Compared with the previous-generation CR-V, there's slightly more room in the front seat and (in most dimensions) slightly less room in the rear. There's marginally more cargo room. Everything by way of instruments, controls and storage is, respectively, logically arrayed, properly placed, and reasonably plentiful. Buyers choose from three models: the basic LX, mid-range EX, or leather-upholstered EX-L, which can be fitted with an optional navigation system that incorporates a rearview video camera for safe and easy backing. All have four doors and seat five.
Changes for 2008 are minimal. The EX-L now comes with dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver's seat, and the same premium audio system that last year came only with the navigation system.
Real Time all-wheel drive is offered on all three models. The 2008 fuel economy figures from the U.S. government's EPA rate the front-wheel-drive CR-V at 20/27 miles per gallon City/Highway, and the all-wheel-drive version at 20/26 mpg.
Honda CR-V LX 2WD ($20,700); LX 4WD ($21,900); EX 2WD ($22,950); EX 4WD ($24,150); EX-L 2WD ($25,500); EX-L 4WD ($26,700)
The side aspect shows most clearly the latest CR-V's departure from the boxy, mini-SUV look. Starting from the gently rounded hood, the relatively fast windshield flows into a roofline that drops ever so slightly as it passes over the sharply tapered glasshouse, ending at the tailgate's top edge, which itself is pulled forward to a point almost directly above the rear wheel well. A strong character line runs from the top of the front wheel well back beneath the full-round door handles to bifurcate the side marker lens of the rear taillight. To us, it looks a little like the Mercedes-Benz R-Class in the overall outline.
The rear view presents more of the classic SUV look, with a trapezoidal backlight bookended by the trademark CR-V high taillights and atop a fairly tall and relatively broad, high-relief tailgate panel. The oversize license plate recess will accommodate almost any country's registration telltale. A repeat of the front end's skid plate look masks the rear bumper's mass and draws the eye to tires pushed out to the edges of the CR-V's side panels.
The grippy, waffle-textured, fabric upholstery feels durable. The EX-L's optional leather upholstery is, obviously, richer looking and likely more durable, but no more comfortable. The front seats of the latest model have slightly taller and marginally wider backs than their '06 counterparts, but are still short on thigh support. But to the limited extent the CR-V lends itself to sporty driving, the seatbacks' side bolsters do an adequate job of keeping occupants' upper bodies in place. Not so the seat bottom's bolsters, those being clearly shaped more for ease of entry and exit than for restraining occupants' posteriors. There is, however, a most welcome dead pedal against which drivers may brace a left leg as necessary and appropriate. And the driver's seat ratchets six-tenths of an inch higher in the '07-08 over the '06.
The rear seat is more moderately contoured, the better to allow it to fold and pivot forward against the backs of the front seats. The seat bottom breaks down 60/40, with the shorter piece on the left side; the seat backs, however, divide 40/20/40, into three sections, meaning you can fold the right or left side, the center section or any combination of the three. Nice touch. The top-hinged liftgate is an improvement over right-hinged tailgates, which open the wrong way for curbside unloading at U.S. airports.
Dashboard and instrument cluster are classic Honda, as in, friendly to eye and hand, with the only mildly discordant note the placement of the shift lever, sprouting from a pod suspended from the center of the dash. While neither as ergonomic as a floor-mounted lever nor as natural, in an archaic sort of way, as one mounted on the steering column, it is consistent with the emphasis on flexibility in the front seat area. In the LX and EX, the space between the front seats that might otherwise host a console and floor-mounted shift lever is dedicated to a unique, multi-use tray that when not needed folds down against the side of the passenger seat, opening a walk-through access to the rear seat. The EX-L gets a more traditional, fixed center console, with cup holders and storage space for up to 24 CD's; although some of this storage space is lost on EX-L's with navigation, where the console must house the CD changer as well. As if in compensation, a digital audio-card reader is still exclusive to the navigation model.
Most drivers will find the six-way adjustable seat and two-way adjustable steering give them the best of all worlds: a comfortable posture without compromising outward visibility. A low cowl keeps the edges of the hood in view. Rearward vision, however, sets no new standard and actually suffers some from the awkwardly shaped C-pillars. The rearview video cam that comes with the optional nav system helps and is an added safety feature because it can help the driver spot children behind the vehicle, though it lacks the guiding grid lines some others offer to help when backing into parking spaces and garages.
Audio and climate controls on the LX and EX border on retro in their simplicity and arrangement. Large, rotary knobs control the functions that vary by degrees. Buttons are used for on/off or simple selections. However, when in Park, the shift lever obstructs buttons for air conditioning functions and mirror heaters. And by operational necessity, the optional nav system layers audio and map display controls.
Comparing cargo space, the new CR-V ranks in the top half, regardless of the competitor's seating capacity. It als
The V6s pay a price in fuel economy, but not as much as you might think: Against the 3430-pound, 2WD CR-V EX-L's EPA-estimated 20/27 mpg, a 3549-pound, V6-powered 2WD RAV4 manages 20/25. Four-wheel-drive versions of the CR-V and RAV4 V6 promise exactly the same 26 mpg Highway.
The CR-V's five-speed automatic transmission is a good match for the engine. It's not best in class but well above average in smoothness of shifts, in controlling hunting for the right gear when climbing grades, and in holding a lower gear when helpful on downgrades.
Honda's Real Time 4WD is actually a car-style all-wheel-drive system, not a true off-highway-truck four-wheel drive, as it incorporates no lockable transfer case or ultra-low, off-road gearing. As such, however, it works seamlessly, invisibly allocating power to the tires slipping the least, although always favoring the front wheels by default.
The Vehicle Stability Assist includes traction control. Coupled with four-wheel disc brakes (vented in front and solid in the rear), ABS, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, VSA helps drivers maintain control in emergency maneuvers or in bad weather.
The CR-V handles well, with relatively little body lean in cornering. There's also relatively low head toss over rough and uneven pavement, helping to keep your passengers comfortable. Traversing aged railroad crossings at mildly elevated speeds produced no threatening sounds or gyrations. Steering assist could be backed off a notch or two, closer to that of the RAV4, which might improve directional stability and lessen the need for minor corrections in corners and long sweepers.
Noise levels were minimal. Tire noise correlated with pavement type and conditions. The EX-L version did the best job of insulating occupants from outside irritants. Sounds from under the hood, although low key, left no doubt the engine is a big four-cylinder and that it strained at times. Moderate wind whistle leaked into the cabin from the outside mirrors and around the A-pillars.
The Honda CR-V is probably the best vehicle in this class. Its interior is packaged the best, with seats that fold down to provide a completely flat cargo area.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Vancouver, British Columbia, after his test drive of the CR-V.