Clash of teh humble Cute Utes
October 28, 2012 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Dear Car Shopper, what would You choose? RAV4 or Outback, new base models.

We're in the new or new-ish car market and will be acting soon. We are narrowed to two models for various reasons, each unfamiliar to us and each in a similar 'class' but with its own unique features and possibly limitations.

The choices, 2012 or very slightly possibly 2011, base models only:

~ Toyota RAV4 4-cylinder

~ Subaru Outback 2.5i

Great Lakes region US. Small city driving and some rural roads, mostly low hills, plus 80 mile round-trip highway commute, three or four days each week. Four months of inclement weather, icy highways and deep slush. Occasional trips to a fairly hilly city. Rare 3000 mile round-trips to high-desert SW US.

Two adults, occasional adult passengers. Basic cartage, no hauling or towing is planned. Our 2000 Celica is a wonderful car but getting long-in-the-tooth and can't handle all conditions or uses.

Looking for: Sole daily driver. Low maintenance, longevity, appropriate power for its weight, said winter and rural handling. And mileage that won't shock us too drastically from our current 30 MPG average.

If we're picking and choosing, reasonable road noise is nice too, as is a reasonably responsive or 'sporty' feel. We can adapt to any styling, and features don't matter too much.

We know and like Toyota. Subaru is unknown to us.

Bonus question: If the RAV4, is it reeeeaallly worth trying to get the v6, for these uses?

Other opinions or constructive thoughts?
posted by methinks to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
Do you have a Subaru dealer (or a mechanic that knows Subarus) nearby, in case anything needs done? If so, I'd go with the Subaru. Their expertise in AWD is a huge selling point. They're pretty durable, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:46 AM on October 28, 2012

My unscientific opinion: I have a bunch of of friends who drive Outbacks, as well as several others who drive RAV4's.

The Outback owners seem to really love their vehicles, and at least two of them have owned Outbacks before. The RAV4 owners don't seem to dislike what they drive, but without exception, never show much enthusiasm over them.

A year ago, I drove new 2012 versions of each, and ended up with a new Hyundai Santa Fe, which I like a lot except for the crappy silver painted interior trim, which seems to scratch if you look at it sideways.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:47 AM on October 28, 2012

We just bought a 2009 Outback and we love love love it. Mr. lizjohn's brother has an Impreza, and he convinced us of the low maintenance of Subarus. We've been averaging about 26mpg according to our dashboard computer. We live in Tucson, AZ and it has been good for hills, mountains and offroad desert driving (and as per preview, I'm just verifying what imjustsaying said :) )
posted by lizjohn at 9:48 AM on October 28, 2012

We chose the outback over the rav4. Mostly because it would fit a dog better and because we disliked the how the rear gate opened out on the rav4. So that's my choice.

It's important to note that there is ZERO sporty feel to the Outback when you have the smaller engine.
posted by smalls at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2012

We own a rav and an outback.

Agree that people who love their subarus, but just like the ravs. It's a fine vehicle. It is much easier to get children into and out of (in car seats) but otherwise I see no reason to choose it over the outback.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:19 AM on October 28, 2012

Just finished up a long run in a RAV-4 and we were really, really happy with it. Never had a moment's trouble with it (until the accident that killed it, but that's another story). With a Toyota it's really easy to have service done basically anywhere. I'm not sure if that's the case with a Subaru.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:25 AM on October 28, 2012

I'd go with the Subaru. People just love those things.
posted by 4ster at 10:31 AM on October 28, 2012

Of course, I'd go with the Subaru 4ster.
posted by 4ster at 10:32 AM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

We got a 2010 Subaru Legacy toward the end of 2009 and this year decided to upgrade to the Outback since we now have three dogs and sometimes need to travel with them. It's a great daily driver and good in the snow. Its center of gravity is nice and low which is handy for a tallish vehicle. The 4-cylinder with the CVT gets nearly as good mileage as my old 2003 Hyundai Elantra hatch (slightly better in city driving, actually), while being a much bigger car and having AWD.

