Should I Buy the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 or Honda CR-V?


Hi John. We spoke about a week ago. I have looked at the Mazda CX-5 petrol. Found it a bit sluggish and boot room seemed a bit too tight for three kids. Drove the Mazda6 wagon too - again boot room was a bit small. So decided to look at Toyota RAV4 as my wife is a big Toyota fan. Liked it drive-wise and boot space wise but in terms of internal layout etc was a bit boring. Apparently they also have a diesel which are easier to come by. Drove the Honda CR-V today and loved it to bits. Kids were happy with back seat and cargo space was good too. Wife still prefers the Toyota RAV4 and I prefer the Honda CRV (seems to be better built and drives better plus is cheaper!). Any suggestions / recommendations? Thanks again for all your help, JC. Hopefully one day I can return the favour. Regards, Eddie.


Personal preference is a major factor in vehicle selection. I can't help you with that (and, you probably don't need help preferring anything...) However, I can help you be a bit objective. Let's look at the brands. O know you said your wife is a big Toyota fan. I don't know how anyone can be a 'fan' of a car company. Cars are just products. There are good ones and bad ones - Toyota (like all car companies) have both. People always say I am a Mazda fan and a Holden hater - not true. I just hate the dud Holdens, like the Cruze and Barina, and I routinely say the Colorado is the best ute. I have objective reasons for this. The Mazda3, Mazda6 and Mazda CX-5 are objectively very good ... but you couldn't feed me a Mazda CX-9 and the Mazda2 was good, but its use-by date has expired - new Mazda2 due in November 2014.

Here's how the brands add up.


Mazda is at the top of its game pretty much right now - the Mazda6, CX-5 and Mazda3 are examples of the latest generation Mazdas, which have been very positively received by the market. Mazda3 and Corolla battle for the number one spot in Australian car sales most months. CX-5 is the top-selling medium SUV.

Mazda reinvented itself before the GFC. It made bold commitments about cutting fuel consumption, then went out and released SKYACTIV, which is integrated across Mazda3, Mazda6 and Mazda CX-5. (And will be on future Mazdas, like the new Mazda2 due in 2015.)

Unlike Toyota, Mazda values good driving dynamics.

Today, Mazda occupies pretty much the position Honda had among Japanese carmakers in the 1990s: it's at the top of the tree from the point of view of wow-factor and technology.

Ask me how cheaply you can get a Mazda CX-5 >>


Toyota is the top-selling car brand in Australia with 18.2 per cent market share. (Mazda has 9.6 per cent and Honda has 2.8 per cent.)

Toyota tends to build cars that are a bit boring but fundamentally well designed. They also tend to be acceptable rather than outstanding in terms of their overall performance relative to the competition.

However, Toyota spends megabucks on marketing, and a lot of people believe it is the best brand. Toyota has tipped hundreds of millions of dollars into the message that the brand is synonymous with quality. 

Despite the tens of millions of vehicles recalled recently on the world stage, people still believe that.

Toyota is generally good (a safe choice) but bland. (And it's not as good as many people apparently believe.)

Ask me how cheaply you can get a Toyota RAV4 >>


Honda has dropped the ball, basically. Things started going sideways for Honda in 2008. Then it got monumentally smashed in the GFC, then again by the terrible Japanese tsunami. Honda had its last good year in 2007, with 60,529 sales and a 5.8 per cent share of the Australian market. By the end of 2013, sales had slumped to 39,258 (a 35 per cent drop) and market share was more than halved. As a result of this, and similar sales catastrophes around the world, Honda has slashed its research and development spend, and its products today are second-rate as a result of this budgetary setback. CR-V is one of Honda's latest products. It's still second-rate.

Honda's dramatic fall from grace is a real shame, because in the 1990s Honda was pretty much viewed as Japan's version of BMW...

Find out how a broker can save you thousands on a new car >>


I know you've driven these cars and done some objective tests (eg. how well the kids fit in the back). However, your perception of performance is out of step with the numbers. I'll tell you why in a minute. But let's look at the vehicles first:


2.2 Diesel

  • 129kW @ 4500rpm
  • 350Nm @ 2000rpm

  • 5.7 L/100km

2.5 Petrol

  • 138kW @ 5700rpm
  • 250Nm @ 4000rpm
  • 7.4 L/100km

Auto trans: 6sp

Kerb weight: 1690kg*

*Heaviest model


2.2 Diesel

  • 110kW @ 3600rpm
  • 340Nm @
  • 6.5 L/100km

2.5 Petrol

  • 132kW @ 6000rpm
  • 233Nm @ 4100rpm
  • 8.5 L/100km

Auto trans: 6sp

Kerb weight: 1660kg*

*Heaviest model


2.2 Diesel

  • 110kW @ 4000rpm
  • 350Nm @
  • 6.9 L/100km

2.4 Petrol

  • 140kW @ 7000rpm
  • 222Nm @ 4400rpm
  • 8.7 L/100km

Auto trans: 5sp

Kerb weight: 1774kg*

*Heaviest model

Need help choosing between petrol & diesel? See the report here >>

I'm assuming you're not in the market for the base-model 2.0-litre petrol version of any of these SUVs. Each model has this price-leading, nasty, lacklustre kind of engine, and I'm wondering if the CX-5 you drove was that, because there is no way the 2.5 CX-5 can seem "a bit sluggish" in the context of the RAV4 and CR-V 2.5 and 2.4 engines respectively. Not possible.

Car salespeople are often idiots, and buyers often don't do their research before test-driving. It's easy to drive the 2.0-litre [Car A] against the 2.5-litre [Car B] and conclude, erroneously, that Car B just goes better, when in fact this might not be the case if you'd done an apples-for-apples test drive. (If you had driven the 2.0-litre RAV4 with CVT, I think you would have hated it...)

(Note that, above, kW = kilowatts, which is the measure of power, and Nm = Newton-metres, the measure of torque. Car nuts know this, but you might not, and it's important for the next bit.)

For me, the CR-V petrol is a scratching on fundamentals. First, look how high the revs are for peak power. Seven thousand revs a minute is a joke for a passenger car - certainly it is for an SUV. You'll never rev it there, and since power is essentially torque times revs (but you have to convert revs to radians per second or the maths doesn't pan out...) the engine is going to deliver very low power at conventional revs. It produces the least torque at the highest revs. It's the heaviest of the three vehicles and it's only got a five-speed transmission. Unsurprisingly, given all this, it's also the thirstiest of the trio.

Engineering 101 - there are two ways to develop more power. First, you could do fundamental engineering that makes the engine deliver more torque at some particular revs. (Increase the combustion efficiency or tip more fuel in, basically.) Or you can just spin it faster. Unfortunately, option two, which apparently Honda has gone with, makes engines less pleasant to drive normally.

This is a result of the problems with Honda, discussed above - a heavier car with a dog of an engine, and an outdated transmission.

The diesels are closer, and the RAV4's peak power of 110kW @ 3600rpm is very impressive. The Mazda's fuel efficiency is likewise impressive.

Like I said before: personal preference is a big part of your decision. There's no wrong answer here. You can own the Honda and be happy with it. Objectively, however, both the Mazda and the RAV4 are better vehicles. Objectively, the RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5 are very close.

Ask me how cheaply you can get the CX-5 or the RAV 4 >>