NISSAN X-TRAIL vs TOYOTA RAV4 Comparison Review


NISSAN X-TRAIL vs TOYOTA RAV4 Comparison Review


When pitted against each other in multi-vehicle car comparisons, compact sport utility vehicles (SUV) range from cheap to exorbitant, poser to fully-capable. Sitting right in the middle of most of these comparisons are the two vehicles that we're covering today, the Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail. Unlike some others they're typically compared with, the RAV4 and X-Trail offer the best value and best balance of all things considered.

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Both vehicles started off as compact SUVs, but have since grown to mid-sized SUVs, as most models seem to do over their generations. In general, SUVs, even compact and mid-size SUVs, are designed to offer the versatility of their larger cousins, the full-size SUVs, but in a more economical package. Particularly for today's active families, these SUVs offer enough room for four or five passengers, sometimes even more, as well as room for cargo. Most are equipped with all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive, though some are only equipped with front-wheel drive (FWD), which significantly reduces their off-road and, possibly, all-weathercapabilities. The combination has proven to be quite successful, and is currently the fastest-growing segment in the world, drawing in competition even from the big luxury automakers.

The Nissan X-Trail doesn't have quite the long history that the Toyota RAV4 does, dating back as far as 2000. The RAV4, on the other hand, practically invented the segment, in 1994, which left other automakers in the dust, though not for long. Both vehicles are now in their third and fourth generations, respectively, which means they've grown up, and they're quite competent SUVs in their own right. Does Toyota's long history give the RAV4 an edge over the X-Trail, or did X-Trail's late entry into the game give Nissan engineers more time to think about the package? For the purposes of this comparison, we're going to stick to the first-generation X-Trail and second-generation RAV4, model year 2002, in particular. How do these two popular compact SUVs stack up against each other?


Both of these crossover SUVs, whether the 2002 Nissan X-Trail or 2002 Toyota RAV4, are consistently ranked well by reviewers and buyers. They both deliver quite well where it counts, and on a number of fronts. If you need room for four passengers, maybe a fifth, as well as room for gear, they've both got it. If you need to tow something bigger, such as a small boat or mini camper trailer, both the X-Trail and RAV4 can be equipped to handle it. Inside, both X-Trail and RAV4 make use of somewhat low-grade plastics, coming out pretty much equal in this respect, but RAV4's seating seems to be more comfortable, if not as spacious as the X-Trail, which has more interior space. On the other hand, these two crossover SUVs offers some differences that are well worth pointing out.

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Regarding exterior design, the RAV4 is typically viewed as slightly more modern, featuring more curves and installed on a car chassis, while the X-Trail is viewed as dated, which really isn't enough reason to reject X-Trail, considering the amount of space inside. Exterior size does differentiate these two crossovers, and the RAV4 is much more at home in an urban or suburban setting, while the X-Trail's size lends itself to extra-urban activity. Under the hood, neither of these vehicles is particularly rated for true off-road performance, though the X-Trail's adaptable 4WD system seems to be more robust than the RAV4's, but some of that can also be attributed to the engine, as the X-Trail features more power output than the RAV4.

The main difference between the X-Trail and RAV4 seems to amount to engine power and perceived value, and the RAV4 can typically be found at higher prices than the X-Trail, though they seem to offer basically the same package. Regarding powertrain options, the X-Trail is a clear winner regarding power output, while the RAV4's smaller engine makes for better fuel economy. Finally, while Nissan is no slouch when it comes to durability and reliability, Toyota does have a clear history of reliable operation across its entire lineup, which could explain why it tends to hold its value better on the used car lot. When deciding between these two capable and popular crossovers, one does well to consider that they are both good vehicles and, with proper maintenance, they'll both provide years of dependable service. Additionally, if time does come for repairs, they're both popular enough that replacement parts are easily found. BE FORWARD has a number of Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail in stock right now, ready for shipping. Why not check out the stock lists for yourself, for your family, or even your small business?

Interior Comparison

X-TRAIL's Interior

Because of its high stance and long wheelbase, the Nissan X-Trail offers a pretty impressive amount of interior space, as well as a better view. Those who appreciate a lot of space will find their haven in Nissan X-Trail, which features seating for five adults, albeit smaller adults in the rear. For some reason, the rear center passenger seating position was not equipped with a three-point seat belt. Additionally, it seems that priority was given to cargo space, instead of passenger space, as long-legged adults may find the rear seats somewhat cramped. At the same time, rear cargo space, even with the rear seats up, is quite impressive for this class.

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While the interior is certainly spacious, Nissan X-Trail owners don't find it particularly comfortable, certainly not as cushy as other offerings in the segment. Drivers may find the instrument panel peculiar, gauges moved to the center of the dash, and an extra glove box in front of the steering wheel, which can take some getting used to. Driveline and other controls are easily accessible on the center console. We're not entirely certain why, perhaps because of the placement of the second glove box, the air-conditioning vents are mounted lower than the steering wheel, which makes cooling your face a little more difficult than necessary. The interior of the Nissan X-Trail is typified by hard-wearing plastics, exceptionally durable but not particularly touch-friendly. Those looking to stow gear in the rear cargo area should consider doing so with a cargo net, since items tend to slide around.

