Trucks & SUVs

2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. Toyota Tacoma – Do You Really Need a Truck?

Toyota has an honorable lineup of diverse and capable off-roaders. You may even be interested in two seemingly different options like the Toyota RAV4 and the Toyota Tacoma. Both have their unique charms as well as drawbacks. How would you go about picking between a compact SUV and a compact truck?

Driving the 2021 Toyota RAV4

2021 Toyota RAV4 driving
2021 Toyota RAV4 | Toyota

Toyota’s RAV4 gets more versatile with each new year. As with the outgoing model, the 2021 RAV4 features a single powertrain consisting of a 203-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The RAV4 slays with its quick acceleration and excellent fuel economy; it has an EPA rating of up to 30 mpg overall.  

One drawback of the RAV4 current generation is that excess engine noise can be aggravating. However, this critique hasn’t stopped owners from enjoying their SUV. But for a quieter experience and a greater emphasis on fuel efficiency, you may want to consider the RAV4 Hybrid or the all-new RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid. 

2020 Toyota RAV4 Limited interior
2020 Toyota RAV4 Limited interior | Toyota

When properly equipped, the RAV4 can tow up to 3,500 pounds, decent for the compact SUV class. The RAV4 also satisfies with its long list of standard tech. It comes with a user-friendly 7-inch touch screen with apps including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

The Toyota RAV4's all-black interior.
Toyota RAV4 interior | Toyota

All RAV4s come with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, including safety features such as adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning. For more frills, consider the upper-level RAV4 trims like the XLE Premium, which replaces the SUV’s regular cloth seats with faux leather. There’s also the Adventure and TRD Off-Road trims for those who want to hit the trails. 

Driving the 2021 Toyota Tacoma 

A 2021 Toyota Tacoma parked on sand
2021 Toyota Tacoma | Toyota

RELATED The 2021 Toyota Tacoma Gains Two Fancy Editions

The Tacoma isn’t as luxurious as, say, the Honda Ridgeline, but it’s plenty capable. Entry-level models have a 159-hp, 2.7-liter four-cylinder. On the plus side, models with the four-cylinder have an EPA rating of up to 21 mpg overall, which is solid. Like the RAV4, the base Tacoma can tow up to 3,500 pounds. However, the base engine feels largely underpowered.

Toyota Tacoma Interior
Toyota Tacoma Interior | Toyota

Most critics recommend the Tacoma’s available 278-hp 3.5-liter V6 for a more engaging driving experience. As Car and Driver highlights, V6-powered Tacomas can tow up to 6,800 pounds; 6,500 pounds with four-wheel drive. A six-speed automatic is standard, but the available six-speed manual earns more praise. Overall, the Tacoma does well on the paved roads, but it shines for its off-roading capabilities.

pickup truck bed with composite liner
Toyota Tacoma composite pickup truck bed | Toyota

So far, our team has loved the Taco’s TRD Off-Road trim. It comes with goodies, including an electronic locking differential, and easily navigates in sand and mud. This pickup features two configurations. The Access Cab accommodates four people, and the Double seats five. No matter which Taco you get, it comes with a modern touchscreen display and smartphone apps, just like the RAV4 does. You’ll want to consider the limited Trail Edition or the new Nightshade Edition for more unique features. 

Would you get the RAV4 or the Tacoma?

the 2021 TRD Pro lineup in lunar rock in a sandy scene
2021 TRD Pro Lineup | Toyota

RELATED: Is It Worth Upgrading From the Toyota RAV4 to the Lexus NX?

Both the RAV4 and the Tacoma offer plenty of modern features, and both have strong reputations for dependability. A new 2021 RAV4 begins at 26,050, and a 2021 Tacoma starts at $26,150. You may not necessarily “need” a truck, but if you want one’s capabilities, the Tacoma is a worthy choice. On the flip side, the RAV4 makes more sense if comfort is your priority.