The Outback is made in the same Indiana plant that makes Camrys for Toyota (and Toyota has a sizable stake in Subaru) so the quality is quite good.

The 2013 models are available with EyeSight, which is an optically-based (rather than radar-based) adaptive cruise control system.
posted by kindall at 10:37 AM on October 28, 2012

I have a 2007 Rav4, with the 6. I still really like it. The mileage between the 6 and 4 was basically the same when I got mine, and the extra power is really great. At the time, we looked at subarus, but the back seat was so cramped I had a hard time getting my feet in, and I have very average sized feet. There have been some changes from 5 years ago, obviously, but those were some of the factors we looked at.

A good place to get information are in the forum pages, Rav4, and Outback.
posted by annsunny at 10:41 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

We just bought a 2009 Forester (4-cyl), but we test-drove a Rav-4 (4-cyl) and an Outback (6-cyl). Our other car is a V6 Accord sedan. We live in Wisconsin.

The Rav-4 felt significantly lighter and... I don't know how to describe this, but maybe "thinner" or "cheaper" in its handling? It just sort of... went, quickly, when I touched it.

The Forester, on the other hand, was much more smooth and controlled. It felt like there was something in place to keep it moving more carefully while still giving it a lot more power than I would have expected out of a 4-cylinder car. When I drove the 6-cylinder Outback, the difference was apparent but not enough in the long run to pull me over from the better Forester package.

We have friends who bought the 6-cylinder Rav-4 (they live in MN and tow a sailboat) and they love it, so maybe the additional oomph makes much more of a difference. But I was really surprised, as a longtime Honda/Toyota person, how cheap the whole Rav-4 package felt.

We looooove our Subaru. We ended up buying one from a private seller whose second car was a newer Outback. He'd been planning to downsize to one car, but in the middle of the negotiations his job picture changed and he considered keeping it. Eventually, I think he just bought a second new Outback.
posted by Madamina at 11:24 AM on October 28, 2012

If you go to Portland sometime, you'll see Outbacks everywhere. Seems like the intelligent folks of Portland wouldn't be buying them if they weren't great cars. We rented one while visiting there and loved it. Comfortable, quiet, good handling, safe, spacious, etc.
posted by Dansaman at 11:33 AM on October 28, 2012

We got the 2012 outback. Good winter handling. Heated seats. Ours, at least, came with a rubber mat for the back cargo area, which is nice. Getting kids in and out of carseats is not especially problematic. Nice accessories (ski rack!). Really nice setup for the roof rack. Good AWD. Kind of crappy stereo. The cargo area has a good setup.

Comfortable interior. I wish it had programmable seats and mirrors.

We test-drove this in March in Fairbanks, when things were just beginning to warm up, so the roads were pretty squirrelly. The AWD and winter handling was significantly better than the other cars we test-drove.

Lots of nice features come standard with the base models.

It gets good highway fuel efficiency (30s? maybe high 30s?); in town, we do lots of less than 2 mile trips, and the fuel efficiency isn't great (20ish). On the other hand, that's hard driving for a car.

It's got a big fuel tank.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:46 AM on October 28, 2012

We have a Forester, but one of the models with a big honkin' turbocharger. That said, we've found it to be a generally bullet-proof family car which can basically plow through any driving conditions without breaking much of a sweat. I've driven a friend's Rav4, and while it was fine, it never felt as firmly-planted or solid as the Subaru.

There is nothing about Subarus that makes them especially hard to work on. They're just cars. But you should probably make sure that your local independent garage will work on a Subaru if yours ever breaks down, or else find a Subaru specialty garage near you.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:36 PM on October 28, 2012

The Outback, hands down. At this point, I don't trust anything Toyota makes.
posted by easily confused at 2:03 PM on October 28, 2012

Response by poster: Great insight so far, everyone. Thank you.

My main concern for base models (both 4 cyl. and 2.5i) is that a smaller engine be strong and efficient enough for the vehicle's carriage. We faced that problem once before, a car underpowered for its weight, and both mileage and mechanics suffered. So that's what I mean by 'sporty', that it can accelerate and perform without struggle.