The Nissan X-Trail, in addition to solid framing and a high body, includes most standard safety features, such as dual front airbags and anti-lock braking system, as well as electronic brake-force distribution. Still electronic stability control wasn't available on the first-generation Nissan X-Trail, which many may be looking for in the family runabout.

RAV 4's Interior

Among crossover SUVs, the RAV4's interior is one of the smaller ones available. Though it has seating positions for five, there's really only room for four, and rear seat passengers will most likely find legroom to be lacking, especially if front seat passengers are also long-legged. Still, four average-sized adults will find the Toyota RAV4 to be exceptionally comfortable, particularly in the front seats. Seeing as RAV4 is based on a car-like chassis, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the interior feels more carlike, and comes with a number of carlike features, such as power windows, keyless entry, and power locks.

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In addition to comfortable passenger space, RAV4 ingeniously includes plenty of storage spaces, aside from the actual cargo area, including cup holders, door panel pockets, tie-down hooks, and shopping bag hooks. Clearly, RAV4 was designed for its role as family transport. Still, one can fold-and-tumble the rear seats, nearly doubling cargo space, or remove them altogether, revealing a nearly flat loading floor, a remarkably versatile feature for this little crossover.

Vehicle controls, such as the shift lever, audio system, and climate control, are easy to understand and ergonomically placed. The steering wheel features tilt adjustment, and the seats feature basic adjustability, the driver's seat including additional height adjustment. The four-speaker sound system, including a CD player, is well-balanced, though total wattage would certainly not classify it as a show car. For the most part, driver and passengers enjoy a quiet ride, even at highway speeds, though some may complain that the engine gets to be a bit loud when attempting fast highway merges.

Other interior perks include driver and passenger vanity mirrors, individual map lights, and front seat-back pockets. The dash also features a convenient digital clock.

Exterior Comparison

X-TRAIL's Exterior

Looking at the Nissan X-Trail, one immediately notices that it is boxier than most other crossovers on the market. Depending on the era, other cars were boxy, but in 2002, it seems almost out of place. It may not be the most attractive, but it does warrant a closer look. If anything, this could be why X-Trail is so polarizing. Some see it as a throwback to yesteryear's designs, while others see it as a down-sized version of a full-size SUV, with all the style of a capable off-roader, but without the high refueling costs typically associated with such monsters. On the other hand, there are plenty of wildly successful SUVs out there that haven't changed their look in decades.

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That being said, the X-Trail is not an economy car, which some seem to expect, albeit without reason, considering that it is, in fact, a crossover SUV, and a large and heavy one, at that. The higher body, basically jacked up from a Nissan Primera chassis, gives X-Trail a taller stance and perhaps a more intimidating presence, which some people really enjoy. Of course, the higher stance also helps with clearance and cargo loading, since one doesn't have to lift anything through a restrictive trunk lid, as opposed to X-Trail's large rear hatch. Those in need of even more cargo space will appreciate the optional roof rack and light towing capability, up to 1,500 pounds, properly equipped, of course.

Opt for the premium Nissan X-Trail Ti, and the trim includes an upgrade to alloy wheels, still fitted with 65-series all-season tires. Those opting for the power sunroof will find it on the large size, giving even rear passengers a nice view of sky.

RAV 4's Exterior

Outside, Toyota RAV4 didn't follow the crowd with boxy SUV-like design cues. Indeed, it wasn't meant for off-roading and so didn't make any pretenses with its profile and demeanor. Though originally available in both three-door and five-door versions, 2002 practically did away with all three-doors, and the RAV4 was better off for it, for improved passenger and cargo space, better ride quality, and exceptional comfort. One could say that Toyota was playing the “cute” card when they dealt the hand to the RAV4 designers and engineers. It has the proportions of a capable 4WD, such as the high windows and chunky wheels, but a decidedly friendly curve applied to all surfaces. Almost no “edge” remains, resulting in a far less aggressive take on AWD vehicles.

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The rear door, to which is also mounted the spare tire, is hinged on the right, instead of on top or on the left, which can present some problems for certain drivers. Those who drive on the right side of the road, and therefore would parallel park on the right side of the road, may find the right-hand hinge inconvenient in case they need to load anything from the curb. On the other hand, this proves pretty convenient for left-hand drivers and left-hand parkers. The perfect solution, for a worldwide RAV4, would have been to put the hinge on the top, though it wasn't until 2013 that Toyota would finally feature this improvement to the rear door.

Fitted with 16” steel wheels and 70-series all-season tires, as well as new black fenders, short front and rear overhangs, and fog lights, the 2002 Toyota RAV4 certainly looks the part of capable off-roader, and the optional lockable center differential can make quite the difference in how it handles off-road. Still, RAV4 is mainly an urban runabout, with its wider stance for stability.

In comparison with other SUVs, RAV4 is quite small, but uses its size to its advantage, making it far more maneuverable than those full-size SUVs. Equipped with a hitch receiver, the 2002 Toyota RAV4 can even tow up to 1,500 pounds, perfect for those weekend getaways that require extra gear or toys.

