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Outback vs Highlander vs RAV4

skicrazyskicrazy Posts: 5
edited March 2014 in Subaru
We're seriously looking at the Outback, Highlander or Rav 4 for our next family car. We want enough room for 4, decent gas mileage, ability to go off road to hiking trails and drive in snow to go sking. Thoughts on which vehicle is best?


  • My wife's 1997 Outback Legacy has 198,000 miles. With proper maintenance it will be around a while yet. I've looked at all three:

    Outback - The 2.5 liter 4 gets reasonable MPG (mid 20s), comfortably holds 5 people, and handles well in the snow (AWD). It is not really meant for off roading, but can handle the task within limits.

    RAV4 - Similar size as the Outback, better suited for off road, but a little thirstier. Nicer styling in my estimation than the other two options you mention.

    Highlander - May be a little too big. Holds 7 with the optional third seat, very thirsty unless you pop for the Hybrid and then its a hot rod as well.

    A fourth option is the Ford Escape with AWD (and its Mercury cousin). Its also available in a hybrid, but its a Ford (A less reliable manufacturer in my estimation).

    I'm waiting for a RAV4 Hybrid to replace the Subaru when Toyota gets around to making one. My other car is a Prius.


  • mnovamnova Posts: 1
    My wife and I are facing the same challenge, with the same criteria: good on gas, room for stuff, four wheel / all wheel drive, super safe. We just test drove a 2006 Outback 2.5i Limited wagon this afternoon and we were duly impressed. So much so that we practically bought the car on the spot. But our giddiness was eventually tempered by wanting to make the right decision, which is proving to be harder than we anticipated.

    For one, there's a few Outback wagons to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. The Turbo's got the cajones, but at the expense of gas mileage. The 3.0's got the bells and whistles, but at the expense of, well, expense. And we're still torn about a few of lesser concerns, like body color (love the new exterior styling, love the switch to monochrome paint jobs, wish there were more colors), and interior (okay, faux wood is faux wood, but damn it looks good, yet it's only matched with instantly stained and dirtied beiges, while the black and faux metal feels almost like an older video game interface). That said, in our opinion the interior styling of the Outback crushes the RAV4 and Highlander (which may as well have been designed by the cheap plastic-addicts over at Ford).

    Those are relatively small concerns, but they still demand commitment now.

    The Outback surprised us in its zippiness too, and we haven't even tested the turbo yet. It just stuck to the road and gobbled up the pavement. Super sticky. But we also had a real-life rally experience with a RAV4 a couple of years ago when we rented one during a trip to Costa Rica, and let me assure you, that was one of the all-time best driving experiences of my life -- my wife's too. Sure, we won't be fishtailing through dusty gravel turns and leaping over rocky bottomed dips again any time soon, but the RAV was unquestionably at home off-road (or on-road, Costa Rica style). We loved it.

    And all you'll find all over the web are gushing love stories about the RAV. The Soob's got its devotees as well, especially as an overall brand (which I suppose can be said for Toyota too), but Subaru's repeat-buyer rate borders on the fanatic.

    The Highlander, however, just doesn't do it for us. Between the 4Runner and the RAV, what's a Highlander for anyway? Or maybe I should say who's a Highlander for? Especially now that the RAV is over a foot longer than last year's model.

    I'd say forget the Escape too. Not because of who its for, but because of who its from. Ford should do the market a favor and name its next design the Recall, because it seems everything they've put out in the past ten years makes at least one "free maintanence" trip to the dealer in its lifetime.

    The biggest drawback on the Outback for us so far is the leg room, which isn't actually bad, I'm just 6'4". The steering wheel has limited positionability (sliding up and down, no angles), which means my knees are banging into the column now and then. But visibility and headroom was excellent, and we just wanted to stay in the car for the rest of the day, getting all the sun we could ever want through the ginormous moonroof.

    A test drive of the 2006 RAV will probably -- hopefully -- make up our minds. The one thing I can say for certain now is that my certainty about buying the RAV4 isn't so certain anymore...
  • Thanks for the info. We decided to buy a Subi (2.5i)today and love it already. The 2006's have a $2000 rebate which really helped in our decision.
  • grahampetersgrahampeters AustraliaPosts: 1,785

    I had a much loved 99 Outback for 6 years. Very safe competent car under off road conditions, although front and rear overhangs make it less competent than say a Forester.

    I typically got about 10.5 l /100km in a manual

    Eighteen months ago, I bought a Highlander 3.5 AWD Auto(actually a Kluger here in Oz). Our kids are at an age where we seem to get extras regularly and the extra seats help. The Kluger is a bit shorter than the Outback but noticably wider.

    Typical fuel economy is about 11.0 to 11.5 l/100km so little worse than an Outback. however if driven aggressively this can increase dramatically. However test results here in Australia suggest about 10% difference.

    The Outback was a sports car with off road ability. The Kluger seems a lot more boring. certainly an excellent vehicle but, unless you have a need for the seven seas and extra space, I would go for the Subaru.


