Good Cars for Expats #1: Toyota RAV4 XA10 vs. Honda CR-V RD1-3

In the first of a series, Ben Siddons reviews the best value cars for expats in Cambodia.

Price Range: $5000 – $8,500

RAV4: History:

The ‘Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive’was produced from 1994 – 2000 from plants in Japan and the RAV4 was a groundbreaking vehicle largely responsible for the invention of the ‘soft-roader’ market segment.

An avalanche of imitators followed in its wake.

It was positioned as a youthful, ‘lifestyle’ vehicle for those who liked to ski, go mountain biking or wakeboarding – although I dare say most RAV4s ended up performing the school shuttle run with a Labrador in tow.

Yet the RAV4 does have proper pedigree and Toyota certainly knows a thing or two about manufacturing 4WD vehicles. The RAV4’s big brothers, the Land Cruiser and the Prado can trace their roots back to the early 1950s, where they themselves were based on the mechanically bullet-proofUS Willys Jeep. Truth be told however, the RAV4 has more in common with the Corolla than the Willys.

So successful was/is the RAV4 that it will soon see its 20-year anniversary in its’ 4th-generation incarnation.

CR-V: History:

The CR-V was produced between 1995 and 2001 from multiple plants across the world, including Japan. It was pitched squarely against the RAV4, and was a practical soft-roader which benefited from Honda’s solid reputation for making high-quality, reliable vehicles.

Unfortunately, even early on the CR-Vwas cursed with something of a ‘soccer mum’ reputation and it didn’t help that Honda Japan’s official explanation for the ‘CR-V’ nomenclature was ‘Comfortable Runabout Vehicle’. (One of those delightfully awful Japanese model names that took pride of place alongside the ‘Datsun Sunny’, ‘Nissan Bluebird’ and ‘Toyota Emina’.)

Unfortunately for Honda’s CR-V, it did not and does not have the enviable 4WD lineage of Toyota. What it did have, however, was a well-organized, clear view of what it was striving to be – what its reason for being was.

This is evidenced in the CR-V’s extremely practical layout, complete with picnic table and loads of secret (and not so secret) storage space.

Like the RAV4, the original CR-V was so successful, it is now in its fourth generation incarnation.

Head To Head:

The RAV4 was available in both 2-door and 4-door guises with rear hatchback. In Cambodia however, the vast majority on the market are the more practical (but less aesthetically pleasing) 4-door model. On the other hand, the CR-V was available with 4 doors and a rear hatchback.

Dimensions were similar; the RAV4 was about 4.1 metreslong while the CR-V was slightly longer at 4.5 metres. Width was approximately the same at 1.7 meters, which is small enough for tight Phnom Penh parking, but big enough to muscle into heavy traffic.

Most examples of both vehicles in Cambodia were imported from the US and have an all-wheel drive system with a 4-speed automatic gearbox. Both all-wheel drive systems are not particularly suitable for the badlands of Rattanakiri, but the high ground clearance, high driving position and added security of four-paw grip should keep you out of trouble in flash flooding or from disappearing into potholes.


Both vehicles have double wishbone suspension, which ensures the ride is more supple and car-like and neither vehicle is likely to shake loose your fillings like an old ‘Cruiser will.

Back in the 1990s the suspension setup was quite a leap forward for vehicles of this type. Up to this point, Toyota 4WDs had stuck doggedly to leaf sprung, live rear axles in their ‘Cruiser/Hilux/Prado line-up.

Performance and fuel economy:

Performance of both is, well…. utilitarian. Engines for the time were reasonably advanced, with DOHC and 4 -valves per cylinder, yet both cars were criticized for the lack of power derived from their 2.0 litre straight-4 engines in the West.

In recognition of this, Toyota ran an advertising campaign that its second-generation RAV4 had been ‘beefed up’ (complete with boxing camel mascot to ram the point home).

The RAV4 packs fairly modest power figures of around 100 kilowatts and 180 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm. Similarly, the CR-V also has about 100 kilowatts and 182 Nm at 4500 rpm. Expect quite a few horses to have escaped over the years.

One big difference between the two however, is that the CR-V is 145 kilograms heavier at 1410 kilograms. This will affect the 0-100km/h‘sprint’ times somewhat.