Driving Experience

X-TRAIL's Driving Experience

Because of its size and engine options, the Nissan X-Trail isn't so much of an urban runabout, but great on the open road and in the rough. Because it is so tall, drivers have a great view, one of the biggest greenhouses in the segment, which also puts it squarely in the “drive carefully” segment. In other words, the X-Trail is not a sports car, and will never corner like a sports car. On the other hand, no sports car features this kind of interior space and versatility.

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Under the hood, Nissan X-Trail features one of a number of four-cylinder engines which deliver a surprising amount of power. Even the smallest gasoline-powered 2.0 ℓ delivers 140 hp. A special-edition Nissan X-Trail GT was produced in mid-2002, which was powered by a turbocharged version of the 2.0 ℓ four-cylinder engine, generating an astonishing 280 hp. The engines were mated to a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed, manual transmission, and then either two-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD) drivetrains, making the X-Trail a fairly capable “all-road” vehicle.

In normal driving, the X-Trail runs like a front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicle, and it typically runs slightly more economical than a similar rear-wheel drive (RWD) SUV, though its less-than-aerodynamic body doesn't allow for too much leeway in this respect. In case of poor on-road traction conditions, such as snow or gravel, switching to all-wheel drive (AWD) mode, turning the dial on the center console from “2WD” to “AUTO” helps only slightly, because the system doesn't engage the rear wheels until a loss of traction is detected at the front, which limits its effectiveness. One could engage the “LOCK” system, effectively changing to 4WD mode, again at the turn of a dial, but this isn't suggested, as this diverts more than half the torque to the front axle. This is fine for off-road, and is quite effective at delivering maximum traction, up to 18 mph, but driving on-road in LOCK mode for any length of time would quickly lead to driveline binding and possible damage.

Most drivers find the steering and suspension to be well-tuned for the task, neither too precise nor too forgiving. While most prefer the manual transmission for fuel economy and off-road control, the automatic transmission is surprisingly capable at holding its own while off-road.

RAV 4's Driving Experience

When it comes to actually driving the Toyota RAV4, one immediately notes that it was meant to be a compact urban assault vehicle, never particularly destined for off-road trails. That being said, the RAV4 is an absolute dream driving around town, even cruising on the highway. It has just enough pep to keep things interesting, but not enough to make highway merges particularly easy, thanks to its assortment of small engines, ranging from 1.8 ℓ to 2.0 ℓ.

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The combination of just 127 hp to 148 hp and a fully-loaded cabin has been a cause for complaint for some. For many, the lack of a V6 option pushed them to look for greener pastures elsewhere. Try pushing it to its limits and one it greeted by quite a noisy powertrain. For marginally better results in the fun-to-drive quotient, look for the five-speed manual transmission option. Still, the 1.8 ℓ and 2.0 ℓ options, even with the four-speed automatic transmission, offer exceptional fuel economy, rivaling sedans for their fuel-sipping characteristics.

On the other hand, the RAV4 was never meant to be a race car, and it is quite comfortable and easy to handle, what with its car-like suspension and handling characteristics, so one doesn't feel as if driving a truck. Once up to speed, highway cruising is comfortable and reasonably quiet, but the RAV4 is truly at home as an urban or suburban runabout, which is where most families spend their time, anyway. This isn't to say that you can't take a RAV4 off-road, but it wasn't built for that kind of abuse. However, if you are concerned about driving in bad weather, you can do no better than to trust RAV4's full-time AWD system and a set of good all-season tires. Should you need a little extra traction, the center differential lock, engaged via push-button, did a good job at keeping things from spinning out of control, though this couldn't convert RAV4 into a truly off-road capable vehicle.

One way in which the RAV4 particularly shines, in its role as urban runabout, is its size. Executing a three-point turn, making a quick parallel parking maneuver, or squeezing through rush hour traffic is simply easier in the smaller RAV4. Of course, the longer you drive a Toyota RAV4, the more you appreciate its place in Toyota's long heritage, particularly as a reliable vehicle. In fact, most rank Toyota, including the RAV4, as one of the most reliable automobiles in the world. As a family runabout, could one ask for more?


Nissan X-Trail provides you an option to drive between 2 WD to 4 WD. This bodes well for drivers that like to use the vehicle for off-road activities during the weekend while utilizing the vehicle for daily use. Toyota Rav 4 is considered an all wheel drive compared to the X-Trail, but the Toyota Rav 4 is widely popular for casual urban drivers to transport their small family to and fro. Furthermore, to the more adventurous both cars can be retrofitted with a bike roof rack or a hitch to accommodate bicycle riders. If you require spacious rear compartment to transport various items the Nissan X-trail has a larger compartment versus Toyota Rav 4. The Toyota Rav 4 has a more refined interior whereas Nissan X-trail utilizes aesthetically appealing materials. Lastly, reliability with Japanese cars is world renown and both vehicles enjoy a favorable reputation and economical according to fuel consumption.

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