Which one is most fuel efficient?
Yes, there are differences, and with the redesign of the CR-V for 2012 and the RAV4 for 2013, Honda and Toyota have made their all-wheel-drive systems more sophisticated and functional.
Previously, both vehicles basically operated in front-wheel drive until one of the front wheels would begin to slip (i.e., lose traction). Then the all-wheel-drive system would automatically send some power to the rear wheels, but only until the front wheels regained their grip. Then it would automatically revert to front drive (though the RAV4 could keep all-wheel drive engaged with a dashboard switch).
For 2012, Honda engineered the all-wheel-drive system so some power goes to the rear wheels in take-offs — even on smooth, dry pavement — to improve grip from a standing start or low speeds. Under low traction conditions, the system can send up to 100% of power to either the front or rear. Once traction stabilizes and the vehicle is cruising, it changes to front-drive mode to save fuel.
Toyota changed its system for 2013, adding "dynamic torque control" and three driving modes. The Auto mode engages all-wheel drive only when the front wheels slip (similar to the old system), and a Lock mode keeps all-wheel drive engaged. A Sport mode sends up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels depending on cornering speeds and steering-wheel position to maximize traction.
Subaru says its system always sends some power to the rear wheels, though most goes to the front under normal driving conditions, and it can automatically distribute power from the wheels that slip to the ones with the most traction.
As far as fuel efficiency, the CR-V's EPA ratings with all-wheel drive are 22/30 mpg city/highway; the RAV4's are 22/29 mpg; and the redesigned 2014 Forester with automatic transmission are 24/32 mpg.
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