  • nickelnickel Posts: 147
    The Highlander really never has caught us, but the V6 Rav4 sure did. The main disadvantages of it, were the more upscale interior of the OB and the indecision of Toyota dealerships of giving a better price (even showing them internet prices out of state). At that time (2 months ago), they only wanted to get rid of 4runners. Not to say, we had a Forester for 5 years, and it only needed oil and gas. About going off road, I`ll say that there's not one place a Rav4 ca go that the OB can't. In the test drive, I took the OB and a Forester to the summer dry ski routes of Burnsville (Minnesota), and both went up easily, but the OB with much more comfort.
    Note: when checking an OB, be sure to check if your knees are confortable against the door, cause I'm 5'9" and mine are on the border of comfort-discomfort.
  • landdriverlanddriver Posts: 607
    The HL's styling leans toward the upscale and sedate when contrasted to the Rav's decidedly sporty attitude.
  • thecatthecat Posts: 535
    jdenenberg - I haven't looked at the latest Outback but I'm surprised to see you say the RAV is "similar in size..." The inside of the RAV is pretty spacious. Is that really true or is it a "kinda sorta" statement?
  • thecatthecat Posts: 535
    About going off road, I`ll say that there's not one place a Rav4 ca go that the OB can't.

    I agree. None of these vehicles are "off road-ers" in the true sense of the expression. The main limitation all of these vehicles have is ground clearance. Traction shouldn't be a problem for any of them.
  • s4audis4audi Posts: 4
    I was in a similar dilemma. Shopped between OB, Forester and RAV4. Ended up buying a 2007 Outback. It has the space we need, it all weather capable, nicer interior than RAV4 and handles better than any SUV.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Yeah, surprisingly the OB actually has more ground clearance but that's offset by the long front overhand, so the approach angle isn't that great.

    RAV4 is a bit short on overall ground clearance, but the bumpers stick out less.

  • drohrerdrohrer Posts: 37
    If you're going to compare the OB 2.5 liter 4 to the RAV4 you should use 4cyl. RAV4 MPG's. We're getting between 26 (Interstate driving, loaded down, doing 75-80) and 28 (Wife and Daughter cruising around doing "summer stuff").

    To get the same features in the OB as the RAV (sunroof, airbags, ESC / VDC) meant bigger dollars when we were looking this spring.

    We looked at the OB and RAV on your list (also Vue, Tribeca, Forester, CR-v and Murano).

    My wife loves her Red RAV

    Good luck,

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    To get the same features in the OB as the RAV (sunroof, airbags, ESC / VDC) meant bigger dollars when we were looking this spring.

    Keep in mind the OB also packs a lot of lesser known features you may not have gotten with the RAV4 - like heated seats, heated mirrors, wiper de-icers, fog lights, cross bars for the roof rack, tow hitch pre-wiring, etc.

    Wiring a hitch for a RAV4 is a bear, I've been following that thread. You take half the interior apart to do it.

    OB comes very well equipped. More models get stability control this year, too.

  • drohrerdrohrer Posts: 37
    I didn't mean to suggest that the OB wasn't nicely equipped. I like it alot, in fact if you're talking about ride dynamics, I think the Subies in general were superior. It was just going to cost me more to get all the things we really wanted in the OB.

    Don't plan on towing anything with our RAV and the limited came with cross bars and engine immobilizer.

    I thought the original poster crossed off the RAV a little quickly in terms of MPG's and features.

    As I said we looked at both too. My wife loves her RAV, maybe it is a "chick" car.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Makes sense.

    Subaru came out with an Outback Basic model for 2007, one that deletes a few of the things I listed above. So you can find a more "base" model now.

  • At this point, how do you like the Subie? Looking to buy the same model in the next 2 weeks....
  • mystromystro Posts: 64
    Comments that the Legacy get's really close to true sportscar handling and especially the GT can be confirmed with one test drive but the OB has the clearance for the winter conditions so it may suit some better but if your looking for the best of all worlds, Only one car in the AWD class (Audi) which can be compared to the legacy or OB with the subbie is still better with the superier AWD system..that's the difference.

    My only complaint..sometimes it seems everybody owns one..except the GT's. ;)
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    You might toss in the Volvo XC70 in that group, too.

  • I just choose a (Canadian) basic 2006 Highlander (V6 AWD 5 passengers) over a 2007 RAV4 V6 AWD Limited. Reasons: the ride (less jerking around, less leaning in curves) and the sound proofing of the Highlander are better than that of the RAV4. Both are about the same price in Canada.

    I already miss the sporty handling of my cheap, old Ford Contour V6 (better than some BMWs) and its moon roof but one cannot have it all! The other family car is a Sienna.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Another big difference is the liftgate. You get rain shelter and it doesn't block curb side loading.

  • philmophilmo Posts: 77
    Given that Subaru is pretty much the unofficial state car of Colorado I had ignored the OB in my quest to replace a 98 Gr. Cherokee. However, in a parking lot the other day off I-70 in Dumont this gorgeous black wagon was sitting next to me though I couldn't quite make out the brand and originally thought it was a Saab 9-5 wagon. When he pulled away I saw that it was, in fact, a new Outback. Okay, that goes on the list!

    Got home and started checking the specs and am most anxious to get to town for a test drive. This forum has done nothing to diminish the enthusiasm. Thanks for your insights as a lot of these things end up being "Ford vs. Chevy" or "Mac vs. PC" useless rants.

    I started out wanting the new Ford Edge but early reports are not encouraging. The Mazda CX-7 was a blast to drive but MPG reports are grim. The Murano gets pricey and you know it's gotta get a facelift soon as the design is aging. The Volvo XC70's 71.4 cubic feet of space is well setup but the hatch entry is only 44 inches wide. The swing gate on the RAV4 is just bone-headed -- I'll bet it goes away on the next redesign since Honda and others have managed to design it away. Highlander will be redesigned methinks along the lines of the Murano/Infinity FX35 rolling shoe model but I don't want to wait.

    Our short list is down to the Escape Hybrid, Hyundai Santa Fe, Edge (pending in-person measurements) and the Outback (pending a look-see later today).
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