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2021 Mazda CX-5 vs. 2021 Toyota RAV4: Head to Head

Author: Joel Patel


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CX-5 vs. RAV4: Which Popular Compact SUV Is Better?

There’s plenty of competition in the compact crossover segment these days, but two of the most popular models include the Mazda CX-5 and the Toyota RAV4. Both options are spacious, comfortable, efficient, safe, and relatively enjoyable to drive. With both compact SUVs performing well in our compact SUV ranking, it makes plenty of sense to cross-shop them if you’re in the market for a new compact SUV.

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 sits at No. 2 in our compact SUV ranking. The last time Mazda introduced a fully redesigned version was in 2017. Since then, the automaker has added new features and engines over the years. For 2021, the CX-5 gets a new 10.25-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto as standard features. On the safety front, driver attention monitoring and reverse automatic emergency braking are newly optional.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 lands at No. 7 in our ranking of compact SUVs. Toyota introduced a completely redesigned RAV4 in 2019, and the model last received some major updates in 2020. That year, the RAV4 received a new TRD Off-Road trim, as well as satellite radio, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hot spot as standard features.

To help you make an informed decision on which compact SUV is right for you, we're going to use our reviews and scoring data to compare the vehicles in categories that matter most to shoppers. This article, along with your own needs and budget, will help you determine whether the Mazda CX-5 or the Toyota RAV4 is a better option for you.

U.S. News & World Report is constantly updating scores and rankings based on new information that becomes available. Because of this, the scores in this slideshow may not match the ones found in an individual vehicle’s review.

Without further ado, let’s dive in and see which Japanese compact SUV reigns supreme

The OVERALL Winner Is…

2021 Mazda CX-5

Both the 2021 Mazda CX-5 and 2021 Toyota RAV4 do well in our compact SUV ranking, but the ranking placement of each vehicle clearly shows which model is the best overall. While the RAV4 earns some wins over the CX-5 in important categories, the CX-5 earns more overall wins, making it the winner.

The CX-5 pulls ahead of the RAV4 when it comes to pricing, interior quality, interior features, acceleration, ride and handling, safety, and towing. Few options in the compact class can match the CX-5 when it comes to acceleration, driver enjoyment around corners, and interior quality. These qualities help the CX-5 earn an overall U.S. News score of 8.6 out of 10. 


Winner: 2021 Mazda CX-5

Prices for the base 2021 Mazda CX-5 start at $25,270. That’s slightly above average for the compact SUV segment. Mazda offers the CX-5 in a total of six trims, with the mid-level Carbon Edition starting at $28,855 and the range-topping Signature being priced at $37,405. That’s one of the most expensive top trims in the compact SUV class. Adding all-wheel drive costs $1,400 in most trims; it comes standard on the upper-tier Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models.

The entry-level 2021 Toyota RAV4 starts at $26,050 – nearly $800 more than the CX-5. Just like the CX-5, the RAV4 is also available in six different trims. Beyond the base model, prices for the RAV4 line range from $30,050 for the mid-level XLE Premium to $35,980 for the performance-oriented TRD Off-Road trim. The more luxury-focused Limited trim starts at $34,580. While the RAV4 has a more expensive base model, the most expensive trim is almost $1,500 cheaper than the most expensive CX-5.


Winner: Tie 

Toyota is known for having bullet-proof reliability, while Mazda’s put a lot of effort into increasing the reliability of its vehicles over the last few years. Surprisingly, both vehicles earn a just-average predicted reliability score.

Additionally, both SUVs have a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Interior Quality

Winner: 2021 Mazda CX-5 

While both the Mazda CX-5 and the Toyota RAV4 have functional, attractive interiors, the Mazda’s cabin borders on being something from a luxury brand. Even lower CX-5 trims have high-end materials that adorn the interior. Mazda’s simplistic design also comes off as being upscale. Higher CX-5 trims really up the ante with Nappa leather upholstery and real wood trim – rare amenities for the class.

