we're promised that this will be the quietest Forester yet (not that that would be tough to pull off). Cabin materials feel nice, and the EyeSight driver-assistance system is standard, which gives the Forester a leg up. Subaru's Starlink infotainment system features both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The CR-V gets a typical Honda interior in that it's well-screwed-together but less premium feeling than one would hope for. Tech is good though, with plenty of driver-assist features on hand via Honda Sensing as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Nissan Rogue's big party trick is the availability of Nissan's ProPilot Assist suite of advanced driver-assistance aids. It's a bummer that this isn't standard equipment, but its availability is significant in that it's likely the most advanced ADAS system in an affordable crossover. The rest of the Rogue's interior is okay, but not exceptional.

In a world where crossovers seem to be slowly edging out all other types of vehicles, kind of like coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, it's good to see that there are at least a few interesting developments by major players in the segment. None of these cars will light your hair on fire in terms of driving dynamics, but you could definitely do worse when it comes to sensible and not-totally-boring daily transportation that starts in the low-to-mid-$20,000 range.