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2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD vs. Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring - Which Is Your Pick?

We compare and contrast two of the best compact crossovers in America, the 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring and the Toyota RAV4 Adventure.

In our latest installment of which is your pick, we compare two of the most interesting compact crossovers on the market today in America. The first is Toyota's newest trim to a very old design of the RAV4. The RAV4 is about to be redesigned, but before it goes, Toyota has created the $33,030 Adventure trim for those who like their crossover with a bit of off-road edginess. The second is the polar opposite. The $ 33,585 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Premium is perhaps the plushest and most luxurious mainstream branded crossover in America today. We drove them back to back and explored the special touches that make them stand out. Here is what we found.

Toyota RAV4 Adventure vs. Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring - Special Content
The 2018 RAV4 Adventure starts out as a RAV4 XLE with a couple extra touches that target outdoor enthusiasts. Toyota has added a smidge more ground clearance to the Adventure trim, which now totals 6.5 inches. The Adventure also gets up-sized 18” wheels with lower profile tires, which make no sense whatsoever on an off-road marketed variant of a crossover. Important to some who tow, Toyota has added a transmission cooler and higher-duty alternator to increase the tow capacity of the RAV4 Adventure to 3,500 pounds. Our fully-loaded Power Premium Extra Value Package and Cold Weather Package equipped RAV4 Adventure had upgraded infotainment including navigation, a power liftgate, heated steering wheel and heated cloth seats with power adjustment and added active safety systems like blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts.

The CX-5 Grand Touring with Premium package adds more creature comforts to the already well-equipped crossover from Mazda. Soft, great-smelling heated leather seating surfaces, a heated steering wheel, navigation, a color and adjustable head-up display, premium audio, premium Soul-Red Crystal Paint, rear seat USB ports, memory seat settings, Homelink garage door openers, an auto dim mirror, 19" low-profile tires and more make the CX-5 better equipped than almost all base trims of premium-brand compact crossovers.

Toyota RAV4 Adventure vs. Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring - The Vibe
It takes no time at all to realize the RAV4 Adventure is built for those who want an SUV-style crossover. It rides firmly, seems more industrial, and with its standard rubber floor mats and rubber cargo area cover is ready to go fishing the day you buy it. Toyota has done a great job here of stealing the theme from Subaru's Forester.

The CX-5 feels like a luxury vehicle. This vehicle is just as premium as a top-trim Audi or Lexus. The entire design of the CX-5, which was updated in 2017, seems sophisticated and of a high quality. When driven, it is smooth and handling is crisp.

Toyota RAV4 Adventure vs. Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring - Performance
Both the CX-5 Grand Touring and RAV4 Adventure use a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The CX-5 edges the RAV4 with a bit more power, 184 hp vs. the RAV4's 176. Both use six-speed automatic transmissions. The RAV4 Adventure has an AWD lock feature, great for off-road, and the CX-5 has cylinder deactivation to improve fuel economy. The RAV4 AWD is rated at 25 MPG combined and the CX-5 at 26 MPG. These two vehicles could not be closer in terms of performance.

The RAV4 Adventure's 3,500-pound towing capability is an advantage here, but every CX-5 trim can tow up to 2,000 pounds. Neither vehicle comes standard with a tow hitch or trailer wiring. Buyers would have to have that added.

Toyota RAV4 Adventure vs. Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring - Safety
Both of our test vehicles had auto emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane keeping assist and alerts. The RAV4 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick and the CX-5 a Top Safety Pick Plus. One big difference between the two is that the CX-5 scored Good on the passenger side small frontal overlap test, and the RAV4 scored Poor. One other CX-5 advantage is adaptive, moving headlights that turn into the corners.

Toyota RAV4 Adventure vs. Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring - Conclusion
One thing that is interesting about these two is that the CX-5 actually has more ground clearance at 7.5-inches than does the lifted RAV4 at 6.5. The tires on the RAV4 Adventure are an upgrade from the less expensive trims, but the CX-5 has larger diameter wheels (your call on whether this is a benefit or not). With the added ground clearance, the CX-5 may well be the off-road match of the RAV4 Adventure. If towing is your priority, the RAV4 Adventure is the best bet for sure, but don't forget to order a trailer hitch and wiring from your dealer.

Both of these vehicles offer real-world advantages over many of the trims offered by other brands in this segment. The RAV4 Adventure has a distinct SUV vibe and CX-5 has a definite premium crossover flavor. Which is best we leave to you to decide.