Both vehicles are relatively frugal, drinking about 10 litres per 100 kilometres on an urban cycle. You could expect to achieve about 8.5-9litres per 100 kilometres on the start-stop Cambodian highways. Fuel tank capacity for both is 58 liters.

Buyers Tips:

Both vehicles have solid reputations for reliability and owner satisfaction. Yet many vehicles that arrived in Cambodia have been poorly maintained with looooooong service intervals. If possible, spend a little more to get a good example with some semblance of a service history from a reputable garage. Avoid vehicles which over the years have become chocked with non-OEM parts.

Both RAV4s and CR-Vs of this era were known for timing belts that failed. Oil leaks could develop around timing belts as well. Vehicles that have made frequent trips to the province can develop rattles, creaks and groans as the fit and finish deteriorates.

Other general things to look for are:
• If equipped with airbags, a mechanic should check they are still there. Many get removed in transit or stolen;
• Condition of ball joints, both steering and suspension;
• Cracks in the chassis (get a mechanic to put the vehicle on a lift) is indicative of frequent abuse on poor roads;
• Doors that don’t close easily or smoothly, or poor fitting headlight assemblycould indicate the vehicle has been rebuiltfollowing a collision;
• Check for uneven tyre wear and that thevehicle tracks straight at cruising speed – not pulling substantially to the left or right, indicatingpoor wheel alignment;
• A mildewy smell will suggest there is a leaking or corroded seal somewhere – avoid if this is the case. You will not get that smell out;
• Check for rust around the wheel arches AND
• Perhaps most importantly for Cambodia, make sure that the aircon is blowing cold a few seconds from ignition. It may just need a re-gas – but then again…

The Verdict:

Both the RAV4 and the CR-V have well deserved reputations for being well-built and reliable. Cost of ownership for both vehicles is fairly affordable given the large inventories of parts held by local garages to service the high numbers of both vehicles in Cambodia.

That being said, I would lean towards the RAV4 for Toyota’s 4WD pedigree, the higher resale values and the increased chances of sourcing parts for the vehicle in even the most far-flung provinces of Cambodia.

The lighter weight of the RAV4 makes it more appealing too, because in real terms it should get you past those trucks, tractors, cows andTicos (and out of harm’s way) faster.

Oh, and because it is Cambodia, expect to add up to $1000 to your car budget if the vehicle you like is black. WTF?

Ben Siddons

6 thoughts on “Good Cars for Expats #1: Toyota RAV4 XA10 vs. Honda CR-V RD1-3

  1. puck duck Reply

    I own both, a 1998 RAV4 and a 2000 CRV. The CRV is a nicer car, better MPG, but I think that over all the RAV4 is a better vehicle.

  2. Richard Reply

    don’t understand why u said the crv was produced from 1994-2001 they are still making them and selling them here in Thailand and in the us ( where most of the crv’s and Rav’s sold in Cambodia ) come from.

    Before u buy one, think about what ur going to use it for.

    Toyota has been making 4 wd’s forever it seems, so if ur going to be doing lots of 4 wd driving pick the Rav.
    If on the other hand u want a car that is going to be used more for city and on road driving than the crv would be ur choice as it is safer than a smaller car and u sit higher up.

    • Siddo Reply

      Hi Richard,

      This article is referring only to the first generation (RD 1 – RD3) CR-V in the interests of offering up good value cars for expats who dont have a huge budget.

      I acknowledge that the CR-V is still being manufactured here:

      “Like the RAV4, the original CR-V was so successful, it is now in its fourth generation incarnation.”

  3. Stephen Maina Reply

    Both vehicles are in popular use in Kenya where the roads are well, not exactly Abu Dhabi standards, but the vehicles have faired pretty well in this tropical part of the world. With legendary reliability, they will get you where you need to go. With regular service and suspension parts, the cars will run for hundreds of thousands of miles with relatively minimal headaches. Worth every coin.

  4. Todd Reply

    You mentioned buying from a reliable garage. Do you have any recommendations?

    Also, I see a lot of ’97 ’98 models for sale. If they’ve been kept up, would you say that it’s still worth buying in one those years?

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