This article is from the Toyota RAV4 FAQ, by Ralph Becker with numerous contributions by others.
This is a very subjective area, but in general, the RAV4 compares
very well to it's competition. People like the RAV4 for it's combination
of visual appeal ("cuteness"), good fuel economy, versatile FT 4WD
system (fair off-road and excellent on-road), comfort, space, handling,
acceleration, accessibility, and reliability. The RAV4 does have it's
drawbacks, notably it's styling, lack of power, lack of space (compared
to full-size sport-utilities), cheap construction in places, crashworthiness,
mediocre sound system, and interior noise levels.
Primary U.S. competitors as compared to the RAV4:
Honda CR-V: much more conservative styling (often compared to a
minivan), reactive 4WD system. Same reliability as Toyota, more
interior room, more powerful engine. Worse off-road performance.
Kia Sportage: Cheap. Poor engineering touches all around. Rough
ride, uncomfortable seating, difficult access to cargo area.
Subaru Forrester: Styling like a station wagon. Very car-like ride,
low ground clearance, comfortable. Reactive 4WD system, similar
to CR-V. Fuel efficient. Full-featured, excellent value.
Suzuki Grand Vitara: Poor construction dominates the overall comments
about this vehicle; inexpensive, but shows it. More horsepower, but
doesn't seem to use it well, and correspondingly worse gas mileage.
Good off-road vehicle for the price.