Subaru dealer and service are 30 miles away, not yet sure about local independent service. Toyota is a few miles away.

I'll look into both a little more, see if I can get firsthand experience in coming days.
posted by methinks at 2:31 PM on October 28, 2012

The Subarus have that H-shaped engine, which I think makes a difference. I feel like the Forester is really well balanced for its size. We've done a fair amount of out of town driving (three-hours or so), and it has never given us any hint of trouble when accelerating or maneuvering in traffic. We've driven in and out of Chicago several times (with pretty much any kind of stopping, going and zooming you could imagine) and it works great.

I also totally forgot to mention that the Rav-4 rode like a truck (it's built on a truck frame), really bouncy, while the Subarus did not in the least.
posted by Madamina at 2:46 PM on October 28, 2012

Yeah, the Outback is built on a car frame (it's a slightly-lifted station wagon version of the Legacy, basically).

We've had ours up and down the hills near Seattle and driven it down to California past Mt. Shasta. Never had a trouble with the power on the 2.5 4-cylinder.
posted by kindall at 3:39 PM on October 28, 2012

I have a 2012 3.5R Outback and love it. Very stable in squirrelly conditions and recently did the round trip from Calgary to Vancouver without any trouble at all. Nice ride and great economy for an engine that size.
posted by arcticseal at 5:29 PM on October 28, 2012

I have a 2012 Subaru outback 2.5. It has plenty of power for normal driving. I probably wouldn't try and tow a boat behind it. The RAV4 is a ar for people who can't remember the name of the car they bought (see everyone calling it a "rav" as if its the fourth generation or something).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:45 PM on October 28, 2012

Neither car is a slouch based on horsepower or power-to-weight ratio - the 175 hp coming out of the Toyota 4-cyl was until recently the province of sixes. My '93 Subaru Legacy wagon had 135 hp and it was not a problem, ever, but it weighed 3000 lb with me in it. The 2012 Outback's 2.5 engine produces 170 hp so they are a wash as far as power and power/weight goes.

I have a 2002 4-cyl Toyota 4WD truck and a 2005 Subaru Legacy wagon (with turbocharger and manual transmission). Both do their jobs well but the truck, with 142 hp and a dull automatic, just feels sluggish though it is truly excellent in bad conditions. It's hard to confound this mix of moderate power, locked-diff 4WD and an automatic in rotten weather as long as you don't also want to go 120 mph.

The '05 Legacy wagon is the car I would like to keep for the rest of my life. In the US Legacy wagons are no longer available, you have to buy an Outback and the power of the turbo 2.5 liter isn't available any longer - you have to buy the 3.6 liter engine to get that much power and it only comes with a problematic automatic.

However, the Subaru line has gotten a lot bigger and poofier (though not heavier) lately. My friend has a 2010 2.5l Forester and it feels like a limousine or van, though a very, very capable one.

As a lot of upthread statements say, people really love their Subarus - I think they generate enthusiasm just below the old DS21 Citro├źns and on a par with Alfa Romeos (cars I've had).

If you buy a Subaru, maintain it by the book. Somehow Subaru engineers get what goes wrong with time and miles, and I've found their recommended service intervals spot-on. My '93 Legacy went 286000 miles before I gave up on it, sold it for a dollar, and the person who bought it is still driving it at 295k (the heater core rotted out, the original clutch was near end-of-life and it was starting to burn oil - all my fault for not keeping up with the recommended maintenance).
posted by jet_silver at 9:14 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay. We test drove both and echo what most of you have said.

The RAV4 really is a fine car, if noticeably "looser" in handling and manufacture. The Outback feels and drives like surely solid, well-designed thing. Either would be good enough for many people, I'm sure, with a small MPG difference.

While we haven't yet sealed a deal, we are strongly moved toward the Outback.

Thank you for all of your very helpful feedback, a collective 'best answer'.
posted by methinks at 5:25 PM on November 1, 2012

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