|137-252 HP||Horsepower||203 HP|
|203-260 lb-ft||Torque||184 lb-ft|
If you were to write a history of the compact SUV, the Toyota RAV4 would be a good starting point. Conversely, if you were to write a history of the luxury 4X4, GMC would be a good starting point. Although they come from different traditions and automakers, many compact SUV customers will find themselves pitting the 2019 GMC Terrain vs 2019 Toyota RAV4. Will decades of work perfecting the compact SUV model help the RAV4 come out on top, or will the luxury trappings of the Terrain pull in drivers? We take a look at the facts and figures to see which SUV you should be parking in your driveway.
When does a trend become a paradigm shift? This question may sound too philosophical for a site about compact SUVs, but context does matter here. When does something stop being a fad and turn into an ingrained part of an industry? It seems easy to point out fads. Tailfins, after flourishing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, were dead by 1970. We’ve hopefully seen the last of the wood cladding that most famously adorned Jeep and Buick products. Although currently en vogue, two-tone roofs and “floating roofs” with invisible c-pillars most certainly won’t stick around for too long. Paradigm shifts are much harder to spot.
SUVs have been both a trend and a paradigm shift. 2008 financial crisis and oil downcycle revealed big, gas sucking SUVs as merely a trend – GM’s Hummer brand only truly lived for 8 years. The recent SUV movement, however, is a paradigm shift. Instead of giant, full-size SUVs, automakers are flooding the market with compact and subcompact commuters. Customers don’t trade-in another SUV when they purchase these vehicles; instead, they are trading in their sedans. SUVs will soon take over the majority of dealer lots since SUVs are expected to make up 50% of all light-duty vehicle sales by 2020.
To say the least, the GMC Terrain and RAV4 are in a cut-throat market. Compact SUVs are the new mid-size sedans. Automakers are counting on these SUVs to be best-sellers and profit machines. Instead of Honda Accord vs Toyota Camry, or Ford Fusion vs Chevy Malibu, its Terrain vs RAV4 and Ford Escape vs Honda CRV. A slightly elevated seating position, 5 seats and cargo room in the hatch are now the name of the game. The RAV4 was one of the earliest compact SUVs, while the Terrain came in the first wave of compact SUVs earlier this decade. But who’s the king of the compacts?
The GMC Terrain debuted in late 2009 as a 2010 model. Although it sits on the same platform as the Chevy Equinox, the two are not twins like the Terrain and previous Pontiac Torrent/Saturn Vue. The Terrain went through a full-redesign for the 2018 model year, though substantially changed inside and out, the most striking shift was the much softer, more crossover-friendly sheet metal. The redesign has reinvigorated slumping sales. After tumbling below the 100,000-unit mark in 2016 and 2017, 2018 was the best year yet for the Terrain as nearly 115,000 left GMC dealerships.
Size-wise, the Terrain sits on the large side of the compact pack. The wheelbase measures 112.5 inches while overall length is set at 187.8 inches. Width comes in at 72.8 inches and height at 66.3 inches. The Terrain has 29.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the second-row seats upright and 63.3 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row folded.
The RAV4 is the patriarch of the compact SUV family. SUVs like the Jeep Wagoneer proceeded its debut in 1996, but no SUV had ever offered the same value proposition as the RAV4. Previous SUVs were all about increased cargo room, elevated driving position, and four-wheel drive ability. The RAV4 offered all of this with the agility and fuel efficiency of a compact sedan. In the four full-redesigns since its groundbreaking debut, the last of which came in 2018, the RAV4 has gotten bigger but stayed true to its roots. The sales numbers speak for themselves: over 100,000/year since 2006, over 250,000 units since 2014, and 427,000 units in 2018.
The RAV4 has certainly grown since the 1990s. Currently, the wheelbase measures at 105.9 inches with an overall length of 180.9 inches. Width is 73 inches even while height comes in at 65.4 inches. With the second-row seats upright the RAV4 gets 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Put the seats down, and that number climbs to 73.4 cubic feet.
Both of these SUV are meant to haul people and cargo; while you could pull a trailer with either one, you won’t get much in the way of towing capacity. Instead, compact SUVs must straddle the line between power and fuel economy. The best vehicles in this class put a little pep in your step without putting a dent in your wallet.
The Terrain’s base engine is a 1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder, good for 170 horsepower and tied to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Select the Denali trim and you’ll get a 252 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder paired with the nine-speed automatic transmission. The mid-range SLE and SLT Terrain trims are also available with a 1.6-liter turbo-diesel 4-cylinder engine offering 137 horsepower. All 3 engines come with an automatic start/stop feature that turns off when the vehicle is idle. Those who do intend to test the Terrain’s 3,500-pound towing capacity will want to go for the turbo-diesel to get the most for their money. Drivers looking for some serious oomph will want the 2.0-liter turbo in the Denali.
For the time being, the RAV4 only offer a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission but drivers will have 203 horsepower at their fingertips. A hybrid version of the redesigned RAV4 has yet to reach dealerships though, in theory, it will be offered on LE, XLE, and Limited trims when it arrives.
The RAV4 wins points for having a more powerful base engine. However, the GMC takes this round due to a wider range of offering and a diesel option. Perhaps the arrival of the RAV4 hybrid will shake things up.
Fuel efficiency is one of the key components in the sales pitch for compact SUVs. These vehicles have to hit a sweet spot between miles per gallon and cubic feet behind the seats. It’s a true balancing act. Compromise too much on storage and a sedan becomes a better choice. Compromise too much on economy and a larger SUV becomes a better choice. The Terrain and RAV4 look to hit the sweet spot.
With the RAV4, fuel efficiency comes down to front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). FWD models will get 26 mpg highway and 35 mpg highway for 30 mpg combined. AWD models will achieve 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway for 28 mpg combined.
Terrain customers should expect splits of 26/30/28 mpg for the base 1.4-liter engine. The Denali’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder will see 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for 25 mpg combined. As expected, the diesel shines when it comes to fuel economy. Although it gets a ho-hum 28 miles per gallon in the city, the diesel does it work on the highway, hitting a remarkable 39 miles per gallon.
Despite winning the petrol category, the RAV4 simply can’t match the Terrain’s turbo-diesel. This round has to go to the Terrain.
Both of these SUVs come with the kind of technology you would expect from such a competitive class. Safety suites come standard on both vehicles, with the Terrain getting high marks for offering a surround-view camera in addition to its backup camera. Both vehicles offer Apple CarPlay compatibility but only the Terrain offer Android Auto. One feature that really stands out, especially for parents, is the Terrain’s rear seat reminder feature. When a second-row door is opened and closed during or just before a trip, this feature reminds you to check the back seat with five audible chimes and a message in the center of the dash. Taken alone, this feature gives the Terrain an edge.
The SL base trim for the Terrain starts around $25,000, while you can get a RAV4 for a little more at $25,500. On the other side of the spectrum, a Terrain Denali with all of the boxes checked will come in around $48,000. A fully-loaded RAV4 clocks in at a hair under $40,000. Frugal buyers may want to stick with the RAV4 but if you’re looking for a ride like no other, although expensive, the Terrain Denali will provide the most luxurious experience in the compact SUV class.
The Terrain and RAV4 both come with 3 years/36,000 miles basic and 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranties, which is the standard nearly industry-wide.