Driving a new Honda CR-V Hybrid made me question my loyalty to my old Toyota RAV-4

OK, so the obvious winner here is the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid. But what about my buyer’s remorse?

Honda CR-V vs. Toyota RAV-4
Honda CR-V vs. Toyota RAV4
Matthew DeBord/Insider

Well, I couldn’t buy the CR-V Hybrid in 2019 because it wasn’t yet available in the US market. So the RAV-4 Hybrid was my choice. But if I were choosing again today, between a Honda hybrid compact ute and the Toyota, what would I do?

The classic Honda vs. Toyota battle, for me, always comes down to durability against driving fun. Hondas are almost always more fun to pilot. But I know from experience that Toyotas will run forever, mostly trouble free, and that Hondas, while incredibly reliable, throw a few more problems at you.

In hybrid land, Toyota has also been steadily refining its tech for about two decades, while Honda — not exactly a latecomer — has been at it for less time. Both reduce tailpipe emissions.

So if I’m going with what I know, I’m leaning Toyota. I want my personal vehicles to be cheap to operate and to start every single crank.

Of course, then I jump into the Honda CR-V hybrid and I say to myself, “Zowie! This thing is great!” It’s notably quicker, the steering provides a far more connected-to-the-wheels sensation, and the CVT transmission feels more brisk. The suspension tuning is also nice and crisp, compared to the overly smooth demeanor of my RAV4. 

(By the way, I’ve sampled the lastest-gen RAV4, and it’s a better driver than my car, although the non-hybrid version didn’t impress me on the engine or transmission fronts.)

How would the CR-V stack up against the RAV4 in crummy weather? My RAV4 has two electric motors, one over the rear axle, and in my experience, even deep snow presents few difficulties for the system. The CR-V has just one electric motor, favoring a more conventional AWD design that sends power to the back wheels when needed. That could be a factor in the driving dynamics, giving the CR-V its snappier personality. As for foul-weather challenges, I’d have to get the CR-V back in winter for a proper evaluation.

Dear reader, understand that this always happens to me: I dig the Honda, buy the Toyota. If I were a civilian and not a soldier in the ranks of the auto-writing army, I would perhaps lean Honda, based on test drives.

But what if you want to buy used? Is the RAV4 Hybrid, 2017 edition, a better choice than the new CR-V hybrid? 

I’d have to say that if you don’t mind giving up on some current tech, the RAV4 is thoroughly compelling. However, my Toyota cost me about what a new CR-V would, for a lower trim level. Obviously, I’d spend less now on the Toyota. So, really, the whole situation is a conundrum.

The upshot is that you’d get a nicer overall car with the CR-V Hybrid, new, and superior fuel economy. But you get a set-it-and-forget vehicle with the RAV4 Hybrid, used. So I’m not ready to make a trade. But what a world we live in! Everybody owes it to themself to sample the hybrid trims of these two stalwart compact crossovers.

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