If you’re out shopping for a new compact SUV this year, you have a long list of choices. Two big contenders are the 2021 Chevy Equinox vs 2021 Toyota RAV4, both of which are popular for their reliability, safety, and quality. Toyota has been a top-selling brand for decades, but even though the RAV4 may be highly acclaimed in years past, it is not as popular with consumers as the Chevy Equinox right now. JD Power gives the Equinox the #2 slot for Top Ten Consumer Rated SUVs; the Toyota RAV4 isn’t even on the list. Even though Toyota is known for its generous safety features, Chevy gives the 2021 Equinox a safety suite to match and even excel past the RAV4.
While you consider which compact SUV might be the best buy, it’s becoming clear that consumers are no longer willing to be blindly loyal to brands anymore. Toyota has had a great run of vehicles and still offers a lot of value to the automotive market, but even in a year before a refresh in the Equinox, the Chevy is giving Toyota a run for its money. It’s not enough to just be a great brand of the past; brands have to remain attentive to their lineups if they want to continue to enjoy success. For the curious, we will look at six comparables that take the 2021 Equinox into either equal footing or exceeding the offerings found in the 2021 RAV4.
Money is a great place to begin comparing, especially if you know one of the options is going to keep more money in your pocket. The 2021 Equinox entry-level trim starts at a price of $23,800, and the 2021 RAV4 is several thousand higher at $26,250. That’s a significant difference, and Chevy beats Toyota pricing for every subsequent trim level. Sometimes it’s worth the expenditure to pay a little extra if you’re getting a lot more standard features, but as we work our way through the list of comparatives, it will become evident that Toyota’s higher price may not be giving buyers much more value. In fact, if you compare the ratings given to both vehicles through JD Power, the Equinox beats the RAV4 in every category except resale value, though the Equinox is still in the top tier of ratings even for this category.
#2. Interior Passenger Space
Numbers don’t lie. Comparing space in inches for rear-seat passengers reveals the Equinox gives more room overall than the RAV4. Back seat passengers almost always get shafted when it comes to legroom, which may be why people started flocking to SUVs for family vehicles. Tall teens don’t want to be cramped any more than adults do, and SUVs usually have more space in the back seats than the typical sedan.
Chevy gives more headroom, legroom, and hip room to the back seat than Toyota, and even in the front seat, the Equinox has more headroom for folks who have a longer torso. So, if you like your kids enough to make sure they’re comfortable, the Equinox has more space for them, and it will be harder for them to kick the back of your seat when they’re little. Parents, this alone is enough to maintain your sanity after long hours in the car.
#3. Engine Noise
Several of the top car manufacturer reviewers are giving Toyota a thumbs down on its latest RAV4 engine for one main reason: the noise. It’s loud on the highway, especially when you have to hit the gas to get by other cars in the passing lane. Even if the Equinox may not have the zippiest engine, it has plentiful insulation against road noise. No matter what you think of the acceleration, engine noise devalues a vehicle in terms of quality. If you have to raise your voice to be heard in a conversation while you drive, that makes a vehicle seem cheap.
We associate a hushed cabin with a quality car because it gives the vehicle a luxurious feel. Chevy builds the 2021 Equinox with a standard acoustic windshield and active noise cancellation, neither of which are anywhere in the RAV4. When you’re looking at one of these SUVs, it’s likely that you plan to spend most of your time driving on the pavement. Take some time to think about whether or not you want to spend your time in the vehicle yelling over the engine. Then again, maybe you don’t want to hear what your passengers have to say. No judgments.
In general, the Equinox and RAV4 have similar safety features in the suites of driver-assisted technology that comes standard for all trims. Both SUVs have forward collision avoidance systems that include pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking systems, stability and traction control systems, and lane keeping systems. If you count a rearview camera as safety equipment, both come standard with that, too. They even share similar emergency response capabilities with Chevy Connected and Toyota Safety Connect, both of which call for emergency help if you have an accident.
One feature the Equinox has above the RAV4 is Teen Driver, a feature that allows you to set parameters for certain drivers (like your teens with a new license). Chevy also includes a rear-seat reminder, so you don’t leave your little ones in the back seat because you’re exhausted. The RAV4 gives buyers a radar cruise control and road sign assist as standard, which is great for those who need to drive on the highway a lot. Chevy gives similar tech to upper trims, so you can still get these features if you pay more, but the lower starting prices for Chevy make the higher payment about even with the lower trim RAV4. The safety technology is fairly equal for both vehicles, though Chevy is favored as a family vehicle for its child-oriented features in safety and in other areas. Like tech.
In terms of technology, the 2021 Equinox and 2021 RAV4 come standard with a laundry list of features to connect smartphones in a number of ways, from Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to Bluetooth and WiFi. Each SUV also starts with a basic six-speaker audio system that can be upgraded in upper trims: Chevy is paired with Bose, and Toyota offers JBL. A seven-inch touchscreen allows access to the infotainment for both vehicles and is upgraded to eight inches in upper trims. Upper trims in both also get navigation.
After these similarities, the features diverge. Toyota gives buyers standard Alexa connectivity, which is great if you have a home Alexa to pair with it, and a three-month trial of SiriusXM. Chevy does award the SiriusXM trial to upper trims, but you don’t get Alexa pairing at all.
What you do get with the Equinox that the RAV4 doesn’t have is a rear seat entertainment system which can be added even to mid-level trims if you want to keep your kids busy in the back seat. The system even has parental controls through an app. Even Alexa can’t entertain your kids in the back unless she has screens they can see. Chevy adds HD radio for upper trims, a cloud system for vehicle and infotainment settings, and standard wireless charging for the uppermost trim. Toyota doesn’t offer HD radio or cloud access, and wireless charging is only available to the uppermost trim as an extra expense, not standard equipment.
#6. Fuel Efficiency
No matter what the alluring Toyota numbers say when you look at the fuel economy of the RAV4, it’s actually equal overall when you average out the efficiency of highway and city driving. Both the 2021 Equinox and 2021 RAV4 get about 28 MPG combined. Having the efficiency scores of either city or highway driving shown separately will only matter to those drivers who spend most of their time driving on one or the other. Either way, the Toyota doesn’t have a stellar fuel efficiency above the Chevy unless you want to pony up for a hybrid, which isn’t necessarily going to save you money in the end. The much higher price tag of the hybrid may not make up for itself in fuel costs unless you spend a lot of time on the road.
Don’t be taken in by the reputation of a brand’s past performance. Look at the figures they deliver with the most current models and compare. Here, the 2021 Chevy Equinox beats the RAV4 in several categories directly related to ways a family can benefit. Still, all the categories can benefit anyone who chooses the Equinox over the RAV4 in 2021.