Car Buyer Labs

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A black GMC Terrain Denali is shown driving after participating in a 2023 GMC Terrain vs. the 2023 Toyota RAV4 comparison.

From Single Life to Family Life: GMC Terrain vs Toyota RAV4

When you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, there are a lot of factors to consider. How am I going to use the vehicle? What are my priorities–fuel efficiency, performance specs, handling, luxury features, technology? What’s my state in life right now? What will my state in life be five years from now? You know the drill. Questions like this can make it hard to decide on a vehicle. There are countless brands offering vehicles that are essentially the same, but differ in very slight ways, all claiming that their version is the best. Where do you start?

For many young drivers who are starting to head towards marriage but don’t yet have kids, there’s the dilemma of buying a vehicle for right now, or buying a vehicle for five years from now. If this sounds like you, chances are that a compact SUV is a great choice for you. With seating for five, generous cargo space, a great design for commuting and professional use, with the compact build of a sedan and an agreeable price, a good compact SUV provides a great transition from single life into family life, meaning you can use it both now and later. Two great options from two reputable brands are the GMC Terrain and the Toyota RAV4. While there certainly is crossover between features, it’s worthwhile to do a deep dive into the nitty gritty and see which one is a better fit to bridge the gap during your transition from single life to family life. So, let’s put the 2023 GMC Terrain vs. the 2023 Toyota RAV4 up against each other.

A blue 2023 Toyota RAV4 is shown driving off-road.


Let’s start with the thing on everyone’s mind, the old dollar signs. For the 2023 model year, the RAV4 does have a slightly lower starting MSRP, coming in at $28,275, while the Terrain starts at $29,900. Keep in mind that this is simply the retail price suggested by the manufacturer. You could find a great GMC dealer who can give you a fantastic deal on a Terrain, and you’ll be happy as a clam. Between incentives, markups, and negotiation, the $1,675 difference is not a significant one.

Also keep in mind that this is only the price for a bare-bones model. For comparison, a top of the line GMC Terrain Denali starts at $39,995, while a top-trim Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road starts at $37,895. Even at this trim level, it doesn’t take many options to make the RAV4 more expensive than the Terrain. So while the RAV4 looks slightly less expensive on paper, you really need to figure out how you would want to equip each one to figure out which one is less expensive for you. That’s where the “Build and Price” feature on both manufacturers’ websites comes in handy.


One of the key benefits of a small SUV over a sedan is the radical increase in cargo capacity. Whether you’re going on road trips as a single person, or loading up strollers, kids toys, or luggage in family life, storage space pays off dividends. The Terrain offers a maximum cargo capacity of 63.3 cubic feet. The RAV4 beats it out with 69.8 cubic feet. It may not seem like much, but that extra 6.5 cubic feet can make a huge difference. These aren’t straight feet we’re talking about, but cubic feet, so that extra volume affects your ability to store vital items, and even passenger comfort.

A blue 2023 Toyota RAV4 is shown driving near stores.

Tech and Safety

Cutting edge technology used to be a luxury, but now it’s an expectation. Moreover, safety used to be solely in the hands of the driver. Now it’s a collaboration between the driver and automated systems. The Terrain and the RAV4 are quite similar when it comes to tech and safety. You will find a lot of crossover and similar features, such as both vehicles offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both vehicles offering brand-specific safety technology packages with intelligent safety features, and so on. However, the Terrain does offer one specific feature which tops off the technology experience, improving both connectivity and safety during your drive: a head-up display. This feature, which has been ushered into the industry over the past several years, feels like it’s right out of the comic-book future.

The head-up display is projected onto the windshield at the driver’s eyeline, providing pivotal driver information. The driver no longer has to look even slightly away from the road. Information such as speed, engine RPM, and the selected drive mode is now projected right in front of the driver, meaning eyes can stay on the road at all times, but important information can still be communicated. Aside from the convenience, it simply looks really cool, and is going to be a favorite feature of drivers as they experience the excitement of this new technology.

A red 2023 GMC Terrain SLT is shown parked on a wet road.


When you think about a small SUV, chances are you’re not thinking of a fierce off-roading vehicle. Yet both the Terrain and the RAV4 are able to offer tactful off-road performance and handling. You may or may not choose to utilize such features for an off-roading adventure. However, such features are a huge asset when you’re looking to start a family and get started with domestic life.

Both the Terrain and the RAV4 offer selectable drive modes, meaning you can optimize handling for a variety of situations. You don’t have to be an off-road adventurer in order for this to be a useful feature. If you have a sleeping baby in the back seat, you can switch from Normal to Eco mode to provide an even more smooth and quiet ride than usual. Even better, you’ll save a little fuel in the process.

Moreover, life may surprise you with some unexpected off-pavement experiences. Maybe you won’t be scaling a mountain, but if you go on a camping trip, having a vehicle that can navigate its way through rougher terrain is a great asset, and makes the trip more fun and easy. The Terrain offers GMC’s exclusive AT4 trim, trim is specifically designed for performance and off-roading. If you want optimum handling, the GMC Terrain AT4 is a great choice.

Meanwhile, Toyota offers the TRD Off-Road trim on the RAV4. While drivers seeking a serious off-road Toyota should consider the 4Runner, the TRD Off-Road trim adds comparable features as GMC’s AT4 package, such as skid plates, a suspension upgrade, and a higher ride height. Both of these compact SUVs are more often seen more as mall crawlers than rock crawlers, but when properly equipped, both can get you farther off the beaten path than you might expect.

Making the Choice

Deciding on the right vehicle is a difficult process. Take the formula we have used here today and apply it to your decision making. Rather than zero in on one specific feature or set of features that may be attractive to you, take a holistic look at the vehicle and everything it offers–performance, tech and safety, design, price, etc.–and compare that with what other vehicles have to offer. After a while, it will start to become clear what is calling your name and what gives you the most bang for your buck.