In comparison, the RAV4’s interior has a more modern design with plenty of soft touchpoints, but material quality can't match the CX-5’s. Additionally, the RAV4’s interior design has a more rugged look than the CX-5’s, making it feel like a more mainstream model. Higher RAV4 trims come with nicer materials than lower ones, and optional features include synthetic leather seats, unique stitching, and special interior accents.

Interior Features

Winner: 2021 Mazda CX-5

For the 2021 model year, Mazda has given the CX-5 a major tech update. The compact SUV now comes with a 10.25-inch touch screen and Mazda’s latest infotainment system. Other standard features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Wi-Fi hot spot, Bluetooth, two USB ports, a four-speaker audio system, and an HD Radio. The CX-5’s standard touch screen is one of the largest ones in the segment, and is far easier to use than last year’s 7-inch touch screen.

The Toyota RAV4 comes well-equipped, but can’t match the CX-5’s list of standard equipment. The compact SUV is equipped with a 7-inch touch screen, Wi-Fi hot spot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, a USB port, satellite radio, and a six-speaker audio system. While the RAV4 has a better standard audio system and Amazon Alexa compatibility, it’s smaller touch screen can’t match the Mazda’s infotainment system.

Both SUVs offer dual-zone automatic climate control, a premium audio system, a moonroof, a 7-inch digital instrument cluster, proximity keyless entry, and a universal garage door opener as optional features.


Winner: 2021 Mazda CX-5

The Toyota RAV4 is only available with one engine. Power for the compact SUV comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 203 horsepower. The engine is paired with a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission and provides enough power for most drivers. At higher speeds, the engine can be pretty loud, and the automatic transmission can hiccup during a downshift. Front-wheel drive is standard, save for the Adventure and TRD Off-Road trims which include all-wheel drive. In all other models, all-wheel drive is optional.

Mazda offers two engines with the CX-5. The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is rated at 187 horsepower. The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that consistently delivers precise shifts. While the standard engine should prove to be plenty capable for the majority of drivers, the available turbocharged engine is one of the most powerful engines in the compact class.

The aforementioned optional engine is a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes up to 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque with premium fuel. The turbocharged engine gives the CX-5 a much sportier feel than the base powertrain.

Ride and Handling

Winner: 2021 Mazda CX-5

Mazda is known for making vehicles that stand out for their athleticism, and the CX-5 is no different. In the compact SUV class, the CX-5 offers some of the best handling, and mimics that of a smaller vehicle. While the CX-5 is sure to impress around corners, the SUV also delivers a comfortable ride, absorbing bumps and staying smooth over rough pavement.

The RAV4 has a generally comfortable ride and the SUV’s suspension does a fine job of absorbing potholes and bumps. Where the RAV4 falls behind the CX-5 is with its lack of overall athleticism.


Winner: 2021 Mazda CX-5

Neither the Mazda CX-5 nor the Toyota RAV4 are heavy-duty compact SUVs that you’ll be able to tow a boat with, but they’re both capable of towing small trailers. When properly equipped, the CX-5 can tow up to 2,000 pounds, while the RAV4 has a maximum towing capacity of up to 1,500 pounds.


Winner: 2021 Mazda CX-5

The National Institute for Highway Safety (NHTSA) awarded the 2021 Mazda CX-5 five out of five stars for overall safety, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2021 CX-5 a 2020 Top Safety Pick+ accolade. That’s the organization’s highest honor, and is reserved for vehicles with top-tier crash test and safety technology ratings. We should note that the commendation is only for CX-5 models with specific headlight configurations.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 also received a perfect overall five-star rating from the NHTSA. While the RAV4 only received a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS, it’s still indicative of the compact SUV’s overall safety credentials.

Both the CX-5 and RAV4 come packed with standard advanced safety and driver-assistance aids. Each vehicle comes standard with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and more. While each vehicle has a strong set of standard and available safety features, the CX-5 simply offers more.

With the aforementioned factors taken into account – and with the CX-5’s higher U.S. News safety score – the Mazda takes the win here.

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